Humans are emotional.
We may like to think of ourselves as rational and calculating, but in truth, we just use facts to justify what our hearts tell us.
If you’re resentful of this, you can blame your brain. It’s made up of two systems that control everything you think, believe, and feel: system 1 is subconscious, emotional, and automatic; while system 2 is conscious, rational, and not automatic (it requires effort).
This powerful, always-on system 1 is the reason having a better product at a better price doesn’t mean you automatically get all the market share. You have to connect with people first, then tell them why your product is better.
“Great leaders recognize that human connections need to go before concepts and strategies: connect first with your prospects, your audiences – then get down to business.”
Stories are fantastic tools for forming this vital connection. They create a shared experience that helps (or perhaps, makes) our audience form an emotional attachment with our brand. Learning how to write powerful buyer journeys will transform your inbound marketing efforts.
And, whether they know it or not, all brands have a story. A reason they exist, a struggle they faced, a customer they helped in a way that other brands couldn’t or wouldn’t – most just don’t know how important those stories are or how to tell them.
It doesn’t take a lot of words to tell a story. In fact, 6 is plenty:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
You don’t need perfect dialog or a hero. All you need, according to Andrew Stanton, is to make people care.
Yep, it’s that simple: Just get your very busy potential customers, with their crazy lives and dwindling attention spans, to care about your business’ story.
Ok, so maybe storytelling in marketing isn't easy, but you do have a clear path to creating a connection that makes potential customers more receptive and trusting to your pitch.
And that’s a damn good start. So storytelling is a massively powerful business tool, I get that, but...
How do you tell a good story?
The first step is to soak in as many good stories as you can. Books and movies and shows and podcasts and drunk guys at bars are full of good stories.
This step is an ongoing process, so it’s best to leave your bar tab open indefinitely.
“He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”
– Annie Dillard
But you’re busy. So let’s skip right to the best storytellers in the world right now.
If you didn’t cry in the first 30 minutes of Up you can stop reading this post now, because sociopaths can’t be good storytellers.
The amazing team at Pixar are storytellers of the highest order. From Wall-E to Nemo (and not counting Cars because everyone makes mistakes, don’t judge) that single studio has created more moving, charming, funny, sad, emotional roller coasters than anyone. They know how to pluck our heartstrings like they’re playing a harp. And this is how they do it:
- You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
- You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
- Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
- Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
- Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
- Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
- When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
- Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
- Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
- Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- 13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
- Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
- No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
- You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
- What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Granted, they don’t all lend perfectly to storytelling in a business setting since they’re focused on fiction (few prospective clients admire you more for trying than for your success), but a couple do stand out.
...keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer.
This is huge. You may want to talk about your new process used to develop your product, but what does your reader what to know about? If you’ve read our blogs before, you’re likely very familiar with the concept of making content that the audience finds value in. And Pixar agrees.
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Your story should be focused on getting the reader to take one action. One.
Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
Understand this at the beginning and your story will be a whole lot stronger. From there, build a story arch, some changes of fate, good fortune, bad fortune and a happy ending and you’ll be well on your way to creating a memorable story.
What brands are using storytelling the best?
Yes, Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads are nice. Puppies, clydesdales, America… we get it.
You want to see some brands telling amazing stories? Watch these.
Kurt Vonnegut on the shape of stories
Johnnie Walker – Gentleman’s Wager
John Lewis 2011 Christmas Ad
TrueMove – Giving
Johnnie Walker – Dear Brother
AirBNB – Wall & Chain
Hennessy V S – The Picards
Google – Reunion
Ok, stop watching ads and go write your story (or someone else's). Be honest and clear, give us highs and lows, create tension and release, but above all – make us feel something.
Your story will have a much happier ending if your marketing plan is on point.
If you need some weekend reading, we've written the gamut on crafting compelling marketing stories for every stage of the buyer's journey. In it, we have 6 unique chapters with all kinds of writing research and goodies to improve your storytelling ability.
“The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
– August Wilson