Sometimes, even well-written headlines, web copy, landing pages and blog posts fail to engage and move people to take action. By take action, I mean to sign-up to an email list, download a white paper, buy something or just make a tiny shift in consideration of an idea or different course of action.
This is, after all, the goal of content marketing - to persuade and trigger action. This is what the Content Marketing Institute clearly indicated in the article What is Content Marketing?:
"Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."
Does your content marketing efforts too often fail to drive others to engage, to take action? Any action? If so, maybe you're just being a little too nice and you need to spice it up a bit with some good old-fashioned conflict.
I'm not talking about intentionally rubbing people the wrong way, being nasty, negative or picking fights. I'm talking about introducing the element of a tug-of-war between two ideals; a struggle of opposing forces, viewpoints, paths or practices that reveal what it is to be vulnerable, human.
The reason conflict is so arresting is because we are wired for it. And we experience it, daily. Like the opposing poles of a magnet pulling and repelling, our world is full of do's and dont's, good vs. evil, resistance and cooperation, storm and calm, war and peace, what is with what could be.
Here are a few techniques for inducing the element of engaging conflict in your content:
Uncover the differences between two things
If you look in the margin of this blog under "Most Popular Posts" you will find: What's the Difference Between a Press Release and a News Release? Is there a difference? I'm not sure. But I noticed people were using the terms somewhat interchangeably and I sought to understand if there was a difference, real or perceived, then formed my own opinion and wrote about it. Here's the mysterious thing. It is not, by far, one of my most well-written blog posts. And I've been tempted to re-write it. But why mess with whatever pull or push this thing has done?
Creating elements of conflict in your content is more important to engagement than how well you write. [Tweet that]
As I write this, Seth Godin came out with the post, Writing tip: say it backwards. In it he basically says instead of stating the obvious and what people expect, say the opposite: "That your software might be overpriced." (Gasp!) "Then tell us why. We'd love to know how you're going to wriggle out of that." Conflict connects. resolving it sells.
You can do this too. Where is the tension, wonder, opposites and interest in terms, concepts, practices or ideas surrounding your business and industry?
Examine your "Story" from the villains's perspective
On the hero's journey we heed the call, but along the way dark forces (internal and physical) oppose and aim to destroy our dream of dreams. Conflict. War. In this clash we face key moments where we, like David, must trust what we got to defeat our Goliath. Victory comes. But tomorrow's another day. Another battle ensues.
This is our life. The ups and downs. This is what we know: Tension. Resistance. It is what stirs our emotions, gets our blood pumping, and makes us pay attention, get engaged.
And, if we find ways to include the elements that all good stories are made of in our content, we just might find it connecting, resonating with listeners, engaging and moving them to take action.
The struggle between what our hero wants and the opposing villainous forces makes for great storytelling. And storytelling is the content creator's best friend. Why? One of my favorite teachers on storytelling is Nancy Duarte. She writes in Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, "Storytelling creates the emotional glue that connects an audience to your idea." One of the techniques writers and content creators can employ to help pinpoint and draw upon this emotional glue is to look first to the villain. What does he want?
Start with the Villian, suggests Steven Pressfield. If you know what your villain wants, you know the counter-theme,and what your hero wants. Looking at what you want to get across from the standpoint of what might prevent it from happening will open up fresh insights and inspiration. And once you have that, you have everything you need to fully engage your audience - and make them feel something.
Craft a hint of conflict (and hope) in your headlines
You may have noticed I'm a big fan of Michael Hyatt and Ray Edwards. In a recent guest blog, Edwards wrote an article for Hyatt's blog entitled, 5 Headline Templates That Grab Readers. If you look closely, every one of the 5 types includes an implication of conflict along with something that could be improved upon.
- How-To Headlines: How to Write a Blog Post Every Day (targeted to those not writing daily)
- Transactional Headlines: Try These 5 Tactics for a Week, And Be Twice As Productive (appeals to those struggling to be more productive)
- Reason-Why Headlines: Why Your Blog Posts Get Ignored, And How to Fix That (we don't want to be avoided, we want to be noticed!)
- Probing Question Headlines: Why Don't Doctor's Get Sick? (do you want to learn the secrets of turning sickness into wellness?)
- If-Then Headlines: If You Can Follow a Recipe, You Can Write Better Headlines (my headlines suck...but there's hope...recipe?)
