Parents have long understood that the best way to convey a message is through story.
Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, among others, are real to young children because of the many stories that vividly capture their magical qualities. Of course, the objective for doing so is to influence behaviors.
As marketers, your content marketing can influence behaviors if you learn to use stories to make emotional and memorable connections.
Every Business Has Stories to Tell
Being a good storyteller is easier than you may think.
The truth is that most good storytellers follow proven formulas. For example, years ago a Hollywood screenwriter shared with me that every successful film (excluding exceptions such as dark comedies) follows a simple formula. Here it is:
Somebody – does something – and it works out
Somebody is usually the main character. They do something in Act I that gets the story rolling. After that there is often drama and suspense, but everything always works out in the end.
A classic example of this is the film Top Gun. It opens with Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose learning that they have earned a spot in the prestigious Top Gun flight school because Cougar lost his nerve and turned in his wings
What eventually follows is the drama that surrounds Goose being killed in an unfortunate accident, one that challenges Maverick to somehow work things out – and he does. In the 2nd to last scene Maverick recovers from that tragedy and saves not only the lives of his fellow pilots, but also every man and woman on their aircraft carrier.
What happens in the final scene? Maverick gets the girl!
It’s a classic story formula with a happy ending in which everything works out.
What are your stories, the ones in which your business expertly manages challenges to create favorable outcomes for your customers?
How to Tell Your Stories
The reason for telling your stories are many. For one thing, stories help to humanize your business. Remember that prospective buyers are not interested in your marketing message, but they can be engaged by the skillful use of stories about real people – especially the customers or clients that your business has served well.
You can also profile those that work behind the scenes of your business to create exceptional customer experiences. Their story is highly credible because it is often raw and unpolished.
Consumers for the most part do not trust businesses until they get to know the people within them. In addition to the customers it serves, they also expect to learn about the people that make things happen, from its leading managers down to the entry level shipping clerk.
How do you tell your stories?
Referring back to our simple film formula above, simply break your stories down into three parts: Act I, II, and III.
This beginning, middle and end formula works for plays, films, books, and yes, blog posts, articles, press releases, and other means for sharing the stories that will engage your audience.
Another version of this is the The Foolscap Method by screenwriter, author, and recent Oprah guest, Steven Pressfield.
This simple formula is one that I’ve found invaluable for developing stories, organizing projects, and making the most of major events.
Steven Pressfield is not a household name, but one that has become a quiet legend among online copywriters and content marketers. My advice is to sign up for his First Look Access to get his best ideas.
Finding Your Stories
The reason stories are the holy grail of content marketing is when they are shared by your community they engage its collective voice.
It’s not only a beautiful thing when your customers are speaking favorably about your business brand; it’s quite powerful as well.
There is seldom a story where everything goes well from start to finish. It turns out that life and business tend to include challenges that lead to opportunities for exceeding expectations and creating what may not have been thought possible.
These situations are where you want to be mining your stories. Challenges are both interesting and memorable. It’s the one thing that all human beings share.
The best marketing is memorable, and remembered stories, are often repeated.
Business marketing has traditionally been a process of projecting excellence. These days, educated and informed consumers know that is seldom reality. This is why they are instantly engaged by honest stories that tell the truth – and that builds trust.
So, tell the truth.
Now back to you. How is your business using story?
Jeff is also the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)