Most marketing falls flat when it comes to storytelling for two reasons — the people in charge of "company storytelling" really don’t know how to identify their stories or they do a poor job telling their stories. Think about it, you probably know some wonderfully creative and imaginative storytellers. They’re captivating and mesmerizing and you remember their stories. These people are unique, and businesses that understand how to tell their stories are even more of an anomaly.
There are 2 crucial elements to creating a compelling story.
1. Know What Makes a Compelling Story
So often, people misunderstand what makes a story engaging. In many cases, people believe their new product or service is the big story. They will have the CEO or the Director of Marketing as the cornerstone character of the story in an effort to raise the significance of the story. They forget that it’s not about showcasing the "suits," the story is about the people they serve.
In television news, you're trained to focus on the people, not the officials. For example, tell the story about the family displaced by the fire, not a watered-down and meaningless sound bite from the Fire Chief who really can't say anything anyway. Understand where the real story lives, and then identify the best people to bring the story to life.
2. Know How to Tell The Story
There is a reason professional writers are paid to write — they’re really good. They understand how to identify wonderful stories and they see angles and story lines that others do not see. Then, they craft stories with phrases, metaphors, and detail that amateur and average writers cannot fathom. Memorable stories have conflict and resolution, and ideally they provide insight and information while entertaining the reader or viewer. Telling a story is not like writing copy for a brochure or creating a news release. This work is marketing collateral and there are well-trained writers who are skilled in producing this copy who may not be true story tellers.
To see this in action, let's go back to the fire example. As readers or viewers, we are looking for a connection, and we connect with the family, not the chief. Sure, for context maybe the chief says it was a three-alarm fire, but ultimately, it's about the people affected. In your business, don't tell me about how smart your company was in creating the product, share with me the story of the person who has benefited from your incredible innovation.
A word of caution
The difficult part comes once you have the story written — sticking to the story and not letting the brand marketing team, legal team, and public relations team get their hands on your story. After all, they are still of the false belief that you can control what people say about your brand. Once you start to tidy up that story in accordance with their “guidelines” and “standards,” you will unquestionably taint the authenticity of your story.
Disagree? Think about the news media and our expectation that what is reported is truth and not an infomercial that positions the subject of the story in more favorable light. You can argue the idea of media bias, however, what makes credible news credible is its ability to report truth. We trust it when we take it in, and we turn away when we don’t. Your stories are no different, and you're trying to build trust in an unprecedented era of transparency, so be prepared to be challenged and stick to your guns on this one.
Telling a memorable story is not easy, yet it is the most powerful way to share your messages. And the reality is that most businesses that try to position outstanding storytelling as strategic communication fall flat simply because they don’t really know how to identify and create those stories. Or, they are unable to resist the temptation to sterilize and brand the stories as if they’re creating an advertising piece from days gone by. Once your story is ready to publish, share it in social media and if your stories are worth following, others may share it with the world.