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This site is currently under construction. We are, however, pleased to say that the SMU 102 Digital Copywriting Unit is now open. We've also added Marketing Principles and an Intro to Public Relations. Our Content Marketing Unit is currently in development.

SMU 105 - Session 6: Using Content to Tell a Compelling Story, Connect, Inform & Engage

As we covered in the previous session, the internet has changed the way people interact. The struggle for a brand - be it a product, service or organization - to be heard is fierce. And as we've taught you throughout this course, being heard is no longer enough.  Successful engagement with an audience requires relevant content, strategic listening and dynamic conversation. In this session, we will consider what it means to engage people through the creation of compelling content. Again, we will stress the importance of brand personas, including 'voice' and 'tone' as they relate to content and digital messages. We will also build on your knowledge of applying user research and storytelling techniques to create compelling and empathetic information experiences.

Purpose/Aim of this session

In this session you will deepen your understanding of the customer journey by applying it to storytelling through content.  As we study the principles of effective storytelling, and learn how stories can be used to engage your audience, you will gain a deeper understanding of how the user journey and user experience can support you in creating the right content for the most relevant channels and platforms.

user-generated online brand stories

This study session aims to prompt you to ask - and answer - some fundamental questions around content and digital storytelling. These questions can be grouped by over-arching themes:

  • What is the story and narrative behind everything you do as a brand? Things to think about for this question will range from what your product, organization or service stands for to the reason why you developed solution X or decided to support ‘good cause Y’? How can you get to that story in your brand messaging content that’s part of your brand instead of just presenting the facts? Note: Think about what you learned regarding 'Hot Paths' versus 'Cold Paths'.
  • How do you actually connect with people in the language they understand best? In other words, the language your audience can "visualize" in a story-like context? And – even further – how do you 'create' the stories that will cause a change in behavior or a change of perception?
  • What types of stories appeal to your content marketing "personas"?
  • What about the stories your customers and 'audiences' are already telling? How do you listen to their stories and include them in your stories? How can form collaborative storytelling content that goes beyond any reach or goal you imagined?
  • How much 'control' can you realistically have in an age where the value of a brand increasingly is in the eye of the beholder and their social connections? How will you craft content-driven stories and moments online where perception is more about personality, trust, openness, transparency, relevance and participation? How will you stand for something as a brand - and voice that in an utterly customer-centric, yet genuine and firm way? How can storytelling – with these shifts in mind – place brands in the minds, hearts and wallets of people? Or in other words: how will you use consumer-create stories for your brands?
  • How can you use storytelling in less branding-related ways and in a more demand generation related context? Are there any differences? Do the same principles apply?

Learning Aims for this session:

  • You will explore how content and stories can be used to engage an audience.
  • You will apply your knowledge of user journeys and experiences to create the right content for the most relevant channels and platforms - and appear in front of your audience when they need it.
  • You will identify and develop appropriate mobile marketing opportunities and strategies to engage your audience through digital storytelling.
  • You will critically assess how to create a powerful, cross-channel content strategy.
  • You will apply relevant marketing theories and concepts in diverse online contexts, to your marketing mix.

Learning Outcomes for this session:

At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a professional understanding of the process of digital storytelling, and how to establish deeper audience connections by incorporating story elements and articulating a narrative within a digital context
  • Outline and define the best channels of distribution for your content, based on your audience’s media preferences
  • Understand how to shape each content narrative to suit your brand’s identity, voice and tone
  • Identify and define how to manage your content and evaluate its performance.

How this Session Works:

  1. Read through the Overview that accompanies this session. This provides an overall context for the session
  2. Work your way through the items on the Preparatory section that accompanies this session
  3. Listen to the Lecture that accompanies this session
  4. Work your way through the branding scenarios in the "Scenario" tab. Scenarios are practical activities to develop your critical thinking and apply your knowledge to a specific component of content marketing
  5. Work your way through the template in the "Template" tab. The template will support you as you take the first steps in developing your own content marketing strategy
  6. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your knowledge of content marketing

SMU 105 Session 6 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Preparatory Activities
  • Lecture
  • Scenarios
  • Template
  • Reading Room

image outlining the six steps of content marketing from CMI


As the Content Marketing Institute so rightly said: 

Your content is now a conversation. It’s a story that needs an audience to respond. So, yes, go out and create great content. Be the leader in your industry because you consistently share value. BUT, share it.

