Marketers are constantly hearing about the importance of storytelling in their marketing. They should be trying to tell their brand story. Lead with a story. Connect with a story.
For the average marketer, this can feel like a daunting change. You may just be getting the hang of this whole content marketing thing, where you are trying to provide value by educating your prospects instead of telling them about your products and services. And now you have to tell them a story. Is that in addition to trying to educate them, or instead of that? You feel like new parent with that deer-in-the-headlights look. If only someone would tell you what to do.
There are plenty of resources about storytelling if you want to get started in a big way, but what if you want to get started in a small way? This blog post may be just the thing.
I work for a big company, and there are already plenty of stories about the company, and even our specific product suite. But that’s not where I’m going with our content. I have been thinking about story differently. I am using small moments of story to catch people off guard. (highlight to tweet) They are reading about a marketing topic, and suddenly they encounter a brief scene that they were not expecting. It could be a simple visual metaphor, but it could also feel like a very short story. In the middle of an ebook or other type of top-of-funnel content, I’ve created a short story in their mind.
Let’s look at some ideas that make these kinds of small story moments work. These are embedded in content that is helping to build trust, so a prospect will ultimately buy from your company.
These stories have to be about things that people recognize from their own lives, or in this case, their own offices. In a piece about the importance of tools that help you manage resources, I included the following sentence: “It also lets you identify bottlenecks—we’re looking at you, Sandra—and brings efficiency to your content team.”
Every team has someone that is a bottleneck. Not only did I create a moment that is relatable, but I called out a specific person in a way that is totally unexpected. But when you read the sentence, you get an instant picture in your head of Sandra, and you think about your own bottleneck person. And this has made you think how nice it would be if there really was something that could solve this problem.
Writers, which is what we were called before we were content creators, can get happy with well-turned phrase, but if it doesn’t stick in someone’s mind, it’s just another piece of content. We also need to keep educating our prospects about what we do.
I included this sentence at the beginning of a piece about segmentation and targeting: “Imagine walking down the street and trying to sell a ham and cheese sandwich to everyone you meet.” I continued to describe the different reactions of people and their condiment and cheese preferences.
Not only have I explained a concept—how much more successful your marketing and sales could be if you craft a message based on what you know about people—but also I’ve told a memorable story that forever ties this aspect of marketing automation to ham and cheese sandwiches.
No matter what kind of content you are writing, there is room for some creativity. Not only will it make you feel like a better writer (you’re probably never going to write the great American novel), but you will better connect with your prospects. By the way, that “great American novel” comment was just what I’m talking about. It created a picture in your head of a writer toiling away—very relatable to writers who wonder how they became marketers.
I’ll just leave this example here with no additional comment. It’s from a piece about lead scoring: “That’s because no matter how many trashy leads you have brought in with your crayon-drawn stick figures posted on neighborhood telephone poles, only the best ones get passed along to sales when you have properly set up your lead scoring.”
Humor can be hard for many people. It is definitely subjective, but it is frequently unexpected. In the example below, the humor comes from the specificity of the details—another thing that creates strong mental picture.
I used the following to describe what it feels like when a company uses social media listening, gathers data, and immediately tries to sell you something: “Imagine you are sitting in your living room talking to a friend about a 10-pound bag of potatoes you just bought, and the doorbell rings. It is someone selling potato peelers. Whether it is the world’s greatest potato peeler or not, this feels like an intrusion.”
These small stories that paint pictures in the minds of your prospects can also show that you understand them and their daily challenges. This particular example expresses that understanding quite literally: “Modern Marketers face a myriad of problems. Should I buy those new shoes? Should I have a diet soda with my burrito? How effective is my marketing?”
These questions are things that our prospects ask themselves every day. Again, the specific nature of the stories that are brought up in their mind are what make these effective. If you’ve wanted a particular pair of shoes, this brings them to mind. Maybe today is the day to visit your favorite burrito place for lunch. And now we have tied our company to things that you like.
Finally, this approach to storytelling needs to be used sparingly. If you want to connect with prospects by creating memorable pictures in their head, you do not want to overload them. A simple approach needs to remain a simple approach. Too many of these moments will just override each other and be somewhat counterproductive.
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