Lee Odden

From Antwerp to Bucharest – Lessons Learned About Storytelling and Content Marketing

Lee Odden     Content Marketing

Storytelling Content Marketing

Growing digital marketing skills and knowledge are more important now than ever. I’m sure you can relate to the pressures of having to continuously stay on top of what’s new and most effective.

The good news is that much knowledge can be gained from new experiences and connections. In the past 2 weeks I’ve had the good fortune to attend an Integrated Marketing Communications event at West Virginia University a content marketing conference in Antwerp, Belgium and a digital marketing conference in Bucharest Romania. Plus this week I’m in London for a few meetings where similar topics will be discussed.

Amongst those geographically diverse experiences, each with a focus on some aspect of digital marketing and communications, I have noticed a consistent set of expectations regarding information delivery, content quality and interactions.

Besides recognizing these trends, I’ve come to realize, that each is an area that I need to improve upon. Maybe the same is true for you.


Everyone Loves A Great Story

At the Content Marketing Conference Europe held in Antwerp, I listened to Danny Devriendt’s story about how the size and form of the Russian space shuttle has little to do with the American space shuttle (they look the same) and more to do with the size of a horse’s ass.

As you can imagine, the “What?” effect of that statement had people’s attention as they listened for the punchline of how a horse’s ass could have anything to do with the Russian space shuttle, let alone how it relates to content marketing.

The lesson he was after can be expressed with my favorite phrase on the value of storytelling:

Facts Tell, Stories Sell

We all know storytelling is important. But how are you acting on that insight? What are you doing to collect, curate and manage stories to be told? Are you finding stories to use with every content object you create and are they relevant to both the business and the audience you’re sharing them with?

Lee Odden ProTV Romania

Stories on Tap

During last week’s ICEEfest conference, I was given the opportunity to do an on-air interview for ProTV, a popular TV station in Bucharest. I didn’t know the specifics of what we’d talk about until a few minutes before starting.

Did the TV reporter ask me for facts? Did he ask me for case studies or data from a report? No, of course not. He asked me for quick stories – 5 of them. In 5 minutes, right before the cameras rolled.

Sadly, I was only able to offer up 3 stories in that time and only 2 made it to the show. But I was able to get some of our own story and key messaging into the interview – “Attract, Engage, Convert” and “Be the Best Answer”.  Regardless, the experience reinforced to me the importance of having sound bite stories on tap for whatever expertise I want our agency to be known for.

Utility or Futility

The Futility of Utility

Publish useful information and you’ll inform the reader. Tell great stories and you will inspire them.

I talk about this a lot with the content marketing maturity model and how companies evolve from quantity to quality to utility to storytelling. It’s an important perspective as companies seek to evolve the effectiveness of their content investments.

Tell stories well and share them in a way that reconciles your brand objectives and how you want to be known with the things that your intended audience cares about. Relevancy isn’t just about the customer, it’s important for the brand objectives to be present in content as well.

Doing so requires making the effort to really understand who your customers are and what questions they need answered in order to buy from you. Find out the triggers that will connect and engage your buyers and package your content into easily digested and shareable content. Content usefulness + interestingness = awesomeness.


Infotainment Trumps Information

Nick Sohnemann from FutureCandy gave a visually stunning presentation at ICEEfest about the future of retail using background music to embellish his slides, calls for participation, lots of video and even a real-time demonstration of Google Glass.

Granted, presentations at this event were given in a movie theatre with a huge screen and many small screens projecting behind the speaker (plus a killer sound system and A/V people who knew what they were doing) so the experience was a bit more immersive than at a typical conference.

All the same, Nick could have shown slides of innovative new technology with a few videos. But what he did was more like an informative performance, setting the stage with music to get people’s attention, articulating what they could expect and then narrating a string of videos and demonstrations.

Every single person sitting in that auditorium will remember Nick’s presentation and when they think of companies that are experts at helping businesses adopt new technologies, they will certainly think of FutureCandy.

Content Marketing Conference Europe

The Takeaway with Storytelling and Content Marketing

Great stories are interesting. They take you away from where you are into a head space that taps imagination and visualization. Complex ideas can be quickly conveyed though stories. Otherwise distracted audiences are kept at attention with stories. The interestingness of stories helps create a competitive advantage for those telling them by providing information in a way that connects on both intellectual and emotional levels.

No matter what business situation or geographic location you find yourself in, you simply cannot go wrong having a great (and relevant) story to tell. With each content object you create, always answer the question: What’s the story in this message?

I challenge you to think about incorporating more stories in your content. I know I’m challenging myself to do the same.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Who says that travel doesn’t broaden the mind?

    It’s interesting that whilst topics that we share and promote are becoming topics that many others are bestowing onto others ie. how to become a ‘rock star/ninja in…’ the big differential is how we weave our own stories and experiences into our perception of the world.

    The moment when you realise that you don’t have to please everyone, but to have a point of view and stick to it, then becomes a lot easier to find your own path….from my perspective anyway.

    Enjoyed the read.



  2. Avatar Kelly Hungerford says

    Nice post Lee!

    I really like your point about content needing to address business objectives as well as customer objectives. Content needs to be a win for both in order to be a success.

    And I love the example of content on tap. That’s something I’m going to keep in mind and try to put to practice. I’m not sure I could have pulled out three example in five minutes. You rocked it! For me it’s almost a rethinking of how we learn to “communicate” business, which seems to always be factual and not emotional.

    On storytelling: Danny’s had my full attention and I’ve told the story about the shuttle about a dozen times now. I can’t remember the height or width of the boosters for the shuttles, but I can remember they are the size of two horses asses and that makes for great conversation.

    I love the picture you included in this post. It tells a story too: physical events and meet-ups are a stellar opportunity to meet new friends, exchange stories and become a part of other people’s stories. Thank you.

  3. Well said Lee! We’re all entertainers. Tell stories, use eye candy, make things intriguing, and you’ll surely stand out and succeed marketing-wise. Thanks!

  4. Avatar stevenlips says

    Great post I stumbled upon in a search for some hard “prove” of the relevance of storytelling.

    Well written and interesting takeaways Lee. One small thing I would like to add is that stories get the FUN back in business.

    Stories gives a working day/meeting/presentation/facing-others-in-the-elevator-of-a-20-‘story’-heigh-building-situation that extra bit of sauce, don’t you think?