In addition to a solid strategy, team, and processes, there’s one key element of your framework that needs to be nurtured: a connection to, and conversations with, your consumers. It doesn't matter if your audience is the public or other companies or organizations. The process for creating or re-purposing content to open, drive or sustain conversations is the same.

The core of your conversation will be the content that you create. If you are like many marketers, you may be wondering what to write about or what digital media to create. Without question, create content about things that interest your audience. 

Of course, there are two parts of any conversation: talking (your content) and listening. Not only do you need to set up listening posts, but you also need to figure out how to respond to the conversation. We will be exploring both of these aspects in this session as well as throughout the remainder of this study unit.

What Exactly Is Content Strategy?

diagram of effective contentAll too often, content is approached as a stand-alone marketing activity. It exists to drive traffic to websites, blogs, online stores – an online place where some sort of transaction occurs (this is called in-bound marketing). This could be to buy a product or service, subscribe to something or download something. The result has been an exponential rise in online content. And not all of this content is good. Actually, we’d say the majority of it isn't very useful, relevant or engaging. Which defeats the purpose of creating and publishing content. 

Content that’s published just to drive traffic is, well, content. It's online noise. We’d go as far as to say its meaningless content. How can you avoid this basic, schoolboy error? Through strategy. Every session within every SMU study unit to-date has geared you towards creating authentic, relevant, engaging and useful brand messaging. Our approach to content marketing isn't any different. There will always be an online audience for content that is useful, relevant and even fun. This content stands head and shoulders above all others. Strategy is the key.

Delving a Bit Deeper…

The easiest way to describe content strategy is this: content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. It’s a pretty easy concept to grasp – which is why I use it.  It certainly isn't the only way to look at content marketing, however, it is an excellent place to start.

Melissa Rach, Vice President of Content Strategy at Brain Traffic, developed this framework for content strategy:

Melissa Rach's framework for content strategy


Core Strategy

A Core Strategy defines how your content will help you meet business objectives, which are extensions of your business strategy.


Substance identifies what content is required to successfully execute implement your core strategy, including characteristics such as messaging architecture, intended audience(s), and voice and tone. One thing that is often overlooked at this point is putting the customer experience front and center in the process. Content creators know (or they should know) – but what do audiences want to hear? How do they want to hear it? How do they want to access this content? And when do they want to hear or see it. All of these basic questions not only shape the substance of content…they keep content customer-focused and relevant.


Structure focuses on how content is prioritized, organized, and accessed. Structure focuses more deeply on the content itself, including mapping messages to content, content bridging, and creating detailed page tables. And if you’re thinking that all of this needs to map back to a customer journey map, macro moments and micro moments…you would be 100% correct.


Workflow explains how people manage and maintain content on a daily basis, including the roles, tasks, and tools required throughout the content life-cycle. This is something you will need to think about and to plan.


Governance describes the policies, standards, and guidelines that apply to content and its life-cycle, as well as how an organization will sustain and evolve its content strategy. This too is something you will need to consider and plan.

How Does Content Strategy Relate to Content Design?

There are a few different ways to look at this. From a customer-first perspective, a good description of the relationship is outlined in the strategy paper Content Strategy for Everything, which we urge you to read at this point:

Halverson, K. Content Strategy for Everything, Halverson. 

The image below is a pretty effective summary of Halverson’s paper.


Erin Scime of HUGE created the sketch below to demonstrate the content life-cycle. You'll recognize several activities that very customer-centric. The content life-cycle:Erin Scime's 'the content life-cycle' Taking a closer look, Richard Ingram of Ingserv created the illustration below to show key questions that any content strategist should ask:

for a larger image, please go to

Is Content Strategy Just A Fad?