I've mentioned this before, but there's a great little book I keep at arms length. It's David Garfinkel's, Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich. You may cringe a bit when you hear the term "advertising," don't. Instead, get beyond this (conflict) and see what you can learn from direct response copywriters. The book shows you why these headlines work and how you can adapt them to make them work for you.
I'll share just a few examples. Notice the underlining conflicts, emotions and promise these headlines elicit (emphasis added):
- Get Rid of Your Money Problems Once and For All
- Do You Make These Mistakes In English?
- Five Familiar Skin Troubles - Which Do You Want to Overcome?
It's been said that 75 percent of the buying decision in a print ad is made at the headline alone. I believe the same can be said for the decision to engage with your content - it begins and ends with your titles and headlines. And all we have to do is inject a little trouble in River City to make them more enchanting, interesting and engaging. Learn more about turning mundane blog titles into enchanting front doors.
Question: What's one of your favorite techniques for introducing the element of conflict to better engage your audience? Please leave a comment below.
Of the seven basic plots¹ mentioned in this post on storytelling structure, The Quest lends itself as one of the best for creating customer success stories, or for that matter any business-related success story.
Quest, as defined by Dictionary.com is "a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something." In story, The Quest plot is about some important and distant goal that urgently calls the hero or heroine to pursue. Example Quest story plots include Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.
If we relate the Quest to business pursuits we may find new and engaging ways to tell stories of:
- how a business went from start-up to going public
- how a customer utilized your solution to achieve measurable growth
- how the people in your organization helped a client achieve something remarkable
The Quest Story Pattern Revealed
There's no end really to the potential story lines and uses of the Quest story plot to engage others in stories that will resonate and move them to action. The key is to recognize and apply certain structural elements, or patterns of a typical Quest story plot. Your audience, already familiar with the pattern from the realm of fiction, will often find the real-life experience and actual events of people, powerfully persuasive.
Let's look at the basic pattern and elements of the Quest story plot. We'll then see how to apply them to telling stories about business-related endeavors.
Quest stories have these stages² in common:
- The Call: The hero or heroine finds them self in an unfulfilling situation and is summoned to a worthy, life-renewing or transformative goal.
- The Journey: The hero embarks across hostile terrain in pursuit of the ultimate destination.
- Arrival and Frustration: The hero comes close to the goal but is thwarted as forces are at work which must be overcome.
- The Final Ordeals: There is a final series of tests that "culminates in a last great battle or ordeal which may be the most threatening of all."
- The Goal: There comes a 'thrilling escape from death' before the life-renewing state, princess and/or kingdom treasure are finally won.
Applying the Quest Story Pattern to Customer Success Stories
1. Begin with the end in mind to create a working title.
To begin framing up your story structured on the Quest plot, start with the end of some endeavor - the outcome. The end becomes your goal. What outstanding measurable business results have you/your customer achieved?
For example, HubSpot has begun publishing customer stories³. Here are some recent titles:
- How to Close Sales 4X Faster with Inbound Marketing
- How to Use Your Data to Boost ROI
- How to Turbocharge Your Website Traffic with Blogging
Granted, not all of your titles need to begin with "How to." But you may find this convention helpful and a good place to start.
What we're looking for here is the outcome or goal achieved. In the above examples: "Sales 4X Faster, Boost ROI, Turbocharged Website Traffic, all indicate realized goal of the endeavor."
Once you have the goal of the story in focus think about the solution that brought it about. What enabled the transformation? In the above examples, Inbound Marketing, Data and blogging were the solutions (secret weapons) used to bring about positive change.
Your title will help serve as the central theme and spark for creating the story line. It's a working title at this point as you may decide to refine it as you work your way into the story - or polish it at the end.
Now that you have a working title focused on a clear goal and subject, you can move into laying out the story pattern.
2. Describe the pre-goal state and the call to rise above it.
This is the stage where the hero or heroine of your story realizes they are stuck in a situation that normally involves some kind of undesirable, even degrading condition. Things are getting progressively worse and if things don't change the business could fail.
What's the challenge? Is the business at a crossroads of making a decision to expand, enter a new market, take on a new opportunity - to go for broke? These are but some of the conditions and circumstances that may precipitate the call to change. What was yours?
Look back at the point in time and ask some probing questions. What changed and why was there a sense of urgency? Had something gone terribly wrong? What were the circumstances and what were your feelings and fears? What was the catalyst that got your juices flowing to seek a new reality?
This is the beginning of your business story. There are 5 key elements to share with your audience: when, who, where, what and a transition (summons or call) that compelled you and your organization to find the answer. Also known as the turning point, it undoubtedly cast you into a phase we'll turn to next: the journey itself.
