The Blog Team, October 2015
Sure, storytelling is a buzzword squeaked across the whiteboards of every marketing department on the planet. But the concept will never jump the shark because storytelling works.
It’s as eternal as Homer. Stories make things meaningful, explaining such mysteries as how we got here and where babies come from. Stories convey important values, as in George Washington’s cherry tree or Rosa Parks’ bus ride.
And if you ever question the power of story, consider that it’s really the only way to prove how some company’s flexible, scalable optimization solution can be leveraged for unparalleled revenue generation. In the face of such opacity, only a true story can cut through the bull.
If you know all about storytelling (like our mentor Lucien Brodeur), skip this post. This is for those of us who don’t tell stories enough, don’t do it at all, or occasionally get stuck. So exactly how do you get from wanting to tell stories to actually telling them? Let’s make it as simple as possible. Just remember these four words and you’ve got it:
Tell your audience about a character who’s facing a problem. Explain how they struggle to overcome it and how it works out.
Let’s try one:
Problem: Succulent, yet forbidden fruit hanging from a tree branch in the Garden of Eden.
Struggle: Temptation in the face of prohibition.
Resolution: Original sin plagues humanity for eternity.
That’s all it is. You’ve got it. A story can be that short or it can be “War and Peace.” Novels tend to have multiple narrative threads (i.e., stories). Each thread is simply a set of the four elements (character, problem, struggle and resolution) braided throughout the pages. Same with feature films. In the “Theory of Everything,” three stories unfolded: Stephen Hawking’s intellectual journey, his medical crisis and his enviable love life.
Using stories in marketing
In marketing, it’s the same formula. Example:
Character: A customer.
Problem: The reason a customer would ever buy your stuff. For example, they have dirty carpets (and you sell vacuum cleaners).
Struggle: Your story explains the customer’s hardship of living without your stuff. The customer invited the neighbors over, and they cringed at the filthy carpets. Then they started to gossip. So the customer bought your Hoover.
Resolution. The benefits. The carpets are now clean and beautiful. The customer’s family is very popular. The neighbors are so impressed that they bought your vacuum cleaner, too.
Maybe you’re a nonprofit. If so, make the story about the people or things you help. The Olde Towne Library was looking ragged. [The library is the character in this instance.] Joe condo developer wanted to tear it down. You, the National Trust for Excellent Old Libraries, rushed in and saved it. Now freshly renovated with free Wi-Fi and big screen TVs, The Olde Towne Library is the hub of community life.
If you have lots of juicy details, bring them in and make your story as long as it needs to be. Just keep thinking character, problem, struggle and resolution.
Before you know it, you’ll have that two-page case study that everyone’s clamoring for. You can squeeze three-sentence stories into news releases and pitches, 140-character stories into tweets, or 5,000-word stories into white papers. A good place to start is that two-page case study your sales reps want.
And why do they want it so bad? Everyone knows the answer. It’s on the whiteboard: