There's nothing better than a good story--whether delivered over a pint at the pub, from a 60-inch flat screen in front of the sofa, or viewed on your phone while waiting in line at the grocery store. Good stories suck you in with characters who face gripping challenges. Whether it's a movie, a book, a Vine, or a 30-second commercial, a great story pays off in a satisfying way by hitting straight to your audience's hearts and minds. But let's face it: If storytelling was easy, we'd all be dashing off great American novels. Getting to that "simple" story isn't simple.

Certainly, content marketing presents a good framework for delivering valuable information to audiences and tacitly reinforcing companies' value to them in the process. However, it can be incredibly difficult for organizations to move away from selling features and price and instead focusing on the softer sell (or even no-sell) of creating a compelling and engaging tale that conveys why your consumer should buy, read, engage with your brand. That can be the real genius of content marketing. There is no denying the impact of content that captures the attention of an audience and genuinely engages them.

Here are three tips that will elevate your content marketing from textbook to must-read:

1. Introduce us to a hero.

The vast majority of products and services are intended for use by people. And people like to read about people. While cars are pretty fascinating machines, for example, the story of a dad mastering the carpool with the savvy of a professional racecar driver is one that is instantly relatable. Create a character that the members of your audience understand, aspire to be, or would love to meet, and you can create a near-instant connection that will pull them into your story.

2. Set the stakes.

It is likely that your product or service is intended to solve a problem of some sort. Perhaps you don't think of it as a "problem," but maybe you should. All great stories include a conflict that the hero must overcome. While your product might not disarm a bomb before the bus explodes, you need to think like your customer and figure out what's at stake (and how you can help prevent imminent disaster!). A harried single mom has two kids and no insurance, but you are there to help her quickly, easily keep her family safe. No need to sell your audience on why you are better than the rest. Instead, hook your audience with a plot that matters.

3. Pay off.

There is nothing more frustrating than falling in love with a character, fighting alongside as he or she battles through 300 pages or a couple of hours of plot, and then pfffffft, the story fizzles out with a trite ending or, worse, no ending at all. If you've captured the attention of your audience, do not waste their time, even if they're reading a 500-word blog post or watching a one-minute informational video. Bachelor Brad finds his dream pad on the beach but finds himself out of his depth on décor. Your website offers tools that let him upload photos and see how furniture will look, and customer support provides great advice filled with humor. Brad ends up with not only the pad of his dreams, but also has an epic housewarming and gets the surfer girl, too. Deliver an ending that satisfies and, along the way, demonstrates the value of your products or services to your audience.

You might not view your business as the stuff of blockbuster ads, much less major motion pictures. However, when you think about your customers as real people with real problems--catastrophic or mundane--and the way your product can help them, you will begin to see the stories in your work. Tell those stories, and you'll create great content marketing.

Published on: Jan 29, 2015