3. Recount the twists and turns along the journey.
In universal story structure, the middle part is characterized by twists and turns, contrast and tension. It's where the plot thickens as difficulties and obstacles are presented our hero or heroine as they traverse a literal and emotional, up and down landscape.
Nothing of any great value is obtained easily. And chances are you, or the hero of your story (the customer) didn't travel a linear path to the goal achieved for the business. It's the challenging ordeals of hope in a solution followed by disappointment and a potential string of failures that give your story life, meaning and resonance with your audience.
Think of this as the money part of your story. It's where you stand to persuade your audience you're for real, where they'll become emotionally glued to your idea, cause or solution. And as they do, they'll want the same type journey for themselves, too.
When constructing this part of your story, some great questions to ask are:
- What resistance, conflict, complications or obstacles did you experience?
- Were there unexpected surprises, twists and turns along the way?
- How did you and/or your team overcome these travails?
Common to fictional stories is a final ordeal or series of tests that must be passed in order to arrive at the final destination. The same is often true in life and business. Some final obstacle or challenge must be overcome in order to achieve victory. Maybe you had to stick your neck out and convince the CEO to make a risky decision. Whatever it was, it most certainly led to the end state and realization of the goal you fought so hard to realize.
4. Talk about the solution and the transformation.
Classic and modern quest stories always conclude with "a great renewal of life, centered on a new secure base, guaranteed into the future," according to Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots. There's a reuniting with something of tremendous value as in The Odyessey when Odysseus has regained both his kingdom and his Queen.
It is often the case in business stories, too. Utilizing the solution has a transformative effect on business results. As you wrap up your customer success story, talk about the success that was achieved and how it transformed the business. What was gained or regained? What has changed? This is also a good place to reveal details of the adopted solution, and give credit where credit is due - to those who helped make it happen.
The ending of your business story is really just a new call, a call to a new beginning. As T.S. Eliot writes, it's really a new starting point: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."
Using elements of the Quest story plot you can inject life into writing customer success stories. You can turn from the dry and clinical case study speak to human-connected narrative that resonates with and has the ability to persuade others to take action. And isn't that what you're writing for?
¹Seven basic plots. Book by Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots.
²Quest story stages. The Quest: Summing up the common stages, page 83, The Seven Basic Plots.
³HubSpot customer stories are published in the HubSpot Learning Center Blog.
I wanted to let you know about a fantastic opportunity to win a free pass to the Reinvention
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Business storytelling is so critical to effectively engaging with your audience and persuading them to a course of action. As Annette Simmons wrote, "Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins!"
I'm making storytelling a big part of my content marketing services. I'm learning and writing
about how to apply universal storytelling techniques to business communications: blogs, web pages, customer success stories, you name it. Telling a compelling story creates a powerful impact and stirs an emotional response leading to action!
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Every summer, tens-of-thousands of people clamor to hear a guy named Buffett tell stories.
No, it’s not billionaire investor Warren Buffett. It’s Jimmy Buffett, singer, songwriter and, most importantly, storyteller.
Buffett has parlayed one hit song into a booming business empire that includes music, concerts, books, restaurants, merchandise and websites.
Buffett is a clever marketer who understands the power of words; he uses proven storytelling techniques to create an enduring brand. Here are some storytelling tips found recently in a few blogs and modeled by Mr Margaritaville himself:
Use language of the senses (LOTS)
Buffett brings his brand to life by appealing to people’s senses. He doesn’t just tell you he’s on a Caribbean island, he tells you how the salt-air smells. He describes the hot sun baking his skin, the sweet delight of a margarita tickling his tongue. And then he tells you that buying his blender can take you to the same island, if only for a few hours. Learn more about incorporating LOTS into your storytelling.
Relate to your audience
Buffett’s fans relate to him. Sure, he’s loaded, but the stories he tells resonate with his audience—he’s worked hard all year and just needs a few weeks away, his boss won’t cut him a break, he just wants to cut loose for a while, pretend he’s somewhere warm. Who doesn’t? Learn more about relating to your audience.
Be early, be accessible and be honest
When it comes to storytelling, Buffett has a love for the traditional. He’s a best-selling author and he still refers to his recordings as “albums.” But he’s also wisely leveraged new technologies to build his brand and connect to his audience.
He understands that people want to be part of something, a community. And they want more than just stale public relations jargon. They want to feel like they have an intimate relationship with the people and organizations with which they do business. Read more about connecting with your audience.
