How can you capture a reader’s attention? What motivates them to keep reading down a page? Better yet, how can we achieve that across our content marketing efforts?

Storytelling in content. 

Scott Nyberg, Content Marketing Manager and Senior Writer at Salesforce, believes you should always introduce the problem in the lead and never stop innovating. After all, any good marketing messaging is based on storytelling. 

Pain points and their solutions should be at the heart of brand storytelling and every content marketing strategy. It’s always better to help your target audience solve their problem instead of just focusing on your products or services. 

Let’s talk about the art of storytelling, how doing your research shows when it comes to innovation, and why it’s important not to be boring. 

There’s no way you can listen to this conversation without becoming a better storyteller.

Watch the episode

Listen to the episode

Read full episode transcript 

Hello Scott and welcome to the show!

Thanks, Chris. Good to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Excited to have you here. Let’s go ahead and jump right into the quick fire questions. That’s usually a good way to start this conversation. 

Amazing content is …

Amazing content, I would say it goes back to my three E’s, which are: engages, educates, and ideally entertains.

Concise or descriptive?

Both. I know that’s a cheap answer. But it’s really an art form, right? 

Being able to describe whatever you’re trying to talk about within the least amount of real estate possible. So, both, ideally.

Fantastic. The company with the best brand voice is…

At the risk of sounding not impartial, I’m gonna go with Salesforce. That’s where I currently work. What’s awesome about Salesforce is they’ve got a very customer-focused approach. 

They’re all about the customer. Their voice speaks to that. It’s very human. At the end of the day, they make it very clear that they’re all about solving customer problems. 

It’s not just the blogs they write or the videos they create — it’s other messaging too. Like specifically how they’re devoted to investing in new technology, like AI that will help solve customers’ problems. And they’re very vocal about that. I think customers appreciate it because at the end of the day, they do want their problems solved.

Amazing content, I would say it goes back to my three E's, which are: engages, educates, and ideally entertains. Click To Tweet

Normally I would call a foul on saying your own company, but you know what? I agree with you. I think Salesforce is very differentiated in this space and has been since 2003/2004 when all of this started. 

Another brand I really admire — I wasn’t sure if I was going to bring this up or not — but another one would be Disney. And the reason I like Disney so much is they’ve really mastered the art form of trailers. 

Trailers have been good in the past and some are better than others, but what they’re able to do is tell a very concise story. A beginning, middle, and end without giving anything of the plot away, but still creating a cliff hanger at the end that is gripping, right? That makes you want to watch that movie. 

Then when you watch the film, maybe it lived up to your expectations, but maybe it didn’t. But still, I find myself going back to watch the trailer even after I’ve seen the movie, whether I particularly liked it or not. More often than not, I do.

The other thing they do really well are movie posters. I collect movie posters. 

I’ve got one of those light up movie poster frames in my office, which is really cool. At the end of the day, I’m buying ads for something that hasn’t come out yet. So that’s what really connects.

What’s in the frame right now?

Guardians of Galaxy Volume Three. And before that I had Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And here’s why that poster’s so great. I don’t know if you know anything about Marvel, but what was interesting about that is the poster design was the teaser. 

It’s got this glass breaking up into a million different pieces. And if you look close, you can see kernels of information. This is the genius of Marvel. 

They leave kernels of information on the pieces of glass, or mirror rather, making your mind wonder what that information means, right? And how they interlock to tell that story. It makes the audience guess. I think if you create that mystery, then you get them hooked.

Fantastic. Best piece of content advice?

Never stop innovating, discover new ways to tell your story, and ultimately be relatable to your audience. And what do I mean by that? 

Well, your audience wants their problems to be solved. Everyone’s got a problem, right? And by articulating what you think the problem is, that allows the audience to have their “aha” moment and say, you know what, this person gets me. My eyes are going to keep moving down the page.

And when I’m creating content, I always …

Great question. I always introduce the problem in the lead. My job as a writer is to get the eyes moving down the page. 

