A little while ago we defined Content Marketing as “Stories that Sell.” This definition still holds. Stories are too compelling to ignore and businesses are learning that a well-designed story is a core gear in their marketing machine. Storytelling is so important that we insist that every content marketing leader should have it as a core competency.
Looking back on that content marketing definition we realize that there is some good and bad news.
The good news is that human beings are hardwired for storytelling. We’ve been doing it for millennia and we keep getting better at it.
The bad news is that human beings seem to lose their storytelling ability the moment they walk through the doors of a business! Yes, we can tell our own stories but telling the business’ story leaves us tongue-tied. Some of us can tell the story but it is self-centered and boring.
Today we’ll explore the anatomy of a great (read – profitable) business story looks like:
The Anatomy of a Great Businesses Story
It’s likely that you’ve already told a story today. On Mondays we tell stories about our weekend. On Friday’s we tell stories about our coworkers. On Wednesday, we tell stories about setting plans for the weekend and so on.
I think that campfire chats are the perfect storytelling laboratory. The ground rules for telling your campfire story apply to telling a great business story. Each storyteller
1. The Head: Understand the Context:
Tell your story from the vantage point of your customer’s situation. You’ll need to understand your customer’s background, objectives, and challenges to set the context. Before you write or record a word, make sure that you are intimately acquainted with the customers point of view.
Apple’s Think Different campaign is classic example of a company understanding what drives their customer. Apple captured their customer’s context in the iconic “Crazy Ones” commercial.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Who are your “crazy ones”? Make sure your story appeals to their inner drive.
2. Make a Connection
Show the reader that you understand their problem because your business faced the problem or you have helped others who have had the problem.
The best way to enter a campfire conversation is to say “I remember when something similar happened to me…” This sentence is a polite request for the microphone. Once you have the microphone you better make sure that you actually have something to share.
Business storytelling focuses on “use cases”, situations where the customer will most likely use the customer’s business. Establishing a connection between the business product and the customer’s everyday needs is a powerful platform way to say “I get you.”
Take a look at Evernote’s home page for a well-executed example of a business connecting with their customers:
I’ve owned Evernote for years but never understood how it helped me. After seeing Evernote’s homepage I became intrigued by how each of the famous users worked Evernote into their work. Soon I began to see how I could use Evernote is similar ways in my life. Now I’m hooked.
3. Structure the Story: Beginning, Middle, and End
Great stories have a familiar structure; simply they have a beginning, middle, and an end. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. What you put in each part of your story separates a suburban dad from Steven Spielberg.
We rely on the structure of “The Hero’s Journey” detailed by Joseph Campbell to help us decide on what information to place in each stage of the story.
Beginning: Present the problem, observation, or situation that connects with your audience. The best stories show the inner conflict of the hero who must decide between the status quo or taking the challenge of changing the situation (AKA: Saving the World).
Middle: The meat of your story should include the journey of getting your business up and running or the challenges of creating your product or service. Highlight the people who supported the vision (employees, investors, beta customers). Make sure to describe the obstacle that could have derailed your success and how you fought through it.
End: A fun and inspirational ending will help your story stick in your customer’s mind. I tell my clients to describe “The New Normal” or the situation where the business is actively helping their customers achieve their goals.
4. Demonstrate Relevance
Remember that content marketing is about “Stories that Sell”. Your story should generate interest in your solution. It’s important to pivot from their story to the call to action. The best way to do this is to reiterate the customer’s challenge, from step 1, and draw a direct parallel to your product. Don’t oversell here. One sentence will get the job done.
Write Your Story
I suggest you open a document and start writing your businesses’ story now. Set a 15-minute timer and write until the alarm goes off. It’s easier if you imagine yourself asking the question: Why did you create this product? Picture yourself telling the story over coffee. Keep the narrative light and conversational. Smile as you write – you’ll be amazed by how the tone of the story brightens when you smile.
Now set the story aside for a few minutes. Do something else and come back to edit the story using the suggestions we discussed here. When you are ready, look for ways to tell your story. We’ll talk more about this in the days ahead so sign up for updates to make sure you don’t miss the next step.
Ok, go to it.