The Oldest Trick In The Book, Or Why Content Marketing Is Just Good Storytelling.

Crowdsharing taxi-hire firm Uber is currently recruiting for an Editorial Director.The successful applicant will ‘lead the creation of branded content’ for the organisation across digital, video and print media, with a role that will focus on bringing ‘the stories of riders, drivers, cities and Uber to life’.

The $40 billion start-up already publishes a print magazine, ‘Momentum’, and runs an active YouTube channel to promote its business, so why this expansion in its content offering? With recent negative press around Uber’s activities, the creation of the role – like the recent poaching of Google’s former Head of Communications Rachel Whetstone – makes good business sense. The best way to counter a narrative you don’t like is to replace it with a better one, and if Uber can tell a more engaging, convincing and memorable set of stories about itself than its critics do, then it wins the communications battle. In the court of public opinion, dry facts matter far less than telling a good story.

Uber joins brands like Intel, GE, Marriott Hotels, Airbnb and Red Bull in investing in its own large-scale content operation. Snapchat now has a publishing arm. Starbucks is launching a media company. All-conquering market disruptor Dollar Shave Club is planning a print magazine.All these brands have decided to take control of their own storytelling, rather than rely on PR and news providers to do the job for them. In some cases they’ve even hired journalists and editorial experts from established news organisations, like Starbucks’ employment of Washington Post senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

So is there a lesson here for other businesses, in different sectors? Whether it’s primarily a B2B or a B2C operation, every business is ultimately communicating to thesame audience: human beings. Financial advisors are no less human than the clients they advise. People who sell cars are no less human than people who buy them. And, as humans, they’ll all respond to meaningful, useful content.

As Jonathan Gottschall argues in his book ‘The Storytelling Animal’, the way we tell and listen to stories is part of what makes us human. Which means that even if your audience is made up of politicians, lawyers or estate agents, they’ll still be unable to resist a good tale, well told.

This doesn’t mean that every brand needs to start producing extreme sports videos like Red Bull. Or create crowd-sourced travel guides like Marriott. The right stories only work if they’re true to the brand telling them. Whether it’s the products it sells or the people it employs or the way it operates, every business is unique (and if it isn’t then it has much bigger problems than just its communications strategy). And this uniqueness has a value.

Content marketing works when an organisation is able to communicate its essential, unique truths in an engaging and interesting way. When it can turn what it does, what it believes in and what it wants to achieve into a meaningful story or set of stories.

And all organisations have these unique truths.

Red bull is an energy drink. Extreme sports are about energy. GE is a company built on innovation. Its huge social content operation is focused on scientific and technological innovations. This isn’t complicated stuff. What is the essential character of your organisation? What sort of story reflects that?

When you get it right, it seems obvious – even before you start thinking about your 24/7 always-on real-time data-driven multi-platform content promotion plan.

Although you do still need to think about that too. Sorry.