Whilegood stories in their purest, most ancient form been helpful in making sense ofthings like “What’s that terrifying flash and rumble in the sky?” today, theycan also help make sense of products of all kinds.
Narrativehas this delightful way of helping people feel connected with a business or an itemfor sale in ways that stats and data just don’t. Stories allow us to rend meaning from an inanimate thing like abrand. “Meaning is createdwhen the intellect and the emotions are simultaneously engaged,” writes DavidB. Drake and Brian Lanahan in “TheStory-Driven Organization.” “We come to an understandingof the story in our mind and in our heart,” (Thatarticle, by the way, is a great read. We highly recommend it, and it explains alot about who we are and how we approach what we do.) So, when it comes toproducts and companies, people tend to go all squishy for the ones with real dimension and personality – theones that connect through their stories. It’s a chemistry thing: certain emotionstrigger a surge of oxytocin – the hormone responsible for promoting trust,empathy, and camping out on the first day of an Apple product launch. Saidanother way, stories lead to feelings which lead to action.
The point is, you should know your story cold, and it oughtto be your best one – the one you’d tell around the campfire any night. We’lltalk more about how to get at what that is in a future article, so stay tuned.
Theway we think about it, in our work we’re not just telling stories, we’realso listening to them. Or moreover,we’re listening to the sound of the room bouncing back at us as a story istold. For us, half of content strategy and content marketing is usingstorytelling to read a room, just like any storyteller worth his salt would doin mixed company. You spend time figuring out what your audience wants to hear,select your narrative to give them something of value, and go for it. Then, youshut your mouth for a moment and open your ears. This is where we find a lot ofcompanies fall off the storytelling wagon: By talking to themselves, withcontent and brand strategy that’s all about them and not their customers. Byusing quantity over quality in a kind of hand-grenade approach to contentcreation. And by not taking the time to turn around and dissect the response totheir stories.
Weaccomplish that last thing in a variety of ways, through reading the tea leavesof targeted advertising results, pixeling site visitors and reminding them ofour clients after they’ve left their sites, and testing different types ofcontent in the real world on various channels. After we listen, we revise theapproach, choose another story and try again. The net result is, we get betterat saying the right things in the right ways every time.
The point is to do the actual listening after the telling isdone, and to learn from it. If you’re not doing that, you’re just yelling intoa void.
An interestingthing we’ve found is that a good brand or product story has many of the sameelements as a traditional written narrative. Like characters and tension. Yourfifth-grade English teacher would approve.
Here’sa couple examples: As humans, we identify with characters, understand andrelate to what they need, feel empathy when they succeed, or make mistakes. Whencreating a brand, your characters are your audience. You have to demonstratethat you care about them or they won’t care about you. Another example is tension. In the literaryuniverse, a character’s desire is what sets story in motion, and tension arisesto keep it chugging along. Without conflict, there is no plot and no movement. Withregard to brand, tension comes from the problem you’re trying to solve with yourproduct and the obstacles you’re trying to overcome. It moves you to make yourthing and other people to need it.
Everystory, brand or otherwise, works like this in one way or another. Kurt Vonnegut explained it in hismasters’ thesis as all stories having “shapes” that you can graph — “Man in Hole,”“Boy meets Girl,” “From Bad to Worse.” In each model, the arc of the story ismoved along by a character facing a challenge —the “X” they end up solving forthe rest of the narrative. In branding and marketing, tension also defines our“X”; we embrace it as the source of innovation and the mother of all reasons tobelieve.
Eyewearcompany Warby Parker is a great example of this. Founded by a grad student wholost his glasses and couldn’t afford new ones, the conflict here is stylishframes vs. low cost. At its core, their brand solves for X, simple as that.
What you should take from this: Tension isn’t always a bad thing. Atthe heart of your business, way down deep, what’s the itch you want to scratch?
Everystory has an end. In marketing, it’s conversion.To the story-driven however, it’s also about creating something so worthwhilethat the narrative shifts and someone lets your product into their alreadyjam-packed lives — i.e. makes your thing part of their story.
That’sthe end game, and the action that kick-starts the cycle of awareness, consideration,and conversion. We like to imagine our napkin sketch looks a something likethis: resonates, person buys, product becomes part of person’s story, buyerbecomes advocate and spreads story to others…rinse and repeat.
That’s our story. Maybe you’ve got one we canhelp you with, too?