Buffett does this well. His website includes behind-the-scenes videos, personal letters to his fans, personal photos and a forum where people can share their excitement over his latest project or complain about his set lists.
Yes, he lets his fans complain about him on his own site. And sometimes he’ll even respond directly, honestly, and with a wink and a nod that lets them know that he appreciates them and listens to them. Then he tells them another story, because that’s what people want. Stories.
There's much we can learn and apply from storytelling structure found in folk lore, fairy tales, literature, modern works of fiction, in the theater or movies. We can learn, for example, how common structural elements are used by storytellers to shape the protagonist's journey from the beginning to the ending of a tale.
Once we understand the basic structural elements and plots of storytelling we have a framework from which to tell business- and brand-related stories. Not only that, we may also find parallels between the story structure found in fiction with that of our real-world experiences to inspire and guide our own storytelling efforts.
In his book, The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker lays out how and why we tell stories. With thirty four years of examining and classifying stories, Booker suggests all stories fall under one of these plots:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and Return
Within each type of plot are found a series of common stages. For example, in 'The Quest' we see the stages unfold as follows:
- The Call: The protagonist finds himself in an unfulfilling situation and is summoned to a worthy, life-renewing goal
- The Journey: The hero embarks across hostile terrain in pursuit of the ultimate destination
- Arrival and Frustration: The hero comes close to the goal but is thwarted as forces are at work which he must overcome
- The Final Ordeals: There is a final series of tests that "culminates in a last great battle or ordeal which may be the most threatening of all"
- The Goal: There comes a "thrilling escape from death" before the life-renewing state, princess and/or kingdom treasure are finally won
You'll find some variation of these stages in all types of stories and story plots. In a recent article on FastCompany, Using Great Storytelling to Grow Your Business, the author references a five-step structure referred to as the "story spine.":
- Reality is introduced
- Conflict arrives
- There is a struggle
- The conflict is resolved
- A new reality exists
In addition to these 'story stages' all story plots include the basics of storytelling structure: A Beginning, Middle and Ending. In part 1 of the essential elements of storytelling structure I covered the beginning. Here I want to discuss some of the key elments in the middle and end parts of storytelling.
In the example of 'The Quest' plot outlined above, the middle section kicks in at The 'Journey' and continues through 'The Final Ordeals.' In the 'story spine' example the middle commences when conflict arrives and is dealt with until the conflict is resolved. The middle part of stories is much longer than the beginning and ending parts. And we can be sure this section of our story structure will characteristically be marked by elements and techniques that capture and carry our interest all the way through to some kind of conclusion.
Stories without conflict and uncertainty would be pretty boring. Booker says that "without some measure of both there cannot be a story." Quite often what we find is contrasting events or forces - a struggle. The up and down or back and forth experiences create a rhythm of suspenseful tension we know must somehow be resolved - one way or another.
A promo for the movie, Thin Ice released last month declares: "Critics are calling Thin Ice a roller coaster of twists and turns." This is a central element that has a powerful effect in all stories. There's a growing sense we have that our hero or heroine is making progress towards the goal, but then it's like a rug is pulled out from under sending him crashing back to reality, and new challenges that must be overcome.
The shape of conflict & relief
Booker calls this storytelling rhythm "constriction and release" where as the story unfolds there is a series of alternations between tension and relief. Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate, has graphically depicted what she calls a 'sparkline': a contour or shape of 'what is' with 'what could be' in persuasive presentations.
Above: Illustration of a Sparkline
These can be thought of as contrasting turning points involving losing and gaining ground, resistance and acceptance, pain and pleasure, conflict and resolution. And all the while interest and a deepening engagement is created with the audience. We identify with the hero's plight and find our own spirits rising and falling throughout this period. In business communications you may also look at this as contrasting viewpoints, approaches or solutions.
More often than not, your audience comes to consider you with their own set of beliefs and biases. They are in conflict or contradiction to your "big idea." You must find a way to acknowledge their opposition, call it out and deal with it in the telling of your story.
Life imitates art. This back and forth doesn't just make for great storytelling in the make-believe world. It makes for authentic business and brand storytelling, too. For example, stories of customer success (aka: case studies) where challenges, difficulties or obstacles were ultimately overcome with your product, service or solution can be a powerful structural element in connecting with and persuading others to consider doing business with you.
Incorporating contrast and resolution elements in other forms of business communications and marketing can really help to tell your story in a very authentic way. Try using it on your about page, in customer-facing presentations, service/product pages and videos, and in your blogging. Showing a little vulnerability and honesty about the challenges you've faced in your journey and how you overcame them can go a long way towards building credibility, trust and believability with your audience (target market).
