We have all heard and maybe even created bad stories that have resulted in content marketing with poor results. I’m talking about poor messaging and positioning, lack of identification with a target audience, and content that sounds derivative.

I have certainly been guilty of the latter. I’ve written about how in my early years, I tried to incorporate as many buzzwords into campaigns as I could, thinking that customers actually used them. Have you ever had dinner with a friend who asked if you could recommend a “best-in-class, award winning solution”?

I asked two marketing experts to share some examples of bad storytelling that they’ve seen lately. (For reference, here is how I define storytelling.)

Trade Shows: Stand Out for the Right Reasons

Trade shows are a really tough marketing channel to properly position your story, simply because of their massive size. Jon Mertz, VP of Marketing at Corepoint Health, describes it very well:

“A trade show is a story filled with many chapters. Each chapter is a booth in which a company is trying to stand out on its own. HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition is the largest healthcare IT trade show in its industry with over 1,300 “chapters”. The plot to this story must be completed in three days. The problem is that too many companies get wordy or gimmicky. An essay on a banner will never get read. At HIMSS, NextGen showcased a giant, computer-generated waterfall trickled out words and pictures. Fascinating, but how does a waterfall relate to an electronic health record?”

Too many companies try to create a sense of mystery to attract prospects to their trade show booth. Of course, sometimes it works (because it supports their brand story) and other times it’s just plain odd.

I remember seeing the below display at a semiconductor trade show; the vendor had this statement plastered in the background. There was no other messaging in their booth.

We Are THAT Semiconductor Company!Intriguing? Enigmatic? How do those four words describe what they do in the semiconductor world and why you should stop and chat with them?

Be Consistent With Your Story (Everywhere)

Brian Honigman, CEO of Honigman Media shares how a recent comment in Oprah Magazine created an emotional stir on Instagram.

“The fashion advice was inconsistent with the publication’s core values of empowering women to feel healthy in their own skin. When it comes to telling a story related to your business or brand, it’s important to map out your purpose as an organization and stand by that with every content piece you produce. To resonate with your audience, it’s critical to remain consistent with your storytelling.” Brian further adds, “If you do decide to change your mind or take a different direction, explain this change in detail to better prepare your audience.”

Oprah Crop Top Mag

Don’t Brag About Your Trophies

One of my most favorite bloopers is from an episode of “Million Dollar Listings – Los Angeles”. The pair of British real estate agents committed one of the biggest mistakes in storytelling and that is taking the self-centered, inside-out approach.

They had hoped to impress a prospect with their sales history, numerous press releases, and how quickly they were able to sell properties. This data was purely self-serving and made them appear boastful.

My suggestion is to share your long list of accolades with your family; they’ll care more about them than customers do. Instead, study your buyers, understand their persona, and figure out what their most pressing issue is. Then, tell a story about how you have a track record of solving those issues.

In conclusion, Jon, Brian and I make several recommendations on how to tell a good story:

  • We must know who our messaging is targeted to and how to position it in front of them.
  • Don’t make it hard for customers to understand what you’re trying to say. Oftentimes, being literal is better.
  • Test your positioning to make sure nothing is lost in transition and cannot be misconstrued.

Most of all, don’t focus on yourself, your brand, and your achievements; by doing so, you only demonstrate that you’re an expert on yourself. Focus on the market and what customers want.