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Ann Handley Demonstrates How To Compel with Storytelling at Make it Big 2021

Content marketing has come a long way since its origin in 1895 with John Deere’s The Furrow — but many fundamentals still reign true. At BigCommerce’s 2021 Make it Big Conference, BigCommerce Director of Content Marketing Melissa Dixon sat down with digital marketing pioneer and MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley to discuss the key components of creating content to captivate — and convert.

Ann Handley’s Key Takeaways at Make it Big

In this Make it Big 2021 session, Ann demonstrated firsthand how to compel audiences with the art of storytelling. Beyond the storylines, Ann also provided brands with actionable advice for building a community and creating content that converts.

Here are a few key takeaways from Ann Handley’s Make it Big session:

Melissa Dixon: How have you seen content marketing evolve and change over the years? How would you describe the content landscape today?

Ann Handley: “Content is very much rooted in marketing way back when, right? It was always part of marketing. But what changed more recently? And why are we having this conversation now? And why is it even more relevant to all of us? 

“The internet happened essentially, and more specifically, a Google study in 2010, in which it identified that 88% of people like you and me are searching on the internet before making a decision about anything that we want to buy. It was called The Zero Moment of Truth, that Google study. That elevated the role of content because everyone realized, well, what are they going to find there?…And then of course, social media started and word of mouth became more important. And now we find ourselves here in 2021 trying to figure out what’s most important…

“And so in some ways, content has evolved and changed a lot. And in some ways, it hasn’t. Certainly the tools and tactics have evolved. But I think fundamentally, the best content is content that has those three things, right? That is useful, that is inspired, and that is honestly empathetic.”

“I think fundamentally, the best content is content that is three things — that is useful, that is inspired, and that is honestly empathetic.” — Ann Handley

MD: What does it mean to be a good storyteller? Secondly, what would you say to those businesses who maybe they feel like they might not have anything to say — how can they source content ideas and tell better stories?

AH: “If you can tell a story about your business in a way that matters to the person you seek to attract, I think it’s a game changer for so many businesses. It can really put your head and shoulders above your competition, because… I don’t need to tell you this, but we’re all wired for story, right? We all tend to react more to story than to almost anything else. We tend to really connect with story as human beings.

“So I think the opportunity for businesses is to understand that number one, that story does matter first of all. And secondly, to the other part of your question, how do we tell a story well?

“Finding the human at the center of your story, I believe is the sort of thing that can absolutely set your business apart. It’s finding the person and how it is that your business helps that individual. And if you can tell that story in a way that your audience can then see themselves in the story that you’re telling — I think ultimately, it can elevate your whole business. And it just puts your business into the context of their lives.”

“Find the human at the center of your story.” — Ann Handley

Experience the Case Knives video Ann shares as an example of effective storytelling:

MD: Given that a strong community, or fan base, is so integral to having successful content, how can businesses best nurture relationships and grow their community?

AH: “If you can think more broadly about who are you trying to connect with, and what is the thing that connects all of those people, and how does your business fit into the context of their lives — that to me is the essence of community right there…

“I also think it’s the power of the email newsletter. Email newsletter is essentially, you’re building a database, yes. But what are you really doing? You’re building a community.

“So I think approaching your marketing with that very much of a communal mindset, I think makes a lot of sense. There’s just so many ways to build a community in a tactical way, but I think the most important thing is to always provide an element of reciprocity, right? Are you always allowing your customers, your prospects to have a conversation back with you? And again, I think you can do it in some very simple ways. 

Source: Currituck County Economic Development Agency website

“The thing about content is that it’s not hard. It’s not necessarily hard to launch and start a successful program — but it does require constant care and feeding. So it may not be hard, but it definitely requires you or somebody in your organization to care, to show up with your heart and participate, to manage it…And so I think, how can you best feed community, or how can you best nurture a community, is just to find a way to constantly be inviting your audience into the conversation.”

Ann closes the session by leaving attendees with one key takeaway: 

“Don’t think like a marketer. Don’t think like a business owner. Think like a person trying to connect with another person.” — Ann Handley

Discover more compelling content examples Ann shared during her session:

Krystin Gresham avatar

Krystin Gresham is a Content Marketing Manager at BigCommerce where she focuses on thought leadership content. Krystin holds a BBA in Marketing from Texas A&M University. With a background in both retail and tech, Krystin enjoys staying up on the latest retail and technology trends in the ecommerce industry. When she's not crafting content, Krystin enjoys traveling with her husband and volunteering with the Junior League of Austin.