A final ordeal
Ultimately, there comes a time in all great stories we commonly refer to as the climax or the final ordeal. It's a point where the protagonist must face one final and great battle: a fight to the finish.
In a classic 'overcoming the monster' story, David faces Goliath and amidst much scorn topples him with an incredible blow to the giant's forehead with his slingshot. Likewise, businesses and their customers quite often face a most difficult challenge - a significant turning point and ordeal that must be faced and overcome.
Perhaps it's a devastating setback or significant change in the market, a strong competitive challenge, a product recall, a social media campaign gone awry, or the unexpected loss of a company visionary and powerful leader. It could be anything. Chances are, however, in the course of your journey you and your customers (and your customers' customers) have faced nightmarish-like ordeals. Tell us about the stuff that kept you up at night and how you fought through it.
The unknotting (denouement)
At last there is the unraveling of the knot, tension is released and our hero or heroine is freed from all struggle and conflict. And so we move into the final (ending) phase of the story where the goal is realized, the kingdom is won, life is renewed and of course, the princess is safe.
For business storytelling, the resolution of conflict elevates to a new plane of improved operations, growth and a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
The challenge has been met and we can now go on to reap the benefits and enjoy the rewards of what we struggled so hard to obtain. Fresh hope in a new beginning or renewal of life (or business) is the new reality.
In a 'rags to riches' story our hero emerges in full recognition by all parties of how exceptional they really are. We see the their true attributes and qualities, and how they have been transformed.
Likewise, in business storytelling we see the transformative results and come to understand the central idea of making a similar journey. Change is indeed not just plausible, but could be the best choice for us to make. And so we are moved to take action. To answer the call, to begin our own adventure.
A call to business storytelling
Can there be anything more persuasive than telling authentic stories? Creating our stories with the help of basic plots, structures and elements provide a recipe for business storytelling success.
"The largest crowds are drawn by the storytellers. It is around them that the people throng most densely and stay longest...their words come from further off and hang longer in the air than those of ordinary people."
- Elias Canetti, The Voices of Marrakesh
Related posts you may also enjoy:
The single most important thing about storytelling to grasp is that all stories are told through its structure. Structure keeps everything connected in an orderly and predicted fashion. And, in this way, we recognize and become emersed in the mystery of "what's going to happen next, and how will this turn out?"
Understanding and applying the elements of structure in telling brand, industry or customer stories, whether through videos, blogs, eBooks, web site pages or any other form of persuasive communications (i.e. content marketing) is the secret to achieving maximum audience impact.
It's helpful to liken storytelling structure with what we're familiar with: a play with 3 acts, a movie with a beginning, middle and end, or even a letter with an introduction, body and conclusion. It's within this framework of 3 main structural elements that stories are told and remembered.
Here's the first essential element of effective storytelling structure:
This is the, "Once upon a time..." moment when we are first introduced to the hero or heroine of the story and the situation or scene is set. Then something happens and the central figure, whom we are to identify with, encounters an event or circumstance that summons her to an adventure or cause. This is the transistion point or call to adventure element of the story.
In The Hunger Games, we meet a girl called Katniss, struggling to provide the basic neccesites of life for her mother and beloved little sister, Primrose...then the unthinkable happens: Prim is selected as the female tribute of District 12 in the annual Hunger Games, an arena where 24 tributes from the 12 districts will enter to kill or be killed. And just as she's about to step foot on the steps, Katniss sweeps her behind and gasps, "I volunteer!" And with this, the storyteller has swept us too out of a life as usual state and into a mysterious and potentially dangerous new experience.
This works for B2B content marketing, too. (Or for that matter, any business-to-person communications, afterall, it's really about people-to-people.) Do you have a case study or customer success story to tell? What better way to get your audience engaged than by using the "in the beginning" element of storytelling structure.
Perhaps your launching a new product, service or event. Steve Jobs at MacWorld 2007 worked his way into the launch of iPhone by saying, "This is a day I've been looking forward to for two years. Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything...Today we're introducing..."
The beginning part of your storytelling structure doesn't have to be long and drawn out. In fact, it's much shorter than the middle part which I'll talk about in the next post. You just need to cover these 5 things:
- Establish the when - "Two years ago..."
- Name the who - a person or entity - the hero of your story...
- Point to where it took place - in a meeting, division, city, airplane...
