Themes, Narratives, and Content Marketing

Amidst the shuffle of SEO and chasing the next viral hit, marketers often forget that first and foremost, content produces customer success through proactive education.In this endeavor, perhaps the biggest challenge is attracting and keeping readers’ attention long enough for them to implement your advice and see results with it. To this end, creating a compelling company narrative, supported by common themes, is incredibly effective for better understanding and retention, not to mention building a long-lasting readership.

Consider great works of fiction that have stayed with you; is there a single reader of 1984 out there who doesn’t vividly recall the themes Orwell presents?

Lofty as it may seem to apply this to a blog, you don’t need to be a literary master to make use of “theming” in your writing.

It all starts with identifying topics that will not only help your customers succeed (and appeal to their interests), but that strengthen the stances you take with your company’s culture.

Before I confuse you any further, let’s take a look at content theming in action.

Examples of Content Theming in Action

The benefit of creating and revisiting themes with your content is that it allows for an easier education + motivation process for your readers.

To better explain what I mean, here are some deliberately addressed themes I’ve consistently included in the articles published here at Help Scout:

  1. Why great service is good for business.  Having customers share this belief is one of the key ways we seek to motivate people. If you believe (and are armed with statistics and data) that excellent service produces a substantial ROI for your business, it becomes easier to see how a help desk might benefit you. It also becomes easier to understand why the tactics we discuss are worthwhile. I don’t need to explain why you should bother with Activity X to increase customer loyalty because you already “buy in” that the endeavor is worth the effort, if it works.
  2. The importance of tone in support.  So much of exceptional day-to-day service comes down to tone. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and “What else do you want?” are, in essence, asking the same thing, but they’re wildly different in terms of tone. We place a heavy emphasis on this because we genuinely believe it is one of the most effective, universal ways that any support team can improve their interactions with customers and increase their impact within the company. It also closely ties in with email support, which depends on tone since it lacks the expressive nature of face-to-face conversations.
  3. The returns on empowering support reps.  With a readership consisting of many folks working in support, this might seem like pandering, but our actual goal is to place the spotlight on a topic near and dear to support teams’ hearts—that they aren’t able to deliver their best work without the authority to make decisions. Not only is this a topic that produces big returns for support’s impact, but it also allows us to plant our flag in a topic we care about: it lets some of our most important readers know that we have their back.

In addition, the overarching goal of consistently touching on recurring themes is to address the “who, what, and why” of any company blog: who this is for, what they should be doing, and why they should bother.

Within these general themes, relevant sub-topics can make for a better and more consistent teaching experience. When discussing tone, we regularly look at phrases, templates, and common scenarios that can help create more memorable communications with customers.

The result should be a more cohesive experience with your company blog. The narrative becomes clearer, and the topics, their intended audience, and their importance are defined and addressed (and readdressed) in education pieces that have more of an impact on customer success than yet another random “5 Tips” post.

When Theming Meets Company Culture

The idea of a brand focusing on shared values in order to better connect with customers is nothing new, but it should be noted that one smart way to use content theming is to closely align the topics chosen to your company culture.

37 Signals (now Basecamp) has for many years positioned itself as a thoughtful supporter of remote work—a narrative crafted through books, blog posts, and even a job board—as well as a case study for making bootstrapping work. Last but not least, the team has taken a stand against the startup “grind,” opting for company policies like a 4-day workweek during the summer.

They serve as a great example of the storytelling—through revisiting common themes in their writing and marketing—that has genuinely complemented the products they sell.

Take a look at their flagship (and now primary) product known as Basecamp, a project management tool.

When we examine the themes I highlighted above against the software, a clear picture begins to unfold:

  1. Remote work is an excellent complement to a project management software that allows teams to collaborate from anywhere. Supporting remote work attracts remote teams who can make great use of Basecamp.
  2. Bootstrapping is a topic loved by a key persona for Basecamp—the up-and-coming founder who is working with a small but dedicated team and is likely tackling multiple projects head on.
  3. A healthy work-life balance is an interesting theme to address and is a good example of going against the grain (in the startup world, at least). It also is one of the strongest shared values the team has created with other founders and companies who believe in planning and completing big projects without the burnout.

To be perfectly clear, like any genuine narrative, these are stances and topics that the 37 Signals team has a true passion for.

The important thing to note here is how they were also used to create a company narrative—told in large part by candid writing on the Signals vs. Noise blog—to attract customers and prospects who hold the same beliefs.

To sum it all up, if you’re looking to create deeper connections with readers and foster genuine customer success through education, examine what sort of narrative your company might tell and what themes you might visit (and revisit) to attract clients and customers who feel the same way.