So I want to hook you in the lead, then with the problem, and then ideally link to that problem somewhere in the news, right? Something that backs up the messaging I’m trying to share. 

Then once I have you in the lead, once I’ve got you, then hopefully your eyes will get moving down the page and you’ll learn more about the solution, right? Which is basically the second half of the article.

Fantastic. Now I want to take a step back. 

We talked about the best brand voice, one of the best brand voices being Disney and specifically to movie trailers, movie posters. I feel like that plays a bigger role in the way that you work than you’re leading with. 

What I know about you is that when you’re setting out to design a message, design content, you’re thinking in terms of a screenwriter. Tell me a little bit about that.

So screen writing was a hobby I had a long time ago, maybe 10, 15 years, something like that. And I went through bootcamp training. I bought all the books, I put myself through the courses, and I hired a mentor — I did the whole thing. 

Never stop innovating, discover new ways to tell your story, and ultimately be relatable to your audience. Click To Tweet

So there’s some people that say they write screenplays and there are some people that actually write screenplays, right, they know how to do it. There’s a whole architecture about it. 

So when I did it, I went all in and came fairly close to getting produced which was pretty cool. But the biggest take away was that I had fun doing it. It was part of my past. 

It was fun, but it gave me new tools to help with my writing craft and my content creation. It could be anything, a blog, or a video. At the end of the day it’s about the hero’s journey and what problem that the hero had to overcome in order to get things done. 

I just ran into this problem recently this week actually, it’s funny you bring this up. I had a blog, I got near the end, and I realized there’s no drama. I thought I had the problem nailed but I realized that’s not what audiences want — they want something more.

I was talking to my wife about it. She’s like, what do you mean? And I said, imagine the movie Star Wars. But a Star Wars where Luke Skywalker never leaves Tatooine, right? 

It’s like he works on the farm. He meets this old guy. And then the old guy who’s like this wizard or something saves him from the sand people. And then the movie’s over. 

So, the empire has got to be introduced. There has to be an inciting incident for him to leave, get off that planet, eventually blow up the Death Star, and foil the Empire’s plans. That’s what’s important. 

So I reached out to my subject matter expert, the person I was interviewing, and I said we’re missing our Darth Vader. We’re missing our Death Star. We’ve got to go back and look at this again. 

I fired off a few more questions at him and he’s like, yeah, you’re right. I think it might have been missing this. 

Now, I think this piece is going to be 10 times stronger. I just finished the second draft and it was completely different. So I was very excited to get that done.

In case the listeners miss the important part of this, this is complex technical concepts that you’re writing about. So you’re not saying like, I’m writing about unimportant content and also I’m adding drama. You’re communicating technical concepts and incorporating what you’ve learned about screen writing, drama creation, excitement, and engagement into this material to make it, I would say, “must read” stories.

What I write about are very, very complicated subjects, Chris. It’s like AI, automation, and things like that. In a previous life, at Qualcomm, I was writing about semiconductors. And then I was at another company called Ansys and I was writing about mind melting stuff like computational fluid dynamics. 

So, being able to tell compelling stories in those domains while still trying to keep it entertaining is really the name of the game. And that’s what I really enjoy doing.

And I think that speaks to the fact that, again, to be clear for the people listening, you’re not a technical documentation creator. You’re a content creator that talks about complex technical solutions, and that’s very different because you do need to create engagement. 

I always introduce the problem in the lead. My job as a writer is to get the eyes moving down the page. Click To Tweet

It’s content that people have to want to read. They need to want to learn this in order to get through that content. So if you make it engaging, if you make it interesting, then you’re gonna get a better experience for the end reader.

Right. This is how I explain to my family what I do. 

I take very complicated technical information. It could be anything. And then I translate that so anybody in the world can understand it, ranging from a CEO, to an engineer, to my grandma. Being able to tell that story for a wide audience is really what gets me out of bed.

That’s the point with a lot of this is that we tend to be so tied up in our own products that we’re communicating in our language. And that’s not always the language of the consumer. And knowing who your consumer is of your content is critically important. 