- Tell what was going on - with the market, situation, status quo...
- Make a transition - then something happened...
The beginning of your story must create a sense of wonder, curiosity, mystery, excitement or impending adventure to accomplish a worthy goal; something that engages and resonates with us and makes us want to, well, turn the next page and go on to see how things unfold.
Up next, I'll talk about the place where conflict and uncertainty takes shape in story structure: The dramatic middle.
References and for further insights:
...and then we shifted to blogging. In May of 2004, the interest in blogging on the Internet surpassed that of storytelling as seen in Goolge Insights. But there appears to be a change taking place.
Interest in storytelling in general is on the rise. Consider this chart, again from Google Insights that shows a narrowing of the gap between the terms and more references (news headlines) cited for storytelling on a 7 to 1 basis over the past 4 months:
Interest in Brand Storytelling Rising
"Stories are very, very important to brands, because stories are what binds people together," remarked Rick Wion, social media director for McDonalds in a video interview at the 2012 San Francisco iStrategy Digitial and Social Media Conference. Wion, fresh from having to deal with the #McDStories promotion gone wrong, gave an open and inspirational keynote at the conference, sharing many success stories with customers. You can read a good recap of it here: McDonald's Talks About Social Media and Twitter Haters at iStrategy SF.
Wion wasn't the only voice admonishing attendees to engage in brand storytelling at the conference. Take HubSpot evangelist Laura Fitton (@Pistachio) who proclaimed her 2012 focus: "telling our customers' stories and how they're kicking ass." And that I think is an important distinction. Brand storytelling is first and foremost about your audience - your customers.
There's more evidence that interest in storytelling is on the rise. Here are just a few references I've taken note of or been involved with over the past week or so:
#Storytelling hashtag on Twitter. One of the more interesting and fulfilling ways to use Twitter is by following and engaging hashtag conversations on the topics you're interested in. I spend more time in saved hashtag searches than I do following my home stream. Search #Storytelling on Twitter and see for yourself.
Storytelling Daily from paper.li. Paper.li is a Twitter hashtag search on steroids. Last week I created a curated daily paper with the #Storytelling hashtag and was amazed to see all of the content being produced on this topic. Not only can you curate content from Twitter, you can also pull it in via Facebook, an RSS Feed, a single Google+ user, keywords on Goolge+ or from anywhere on the web. I'm still experimenting with this, but am thrilled to find all the helpful resources and interest in brand storytelling! Checkout the Storytelling Daily and if you like it, please subscribe! (Psst...if you like the concept you can create your own daily paper on a topic you're passionate about.)
More on- and off-line storytelling resources. Here are some of the best articles and publications I've recently discovered on the topic:
So, there's no shortage of interest in learning how to tell compelling stories in business. How are you telling stories? What has helped you develop and promote your brand through story?
Related posts you may also enjoy:
Do you blog or tell stories? Does your blogging include storytelling? Or are these mutually exclusive? Are blogs really meant to be stories? Should we rename them as such?
Stories and those who tell them of course have been around since the beginning of time. Think Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and the story told of the battle between good and evil. Now think of a recent novel, song, movie or other form of story that captured your attention and compelled you to share it with someone. Why did you do that?
Weblogs (later shortened to blogs) have been around since the early days of the Internet. It's earliest creator and Internet inventor, Tim Berners-Lee regularly updated web pages with a growing list of websites. Today, just about anyone can read/write a blog. The blogoshpere is filled with lists of things, tips, news, how-to's, you name it. Over 4 million blog posts will be published today. Do we care?
So, storytelling has been with us forever while interest in blogging, according to Google Insights overtook it in early 2004.
I'm afraid, the more we've progressed with blog strategy, practice and technology the further away we've journeyed from telling and sharing compelling stories. And this, in my view is the missing ingredient in too many blogs. Blogs where there's too much focus on information, facts and boring sameness. Devoid of drama and a call to adventure these bland tasting blogs tend to calm our emotions instead of stirring up our convictions.
The difference between a blogger and a storyteller?
Storytellers evoke an emotional response. They make you feel what they feel. They strike a chord that resonates with something deep inside you and which may cause you to act, to change, to be moved to a new course of action.
There are certain elements to being an effective storyteller that, when present, have the ability to stir emotion. These are:
Aristotle, over 2000 years ago first observed that in order for a story to be "whole," it must have, "a beginning, a middle and an end." It's through this framework we are taken on a journey at a point in time when, the stories protagonist answers a call to adventure, deals with obstacles in an unfolding plot until a point of climax results in an ending of tragedy, or in the broadest sense, comedy.
