All storytellers can be content writers. Not all content writers can be storytellers. And if you’re running a business or a marketing department, you most definitely want storytellers.
So what’s the difference? There are many, but the key one is the focus.
Content writers are fine. The good ones will produce lots of copy that will work well in ads, email campaigns, blogs and more. Some of this content will even get your business some results. They will survive in your business because they do nothing inherently wrong. But if you don’t coach them up or move them out and replace them with storytellers, your business with never be as good as it can be.
You see, content writers are those who focus on product or process. They’ll tell you about the new line of dog food and all the nutritional benefits it has vs. the competitors’ brands. They will let you know how spinal fusion surgery works and that it is performed by an expert at your hospital. They’ll tell you what the vote was on the latest city council decision.
But they will miss the most important thing: the people.
Storytellers excel at seeing the people in every situation. That new dog food? It can be fed to a dog owned by a little girl who was gifted the pup for Christmas and who snuggles up with him every night in bed. That spinal fusion surgery your hospital does? It’s recently been done on a teenager injured in a football game and who now faces an uncertain future without a college scholarship that has suddenly evaporated.
Dog food. Hospital procedures. Health benefits. Financial planning. City council decisions. There are always people at the center of everything.
Good leaders build a staff of storytellers to craft the narratives about their products or services. They do not settle for content writers. Content writers are not good enough. Some content writers can be turned into storytellers. This is a huge victory for the marketing world.
Bad leaders stifle storytellers. They ask them to dumb down their stories, which turns finely crafter work into mere content. They say things like, “This isn’t in our voice” or “We just want to keep this simple.” If you hear these kind of statements from your marketing department leader, train them up or, if they are unwilling, move them out. Put a storyteller in charge of training up the content writers and let him or her remake your department.
Good leaders give their storytellers room to breathe. They understand the creative process is not best served in a cubicle and certainly not in an open-office plan (the inventor of which should be identified, put out on an ice flow, pushed out to sea and left to the fates). They allow their storytellers some freedom to craft their narratives in a coffee shop or cigar bar or from the comfort of their bed. Don’t worry: Your storytellers might be a little flaky and unconventional. But if you support them, encourage them with positive feedback, let them create, they will give you what you need and then some.
Bad leaders treat storytellers like cogs in a machine. They just keep trying to jam this ill-fitting part into the marketing machine and wonder why the part burns out, breaks and seeks a less-rigid machine. They critique without praise. The words “thank you” are foreign. They closely monitor hours and seating locations. They’re dour and oppressive.
The reality is this: Content writers are ruled by facts. Storytellers are tuned into the emotions of what needs to be promoted. People make decisions not based on facts but on emotions. Connect with a person’s heart and you can form a relationship without ever being within 100 miles of him or her.
Run an organization or marketing department? First and always, seek the storytellers.