Who Owns Your Story

I’m just returning from an exhaustive, and exhilarating, week of amazing people at Content Marketing World, and after speaking with so many people about a common challenge, I’m thinking of one of my favorite Hollywood quotes. It comes from William Goldman (who holds a special place in my heart because he wrote The Princess Bride – but I digress). On the subject of telling stories he says:

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”  

One of the most common challenges I face – especially in more complex industries – is when there is pronounced frustration about the quality of the “story” or “experience”. The CMO wonders why the content isn’t resonating. It’s technically accurate; it’s being produced by some of the top subject matter experts in the world; and we’re promoting it in a robust way! Why don’t people care?

Yeah, because they don’t. That’s why.

And, commonly, the rest of the organization is afraid to push back on the status quo. The thinking goes: “well of course the product people should own the story – because they are the subject matter experts.” Or, the rationale is, “of course corporate communications should own the story, because they know the pulse of the industry.” Or, maybe the thinking is “yes, marketing owns the story because, you know, brand!

But maybe, just maybe, the product people don’t know how to tell a compelling story. Perhaps the corporate communications teams are too close to the noise to hear the signal. Perhaps the marketing people are too caught up in selling to understand the underlying value of the story.

But it’s about this time that the business throws up its collective hands and says what?

“Let’s Hire an agency.  They’ll solve it for us.”

Instead, why don’t we transform our processes and strategy a bit and understand that a great, layered story takes a community – each contributing to a stronger, better experience for an audience.

More than 500 people work on the average A-List Hollywood Movie. Each, in turn, does a specialty job to make a singular story better. Iron Man 3, for example, (not my favorite for sure) has more than 3,000 people in the credits.  Is that too many? Probably, yeah. Certainly it supports the notion that more people don’t, necessarily, make the story any better.

Just as no one department “owns” the customer, no one in the business “owns” the story. It is a combined effort of accuracy, packaged in a compelling way, and relaying a value that is in current demand in the marketplace. Nobody cares if your content is accurate if it isn’t creative and compelling. Nobody cares if it’s compelling and creative, if it doesn’t represent what is interesting to the audience.

Now should the story be led? Absolutely. Every great story has a storyteller. When, recently, a CMO asked me “which department should lead my content strategy effort?”  I said “yes.” He looked at me quizzically, and I followed it up with. “It doesn’t matter where it’s led from, just make sure they’re great at leading it.”

Creating a successful story for the business will still be a guess. But, led well, and with contributions from all – it will be an educated one.

Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.