Here at SMU, we're not sure what to say to people who get defensive when we discuss content strategy. Content professionals all deal with non-stop complaints (sometimes our own!) about poor quality content on our (or our clients’) website, intranet, or application. Content strategy solves these problems before they even begin. It isn't a trend, and it's not a silver bullet. It's a long-term commitment to better content, a practice that beautifully complements the art and science of UX (user experience) strategy.

When you begin to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, you begin to develop a picture like this:

OK. Now that we've given a broad overview about content strategy, let's take a closer look in the preparation section.

Read More

In the video above, John Lane (VP Strategy and Creative) shares some thoughts on content strategy. At the most basic level, a well-formed content strategy can save you from trying to say everything at once. Planning out what information about your product (or service, or solution) will be most well-received in what point in the purchase process, in what mediums, in what specific language, and creating multiple touchpoints will always work better than trying to create a single magic bullet.   In the video John uses a phrase "conversation arc" - the way in which people have real life conversations.

If you didn't associate the terms macro moments and micro moments and customer journey to what John was saying about conversation arcs, we'd suggest watching the video again, thinking about these concepts as he discusses his approach to content strategy.

  1. In the short video below, Marcus Mustafa, ECD at LBi Digitas, teaches the five steps to a successful digital strategy:

  2. Thea Frost reviews the D&AD Pencil Winning Mobile campaigns from 2015. In each example she presents about best practice, focus on how and why each campaign was a stand-out. One spolier: customer-centric content was key.:

  3. Back to strategy - and delving a bit deeper. An effective content strategy is an invaluable resource, helping to structure and drive your content campaign.  In the video below, James explains everything you need to know about creating a winning content marketing strategy, and how you can go about putting together a plan that works for your business. 

  4. The short article below covers the link between content marketing and the 7 Storytelling Elements we covered in the Branding Unit:

    Yanofsky, B. 2011. A Crash Course in Marketing With Stories, copyblogger.
  5. The short article below builds on Yanofsky's article, providing an insightful glimpse into content marketing best practice:

    Simone, S. 2011. The Simple 5-Step Formula for Effective Online Content, copyblogger.
  6. The short article below features some great advice on the subject of content marketing best practice:

    Zoratti, S. 2015. Differentiating Your Content Marketing Strategy Through Audience and Community Engagement: A CMO Solution GuideBusiness The CMO Club
  7. The short article below features some great advice on the subject of content marketing best practice:

    Puri, R. 2015. 8 Analyst Perspectives on B2B Content MarketingBusiness 2 Community.
  8. The short article below returns to the subject of multi-channel storytelling, this time through the lens of content marketing:

    Edmund, A. 2013. Storytelling In A Cross-Channel World, Mainstream Data.
  9. The white paper below covers how to create multiple content to support one idea:

    Perera, G. How to Turn One Idea into Multiple Content Marketing Assets, publisher unknown.
  10. Next is a brief look at crafting meaningful content:

    Clark, B. 2011. Are You Creating Meaningful Content?, copyblogger.
  11. Now it's time to delve more deeply into the subject. The eBook below synthesizes the various content strategy and content marketing themes in the short pieces above, and applies them to new contexts:

    How To Plan A Content Strategy: A practical guide to web content for brand marketers, 2012, iCrossing.
  12. The short article below covers some types of content you probably haven't considered using:

    Cohen, H. 2013. 10 Content Marketing Best Practices for Greater EfficiencyContent Marketing Institute.
  13. Because n one wants to see, read or listen to boring or irrelevant content:

    Livingston, G. 2011. The 3-Step Cure for Boring, Useless Contentcopyblogger.
  14. Because n one wants to see, read or listen to boring or irrelevant content:

    Livingston, G. 2011. The 3-Step Cure for Boring, Useless Contentcopyblogger.

You're now ready to go to the video lecture for this session.

Read More

Part 1

The first lecture video covers how technology has changed the marketing and branding game. Audiences can ignore advertising and marketing at will. To break through the clutter, brands need to tell remarkable stories worth listening to and become the media in the process.

