How to Put Storytelling at The Heart of Your Content
Content marketing is not just about information and persuasion; it has to go further and tell a full story. In this article, we focused on how can you put storytelling at the heart of your content.
Imagine looking for a painting to hang on your wall and finding an odd-looking image of a piglet wading on the shoreline of a desert island. The image may seem curious, but you might soon easily forget it and look for something more ‘normal’.
Then think again and imagine there was a storytelling behind the picture; that the pigs had been brought to an island in the Bahamas to supply sailors with meat, but they had been starving due to the lack of vegetation there. Then imagine that the waters nearby started being used to dump food waste.
Suddenly, it all makes sense. The reason a piglet is swimming in the sea is to reach the food, which has provided a source of nourishment to enable the population of the island – now known as ‘Pig Beach’ to survive.
This tale is no porkie; it was explained on LinkedIn by business storytelling expert Paul Smith, the author of Sell with a Story: How to capture attention, build trust and close the sale.
He noted that the value of the picture had been raised enormously by the story (so much so he decided to buy the picture). The point he noted was that by adding a story, a product or service can suddenly attain a value or status not achievable simply through a listing of its attributes or the modesty of its pricing.
What are the main principles behind a good story?
Of course, the story your content may tell is unlikely to involve cute animals. But the principle is always the same:
- A story invites a deeper engagement, rather than simply a transaction.
- It adds a new layer of value that lies beyond the mere merits and cost of what is on offer.
- It gives you a chance to project a brand narrative that people can buy into. In effect, they are buying your firm as much as its products or services.
Indeed, telling a story isn’t just about making a product more interesting. Your brand is certainly a case in point. There are several brand names that have sought to diversify so that it is impossible to associate them with just one thing.
A good example of this would be Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, which grew out of the projection of the personality of Mr Branson as the 1980s ‘can do’ entrepreneur who rose from humble beginnings and mixed his business ventures with some daring and dangerous adventures involving hot air balloons. The Virgin empire has covered everything from records to broadband, soft drinks to air travel.
Of course, sustaining such a story is not easy, not least if some of those ventures can have a negative impact on the brand (Virgin Rail, for example). But the aim of that brand was clearly little to do with being associated with any particular product.
Your own brand may not have any ambitions of emulating Mr. Branson. Indeed, its scale, focus, and ideals might make a particular concentration on one area of activity the wise thing to do.
What are the key elements of your story?
When using storytelling for your brand, every good tale has some important components:
- A central character you can relate to,
- A problem the character has,
- How your product or service was able to provide the answer to this problem.
The biggest focus of the tale, Paul Smith suggests, is the problem. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the story is not about the character details of the individual who had the problem. This is because the focus will be on the issue itself – which is the relevant thing your potential customer will have in common with the story character. The key point is that just as you provided the solution to their need, so you can do likewise for your potential customer.
Once the attention of your lead has been focused on the problem, Mr Smith, suggests, there should be a “one-word sentence” on how you can solve the problem. The reason for this is that brevity breeds simplicity; it means you can tell the story to anyone and they can instantly understand what you do for a living.
Who gets to be the central character of the storytelling?
There are different options for the central character of the story:
- It can be the salesperson themselves, who can relate the potential customer’s situation to their own story. This can be very powerful as it carries the power of advocacy that gives a story more authenticity.
- It can be a third person, such as a previous customer whose problem was resolved in a way that could also apply to the person to whom the story is told.
- It can be someone – or even something – outside the problem altogether, such as the pigs in the story above.
Clearly the last instance is an exception to the general rule, but it can still be useful when this arises. However, the main two will be the ones that you will use in conversation. When it comes to written content, that will usually focus on the third person character.
The instance when written content will focus on your firm will be when you are seeking to build up your brand reputation. This will be when you tell the tale of what motivates you, why you do what you do, and why you set out to be different – with a strong emphasis on your unique selling points.
How does your story fit in with your marketing mix?
All your storytelling needs to fit in with your general marketing mix. What that depends on what other activities beyond content marketing might be deemed appropriate. A PPC ad may be too short to flesh out a story, for instance, but a social media post can.