Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, it was a dark and stormy night…
You know how it goes, because storytelling is universal and timeless. It may also be just the thing to get you heard above the noise of the digital space.
Wait, what's that? It looks like a conflict has emerged. Allow me to break it down for you.
All stories are composed of 3 major elements, Character, Conflict, and Resolution.
In this scenario, our character is you, the humble marketer. The conflict is the struggle to convert leads because the internet is crowded with people constantly talking over each other. The resolution is finally getting your voice heard, through storytelling.
Let’s build out our narrative a little further and see where it takes us.
The brain is programmed for narratives because it loves to recognize patterns and assign meaning.
The brain is so conditioned for narratives that it even creates them where they clearly don’t exist at all. Feeling sorry for the unworn clothes in your closet, for example, or attributing loneliness to a plastic bag blowing in the wind.
This is all a part of how we relate to each other, and the world around us, as a species. Narratives release oxytocin (the “love” chemical) in the brain, encouraging cooperation with others and enhancing empathy between the storyteller and the listener.
This increased empathy creates a kind of mind meld (hey there, Trekkies) between all parties involved to the point that the listener steps into the shoes of the character and begins experiencing the story as if it was actually happening to him.
Storytelling is a highly sticky technique because experiencing and empathetic response, combined with the emotional experience of living out the story, creates a memory. Remember those ASPCA commercials that played Sarah McLaughlin’s Angel over images of sad animals? Of course you do!
How could you ever forget?
How do I tell a story?
The character is always your buyer persona(s). Buyer personas are fictitious representations of your ideal customers — think of personas as the dream list of clients your business would have if you could carefully cherry pick the people that buy what you’re selling or doing. When you have a persona built, it’s much easier to try and target them. It’s like having a goal list and if you’ve ever read a self help or professional development book, you know that the act of writing down a goal makes you exponentially more likely to achieve it. In addition to helping you hone in on your target, creating buyer personas humanizes your customers. By creating a profile for your persona, who he is, what her challenges are, what makes them happy dance and what keeps them awake at night, you get to know your customers like they’re your best friends.
So write with them in mind. Address their problem areas at all stages of the buyer’s journey. Doing this makes it easier for your audience to step into the shoes of character and envision the resolution you provide happening for them. In other words, it helps them see themselves benefiting from buying what you’re selling.
So write with them in mind. Address their problem areas at all stages of the buyer’s journey. Doing this makes it easier for your audience to step into the role of character and envision the resolution you provide happening for them. In other words, it helps them see themselves benefiting from buying what you’re selling.
Also, be intentional about your point of view (POV). POV can be, broadly, first person, second person, or third person.
First person uses the pronouns “I, we, and us” and comes across as a confession from the writer. I often begin my blogs in first person, using the pronoun, “I” to let the reader know that I relate to him. I’ll often also use the pronouns “we” and “us” to say to the reader, “hey, we’re all in this together!” and bring them in as one of the players in my confession.
Second person uses the pronoun “you.” This point of view acts as a direct call to action for the reader. Second person POV has the least amount of psychic distance between the reader and the story because it immediately places him or her in the action. Consider, “As it starts to rain, you feel the icy drops smack the side of your face like tiny daggers,” verses, “As it starts to rain, I feel the icy drops smack the side of my face like tiny daggers.” The first one felt much more real and impactful, right? How-to lists are often written in an understood second person because you're telling the reader what to do. You're giving the reader a direction.
Third person POV uses the pronouns “he, she, they, it.” This point of view puts the most distance between the reader and the subject of the story and is best for more objective pieces like analyses or case studies.
2) Narrative Structure
In its simplest form, a story consists of a beginning, middle, and end. Once the brain recognizes this pattern, it kicks in to empathy overdrive.
These components can be as complex as a novel, or as simple as 6 words. Take “Baby Shoes,” by Anonymous for example. This is a 6-word story that’s been passed from English class to English class as the epitome of the short-form narrative. It goes like this:
“For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Those 6 words are all we need. We’re good at patterns so we can fill in the rest ourselves and come to the conclusion that this probably isn’t a happy story.
Creating emotion doesn’t need to be sad or even dramatic, but pathos (emotion) is stickier than logos (logic), so eliciting emotion from your reader will make your message easier to remember.
The empathy response from the narrative structure will do some of the work for you, but you need to take your reader the rest of the way. One of the ways you do this is by writing to your buyer personas and including their journey in your narrative, as mentioned in point #1.
To paraphrase Sinek, people buy your “why” not your “what.” Begin with the reason why you do what you do. Your company’s mission statement, for example. Or, your “why” in writing a blog post may be to help your readers increase their lead conversion. The why is what elicits emotional and empathetic responses and gets your reader’s heart invested in what you have to say.
You then work your way out of the circle, by saying “how” you’re going to help. By showing them how to master the art of storytelling, for example. Finally, you tell them what you’re selling, which for me, is digital marketing, and will be presented in a call-to-action at the bottom of this post.
IKEA’s mission statement is a great example, “To create a better everyday life for the [sic] many people.” Their mission isn’t to sell furniture. They sell furniture, sure, but the reason why they do it is to give people a better life.
Denouement is a French term for the part of a narrative in which everything is resolved. The denouement establishes a new normal for all players involved.
Effective Denouements contrast the before and after; what was life like before applying your solution or product, and what does it look like after? Think about infomercials. The before, usually shot in black and white, shows a horribly incompetent person failing to complete the simplest of mundane tasks. The after is in full technicolor, and our character has once again joined the ranks of the fully competent thanks to the miracle product.
An easy way to do this is through case studies or a portfolio, or by giving examples of companies who have benefited from using your business or implementing your technique.
Where do I tell stories?
In short, you tell stories everywhere.
Blog posts, eBooks, white papers, case studies, commercials, etc. These are all stories and include some kind of narrative.
Stories are also present in your company’s value and mission statements, and even your company culture!
Remember, humans are hardwired for narrative, and see it everywhere. This means there’s no shortage of opportunities to practice your storytelling. So be intentional about the stories you tell, because once you’ve mastered it, your company and your content will begin to stand out in the crowded digital space.