It goes back to the very beginning of this conversation when you identified that the problem’s gotta be in the lead and you need to know who you’re talking to. If you don’t, your content could end up being worthless.

Yeah, and I can’t tell you how many websites that I’ve gone to across even Fortune 500 companies where, in my opinion, more could have been done to tell a stronger story. What do I mean by that? It kind of touches on what you just said. 

The company is so passionate about who they are and what they do that they don’t stop to think about the customer’s problem and address that in the copy that they’re creating. It’s me, me, me. In reality, it should be you, you, you and how we help you solve that problem. 

That’s what I try to do with every single thing I create. That’s the common through line that connects all of my work. 

And historically, I think I’ve produced over 2000 pieces of content, maybe more. But that’s it. I just do it over and over and over again. That’s the secret sauce.

I think that all ties to this concept of thinking outside of the box being really important when it comes to the type of content that you’re producing.

Yeah, for sure.

There’s a lot to know in the businesses that you’ve worked in. How do you research to shape this content creation process?

Yeah, that’s another secret. I’ll give you a look behind the scenes here. 

So before I join a company, I probably do things that most people wouldn’t do. What I’ll typically do is put myself through this intensive two week boot camp. And my job there’s to try to discover new ideas for content. 

Sure, I write blogs. Sure, I create videos. What else can I do? 

There’s gotta be other things that are out there in the universe that other people have done. How do I figure this out? 

So here’s what I do: 

  • I look at every single Fortune 500 company website out there.
  • I look at every link across every site. 

So you’re talking about 500 sites on average. Maybe I’ll look at 10 to 15 links per site. You’re looking at a ballpark of 5,000 links or something like that.

And then what I’ll do is, if I find a piece of content that I think is really cool, I’ll just copy and paste the link into this Excel spreadsheet, for example. And then I’ll categorize it: interesting ideas for blogs, or cool ways to do infographics, or I really like the story that this person tells in this video. 

There’s this one company that created an animated video that really speaks to me. They took a person’s voiceover, and then mapped animation on top of that, going through the person’s day-to-day business. And then the animation goes away, and you see the person in real life saying, “Hi, my name’s Bob and I’m an engineer for so-and-so.” 

The company is so passionate about who they are and what they do that they don't stop to think about the customer's problem and address that in the copy. It's me, me, me. In reality, it should be you, you, you and how we help you solve that problem. Click To Tweet

For me, that was exciting. I’ve never seen that approach before in a video. It blends live action and animation in an eye-catching, completely captivating way. 

So I was like, I gotta get that link. That link’s going on my spreadsheet. 

This is a grueling process by the way, a normal human being can’t do this during their regular work day. It’s impossible, right? Because of all the things that go on between your work day and your personal life, especially if you have kids. 

So I get all my homework done before I show up on day one. And then on day one, I’ve got 100 to 150 ideas ready to rock and roll, when I step through the door.

So, when my boss comes to me 30 days later and says, “Hey Scott, I’d love to hear some of the ideas you have,” I’m ready to go. And I’ve got a deck that I can produce in half a day. And they’re like, “how did you come up with all this stuff?” I don’t tell them what’s going on.

That’s so actionable though. That’s something that everybody could do, but so few people probably do. Just having that backlog of, “oh, we need a new thing. I have 300 new things,” all of which provide immediate value to the organization.

And I’m not talking about a straight, copy-paste-steal type thing. No way, It’s taking the general kernel of the idea and then making it my own and molding and shaping it so that it fits the tone and the narrative of the company that I’m working at.

But there’s a cartoon out there somewhere that turns into a video of you, right?

My life’s not that interesting.

Fair enough. This is the point in the show where I like to switch to the PSOTD, that’s the Provocative Statement of the Day. It’s a position you hold that you think maybe everybody doesn’t agree with, but that you feel strongly about. Gives you an opportunity to be heard on a thing you might think is slightly more controversial. 

Scott, what’s your provocative statement of the day?

Three words, don’t be boring.

Okay, I like that.