The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing is a new documentary by the Content Marketing Institute. It explores the evolution of content marketing through the eyes of the world’s biggest leading brands such as Red Bull, Kraft and Marriott; and marketing influencers, including Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley, Scott Stratten, Jay Baer and more. It ft features case studies from early pioneers to today’s marketing innovators, you’ll learn how content marketing has been–and will continue– to change business and media forever..

Part 2

The second video below covers the strategies some of the big brands are using to execute excellent content marketing for their carefully defined audience.

Read More

The scenario activities below are for you to apply critical thinking to the concept of content marketing strategy.

Scenario Activity Part 1

Below you will find some handy real world examples of content marketing strategies in action. 100 of them. Read through each scenario, clicking the inks contained in each scenario to find out more about each content marketing contain - and to gain a deeper understanding of the content strategy for each. As you read through each one, think about aspects of these campaigns that might to be adaptable, and suitable, for your own brand.

cover image for 100 Content Marketing Examples from the Content Marketing Institute

Please read: Pulizzi, J. 100 Content Marketing Examples, Content Marketing Institute.

Scenario Activity Part 2

Now let's explore the concept of a Core Content Strategy.

image depicting the core content marketing strategy concept

What The Image Above Means

At the center is the core content strategy, the central idea for using content to achieve an organization's business goals. To achieve that strategy most effectively, we look at four closely related components (the four areas of the quad):

Content-focused components

Substance: What kind of content do we need (topics, types, sources, etc.), and what messages does content need to communicate to our audience?

Structure: How is content prioritized, organized, formatted, and displayed? (Structure can include communication planning, metadata, data modeling, etc.)

People-focused components

Workflow: What processes, tools, and human resources are required for content initiatives to launch successfully and maintain ongoing quality?

Governance: How are key decisions about content and content strategy made? How are changes initiated and communicated?


Delving a bit more deeply into these 4 quadrants, and understanding how they relate to content strategy, please read the article below:

Read: Content Strategy Basics, usability.gov

Now you are ready to begin working on the scenario below:

Assignment: drafting a Core Content Strategy

Complete the Core Content Strategy scenario template below. The scenario template should evidence your learning from this session.

SMU105 Session 6 Scenario - Using Content to Tell a Compelling Story

Read More

There are two template exercises for this session. Each activity involves some reading - and answering questions in that reading. How you answer the questions is up to you. You can write your answers down on paper. Or you can answer them in a Word document. 

These exercises are included to prompt you to think about your content strategy: identifying the kinds of content you need (and why you need them), keeping your content audience-focused and relevant, making your content engaging, and making your content timely from a customer's perspective.

Activity 1

Please read the following eBook, answering the questions contained in each section:

Content Strategy: Six Steps to Better Content (A Guide To Understanding, Developing And Implementing a Content Strategy For Your Business)Big Words

Activity 2

Please read the following short article, answering the questions contained in the checklist:

Leibtag, A. Creating Valuable Content: A Step-By-Step Checklist

Read More

The Reading Room for this session provides carefully selected resources for you to further explore copywriting concepts, elements, issues and practice.

Blank, S. J. 2006. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, Second EditionLulu.

De Vera, J. C. and Murray, B. 2013. The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Non-ProfitsThe Greenling Institute

Economist Group, The. Missing the Mark: Global Content Survey of Brand Marketers and their B2B Audiences - Debunking the Myths of Generational Content Marketing

Gardner, O. 2012. The Ultimate Guide to Marketing with Infographics (with PDF)unbounce

Kaye, B. and Jacobson, B. 1999. True Tales and Tall Tales: The Power of Organizational Storytelling, Training and Development, March 1999.

Kissane, E. 2011.  A Checklist for Content WorkA List Apart

Provatas, N. 2012. Power of Mobile Content: Leveraging Mobile for Successful Digital CampaignsWaggener Edstrom.

Say DailyAre You Ready for the Rise of Mobile Storytelling? 2014.

Scott, D. M. 2006. The New Rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly. 

Williams, K. D. and Brunner, B. R. 2010. Using cultivation strategies to manage public relationships: A content analysis of non-profit organisations' websites. PRism 7(2).

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