The story you tell to illustrate an idea or point you wish to make can be as short as a couple of sentences, a paragraph or as long as the post itself - as in the case of a customer success story. It's the narrative within this basic structure that is able to connect your audience with what you want them to feel.
Fill the middle of the story with the element of contrast. Contrast, creates interest, engagement and stimulates our emotions. We are accustomed to dealing with the ups and downs of life, with what could be with what is, inbound marketing vs. outbound, zone vs. man coverage and on and on we go.
We notice things that stand out. The last thing we want is for our audience to be indifferent or ambivalent about that which we're passionate about. In a marriage, feelings of hurt, irritation and even anger has far greater purpose towards redemption than if you just didn't care anymore. So too, pity the reader who doesn't give a crap, who isn't moved to take a position. Contrast creates tension and that's a good thing. The storyteller succeeds when polarity attracts movement through the stirring of emotion.
I've heard well-known bloggers say blogging is an arduous exercise, tough work, something they just feel compelled to do to reap its benefits. Perhaps you've felt this way too at times? Then, there's Seth Godin the storyteller - a master of contrast - who says it's not something he has to do, rather it's something he gets to do.
Take, for example, Godin's post today, Horizontal marketing isn't a new idea. Go ahead, click that link, see how he contrasts vertical marketing with horizontal marketing. Which has stronger appeal to you? How did he make you feel? Did he make you want to be more one way than the other?
A storyteller stirs emotion with the use of contrast and gets us to care enough to at least take a position, if not change or move closer to the call. On the other hand, a blogger, without elements of story, while dedicated and mechanically sound (use of keywords, proper grammar, etc.) is like monotone to our ears and our emotions having failed to fire, make the experience forgettable.
Dictionary.com defines personification as:
- The attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions.
- The representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person.
- The person or thing embodying a quality or the like; an embodiment or incarnation: He is the personification of tact.
Storytellers connect information with people (and the likeness of human characteristics) we can identify with. It makes the information more entertaining, meaningful, believable and memorable. And when that happens, light bulbs start going off in our minds and hearts.
Volkswagen's 2012 Super Bowl commercial, "The Dog Strikes Back" is the story of a dog, the personification of someone inspired by the 2012 VW Beetle, to whip himself into shape. The twist (contrast) at the end of the 60 second spot has a character from Star Wars IV voting the dog vs. "the Vader kid" from last year as the funniest. And that's when a full-sized Darth Vader appears leaving no doubt which character he believes offers the most comedic power.
This is what good storytellers do. They find ways to translate key and abstract concepts like inspiration and desire for something wonderful into relational experiences that strike our emotional chords. Who hasn't dressed up as a superhero or imagined they could have the power to fly up a staircase - to command a car's engine to start?
What it all comes down to is readers are really looking for some kind of human connection - some kind of personification of your idea, the point you're trying to make. Without this element, too many blogs fall flat and the opportunity to communicate is lost.
Ask yourself, the next time you feel moved by a form of communication: How did its elements of structure, contrast and personification trigger emotion? Then use these elements the next time you write about something - be a storyteller.
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Can a storytelling blog help you rise above the numbers?
As I began to write this post, worldometers reports 2.1 million blog posts written today. And the number flies upwards as the seconds pass. Towards the end of the day it registered over 3.4 million. It’s downright mind boggling.
Frequent blogging we know is important to traffic, leads and sales, or a bevy of other benefits like branding and thought leadership. But sometimes I fear we get caught up in the numbers and it becomes more like work – something we feel we have to do vs. want to do (or do very well). When we miss cranking out a post or get off schedule we may even feel a sense of guilt.
Here are 3 insights for helping us get beyond the numbers with our blogging:
Develop purposeful mechanics
HubSpot exhorts marketers to be constantly “pumping out content not only at a high frequency but also at a high level of quality.” This post gives some very useful tips on cultivating strong habits – on what I’d call the blocking and tackling, or mechanics of blogging. Things like setting deadlines and goals, thinking like an educator and keeping your customer personas in mind.
There are many practical links shared in the article that can help get you mechanically sound with some fine tips. Like the one on business blogging short cuts for time-crunched marketers. But tips and mechanics alone won’t get you over the hump, won’t help you be just another number.