I’ll expand that. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to be controversial and do things that other people wouldn’t, especially from a content creation perspective. 

If your company has always created blogs, maybe it doesn’t need to be a blog. Maybe it’s a video. Maybe it’s a video series. Maybe your video could be a blog series. 

Think about different ways to tell your stories to educate, engage, and ideally entertain your audience.

I like that. When I talk to my team, I say something very similar, but probably for very different reasons. 

In my opinion, a successful piece of content in its first launch at a company (roughly the size of mine) might get a thousand views from our target market and target number of personas out there of 100,000. 

So we’ve covered a very small percentage with this. If it works, fantastic! If it doesn’t work, only a thousand people saw it. So it’s not that big a deal. 

Try things. Because the best things that happen are the things you don’t expect. The most successful blog article I’ve ever been involved with at a company was in the mid 2000s when an intern from Northeastern University wrote a blog article about why enterprise mobility is like the game Angry Birds. 

We didn’t ask her to do it. She just said, I have a neat idea. I’ve been playing this game, I work here, and I think I can tie these two things together. 

It went viral and got a million reads. We would never have green lit that. “You want to do what? Nah, that seems like a no.”

But she did it, we pushed it out, and it became wildly successful. That was a huge lesson because it’s not something that we would do. It’s not conventional to us and it was more of a controversial topic and it had huge success. 

So from there on in, my approach has been if you think you wanna do it, do it. I don’t need to be involved in it. If it concerns me, it makes me uncomfortable, that might be good and I’m gonna go over here and you do it. And when it’s done, tell me how it went.

Many of those things are the best things that we do. Sometimes they’re not that great, but most of the time, it’s where amazing things happen.

That’s cool. I think that also, giving your content creators that kind of freedom and liberty inspires them to continue to think like that. To let them know the shackles are off and we welcome newness and creativity. 

I think more often than not, some people might feel inhibited by “maybe my boss doesn’t want me to do it for whatever reason.” Shake those shackles off and run. That’s my motto.

Every so often just let it happen. So the one that comes to mind that was my favorite example of this is my Head of Creative Design, one company ago, said “I wanna create a video.” Oh, cool Randall, you should definitely do that. 

Think about different ways to tell your stories to educate, engage, and ideally entertain your audience. Click To Tweet

I guess I should explain what the video was. He wanted to rent a dozen or more antique Volkswagen bugs, a sign truck, a drone, and a drone pilot. To create a parade around the Embarcadero area of San Francisco, filming from the ground and sky. This sign truck followed with all these bugs. 

Our company was a mobile cloud testing company, and the campaign was, “Don’t let bugs get you down.” 

Everything about this makes me uncomfortable. But I’m gonna go and you set this up and I’ll see you in San Francisco. I landed and they drove me out to a parking lot at a grocery store in Oakland. 

And I’ll tell you, Scott, sign trucks are bigger than you think they are, especially when your brand’s on it. I was thinking about the back of a U-Haul and this thing was humongous. They put me in a Volkswagen that we had rented. We had a Volkswagen club come, all these folks with their families. 

They spent the day with us driving around San Francisco. We collected all of this video from the street and from the drones and turned it into this concept video that we used both for marketing and for ABM. It turned out to be, from an ABM standpoint, a wild success. But also that was the day that we learned that if you hire an unlicensed drone pilot with a face tattoo, it’s likely that he’s going to fly his drone into the side of a building. 

Oh no!

But that’s what happens when you just let it go.

The FAA didn’t come after you, did they?

Not in time to catch me before I got on my airplane and flew back to Massachusetts. So no, but that was a very real concern again, unlicensed drone. What are you going to do?

That’s a perfect example of pushing the envelope. 

It is, and I think that’s what I’ve taken away from you. The way you look at things, the way you create, and the way you take risks is really driving the way that content marketing is happening inside companies like Salesforce. More companies need to think like this, and that’s really exciting. 

So thank you for coming on the show, and I’ll be excited to see you back here again really soon.

Thanks Chris, sounds great.

Important links