When you hear the word “storytelling” it may evoke memories of sitting around a campfire listening to tales of things that go thump in the night. Or maybe it reminds you of news shows like 60 Minutes and all the drama that comes from this sort of investigative reporting.
Whatever thoughts the word “storytelling” inspires, it often comes with a flood of emotion or experiences that reminds you of a particular time or situation in your life. I recently interviewed Chris Brogan about storytelling as it applies to websites, social channels and more and he had some interesting things to say:
This is impactful stuff, right? Of course it is. This is because it is our nature to relate what it is we do and who we are to stories. This is also why businesses have learned the importance of incorporating “storytelling” within core marketing efforts. It’s the relatable, interactive elements of storytelling that help your audience make important purchasing and recommendation decisions that can drive revenue and competitive advantage.
But how do you tell a good story? How can you offer the effective bridge between you and your audience that will differentiate your product or service from the hundreds of others, just like you?
Storytelling is an art, one that requires thought, structure and process to ensure you’re delivering the right message to the right audience. And storytelling is most effective when there is consistency and choreography across many communication channels.
Any good story has a structure -- a narrative arc, bringing the reader/viewer on a transformative journey. There must be a setting, characters, conflict and a resolution. (This may sound extreme when relating a journey to which grocery store to shop at, but it is relevant.) This is because every decision we make involves emotion. That said, the decisioning is a process; much like a story follows the same format and is relatable.
A consumer viewing a Tide Stick ad with a parent holding a stained soccer shirt feels empathy for her as s/he can relate to being in a similar situation -- having spilt coffee on their shirt, just the week prior. Tide has instantly told a good story: there is a setting (parent in the laundry room, holding the stained shirt); character (sympathetic mom); conflict (how to get out the stain); resolution (Tide to the rescue!).
Steps to a Good Story
Once you understand the structure behind a good story there are eight simple steps to follow in ensuring the proper creation and delivery of your story.
- Know the story you want to tell -- Tell a story that will achieve your business goals. Have a sense of message and only communicate what matters. There is a lot of noise out there, stay focused or your message will get lost. And think multichannel.
- Know your audience -- If you don’t know who you want to address, your story will be ineffective.
- Capture experiences and moments -- Use examples verbatim, raw examples have more meaning.
- Be relevant -- You need to spark a reaction, if you don’t engage at some level, you won’t matter.
- Show impact/purpose -- Answer why you matter.
- Explain and demystify -- How does what you do play in the real world?
- Celebrate the unsung hero -- The more you are in touch beyond your own internal business and celebrate the people that support you and your community, the more powerful the story.
- Be yourself -- Have a voice, have an opinion, take a position on something. No one comes from nothing.
Once your story is in place it is vital that it is communicated effectively and consistently. First and foremost, this is a team effort and should involve multiple people and groups within your organization.
Bring people into the process. Tell them the story and help them believe in it. Those who believe in what they pitch or share are much more effective at communicating the value and making the sale than those that are skeptical or unclear; passion for the topic is key.
As you educate those around you, offer some structure to support them in the delivery of the story. This includes building a messaging architecture and style guides. Ensuring consistency of branding and delivery, down to the finite detail will make for a much more compelling story. After all, everyone knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. No one knows the story of Little Reddish Riding Cloak and the Large Mean Dog.
Finally, with all of the channels available today -- your website, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and more -- it is very easy to become overwhelmed and to over communicate your story. When in doubt, bring it all home. Consistency is key.
Build your story in one place, then distribute that story from a central location -- ideally, your website. Although tools like Facebook and Twitter offer many bells and whistles such as timelines and apps to post pictures, polls and more, you and your organization do not own the technology on which your information is held. There is no real control over the content created. Your website, however, is yours to do with as you see fit.
So now that you understand the importance of structure, the elements of a good story, how to create and communicate it, work with your cross-functional team members to focus on storytelling for your business; rinse and repeat. And if you’re practical and patient, your stories will be embraced and shared by others on a large scale.
Title image courtesy of Oliver Hoffman (Shutterstock).
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