Utilize effective technology
Platforms like Zerys with its project management, communications and writer marketplace all rolled into one can help you generate blog content efficiently and affordably. And, blogging software tools like in HubSpot with its integrated blog optimizer, keyword tool and blog analytics will help optimize performance. What’s more, HubSpot Professional and Enterprise editions afford users the ability to auto-post from Zerys to their saved drafts with just a couple clicks.
All the mechanics, methodology and technology can work great to ignite activity and generate massive amounts of content. But a person can have great mechanics and use the finest systems available – completely amazing and eye-popping – but if that person can’t convince enough other people in the central idea, to change and be transformed, it doesn’t matter how many blog posts are generated. It's like whirling dervishes spinning to a state of dizziness. Okay, that may have been a little much. But did it stir your thinking, an emotion? Do you want to do more with your blog, like foster change?
Tell a meaningful story
People change because they get emotionally involved with a human connection. Facts and information and lists and how-to guides alone don’t transform behavior. Facts are important, but people make decisions based on emotional appeal. The best way to unite ideas with emotion is by telling compelling stories.
“Storytelling creates the emotional glue that connects an audience with your idea.” – Nancy Duarte, Resonate.
The trick is to combine methodology and technology with a little artistry. Storytelling adds much needed artistry to the mix. Story-based blogs have the power to:
- Create interest, attention and a sense of adventure, entertainment
- Move an audience from static information to dynamic meaning
- Make your idea more digestible, real, memorable and remarkable
- Persuade people to change their hearts, minds and behaviors
Blog story writing can be a sentence, a paragraph or be woven throughout as in the example of a case-study (customer success story) type blog that involves real people solving real problems that others will relate to. And that’s the main point: Use Story-based blogging to give us a real-life example of how what you’re writing about plays out in real life. (Disclosure: We created the afore-mentioned case-study blog, “How Porous Asphalt Pavement Helped Expand a Business”.)
Steve Jobs was driven by a sense of perfection and making products tightly integrated (technology), extremely useful and easy to use (mechanics), yet elegant in design (artistry). His unrelenting passion for the intersection of technology and artistry revolutionized industries and transformed the way we live, communicate, and so much more. We’d do well to find that balance in our blogging, and not just put up more numbers in the blogosphere.
Need help pumping out some meaningful blog content? Click the button below to view our blog article writing packages and pricing. We try hard to make sure your blog posts rise above the number game.
Selling big ideas is like quenching a thirst.
A couple months ago I bought a book that has transformed the way I think about creating blog posts, or for that matter any form of marketing content designed to move people to action. At the time, I was laboring over how to present ideas in a world where people are drowning in information yet thirsty for meaning.
The book I happened to stumble on is Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte CEO of Duarte Design. Resonate is much more than how to generate big ideas, it is a comprehensive work on how to effectively communicate your ideas in ways that truly resonate with your audience.
In chapter 4, Ms. Duarte discusses "The Big Idea" and says, "A big idea is that one key message you want to communicate. It contains the impetus that compels the audience to set a new course with a new compass heading."
She recommends composing your big idea in the form of a complete sentence with the following components:
- Your unique point of view on a particular topic. The emphasis is on what you think and not a generalization.
- A conveyance of what's at stake. In other words, why should anyone care, what's the compelling reason to adopt your idea and spread it to others?
With these two components, a general idea can be transformed into a big idea with relevant meaning to your audience.
Example of a big idea
As I reflected on the key components of a big idea, I recalled hearing a presentation by volunteers from the Water for People organization about two years ago now (big ideas effectively communicated are memorable!).
They spoke of their vision of a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and where no one suffers or dies from a water- or sanitation-related disease. It's reported on their Web site that 884 million people don't have access to safe drinking water and that 2.6 billion are without adequate sanitation facilities, and because of this 6,000 people die every day.
Clearly, the Water for People big idea these visionaries shared that night: Together, we can fix the broken pumps and filled latrines to help prevent 6,000 people from dying every day.
This is a big idea. It articulate a unique and specific point of view of what needs to happen (fix pumps and latrines), it conveys what's at stake (6,000 lives each day) and it's expressed in a complete sentence.
Applying big idea generation
A key takeaway for me has been to think about what I want to communicate in the context of the larger whole. Create a complete sentence around that and let that be indicated in the title and woven throughout the entire communication piece. We can apply this to blogs, Web content, email newsletters, videos, presentations - you name it.
Mix in some emotional appeal, drama and elements of storytellling and there's no telling how far your audience can carry your big ideas forward.
For more resources on generating big ideas visit our new, Drive Your Marketing to New Peaks page.
How do you generate big ideas that sell?