Our current online world is bombarded with competing messages. How do you stand out and get noticed in a noisy world? The most successful businesses and brands online are those that embrace the art of storytelling. They have moved beyond the shouting, “look at me! look at me!” marketing of the past. They have tapped into that age-old way of communicating:
The power of story is compelling and universal. Can you remember times in your life where story impacted your life? I think about my statistical analysis professor in college—he was the best storyteller and teacher I’ve ever experienced. YES, I did say statistical analysis! I have always hated math and numbers, and figured it would be yet another required mind-numbingly dull math class that I would have to suffer through. Instead of rambling off endless formulas, the professor gave real-life examples that brought meaning and the WHY behind the numbers. I was absolutely entranced. BEST. CLASS. EVER!
Storytelling isn’t something that is juvenile, silly or stupid. Humanity all over the globe has used storytelling as a means of communicating since the dawn of time. Mastering the art of social storytelling enables you to capture the attention of those you want to reach. So how do you infuse storytelling in every message you share? Here are nine time-tested tips:
1. Share your mission story with your community as the action hero (be action—oriented)
Screenwriter Chad Hodge points out in Harvard Business Review that we should “[help] people to see themselves as the hero of the story, whether the plot involves beating the bad guys or achieving some great business objective. Everyone wants to be a star, or at least to feel that the story is talking to or about him personally.” How is your mission story going to put them in the thick of the action? What is the villain in their story? What problems, struggles, or pain points do they need to have solved? Nike’s 2012 Olympics Campaign “Find Your Greatness” was an excellent example. Do you remember the 200 lb 12-year-old named Nathan as he ran slowly toward the camera?
The narrator speaks to us (the heroes)
Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is a gift, reserved for a chosen few. For prodigies. For superstars. And the rest of us just stand by watching. You can forget that. Greatness is not some rare DNA strand, it’s not some precious thing. Greatness is not more unique to us than breathing. We are all capable of it. All of us!”
The commercial wasn’t overtly selling Nike shoes. The commercial inspired and created an experience, one that we could feel like we were enmeshed in the story of greatness and struggle. We all want to be the hero of our journey and our destiny. Are you empowering your community to participate and interact in the journey? (Maya Zuckerman, Your Brand’s Narrative – How to Make the Audience the Hero of Your Story)
2. Tug at their heart strings (be heart—focused)
Stories that inspire, captivate, and resonate with the hearts of your people. But how do you gain that emotional connection? Studies have shown that the simple formula is attention + empathy=emotional connection. How do you touch your reader’s hearts to gain and maintain their attention? “You create the conditions needed for them to share the emotions of your characters and experience those emotions for themselves…readers know what it’s like to face challenges, which lets them resonate with the obstacles your characters encounter.” (Faye Kirwin: The Brain On Storytelling: Building Emotional Connections)
Look at the example of the Nike “Find Your Greatness” campaign. The story was character driven (Nathan), and his personality was compelling and realistic. Though his struggle, Nike created an experience where the audience could feel an emotional connection. Like Maya Angelou once said,
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
3. Channel your inner Yoda (be an authentic leader and guide)
Remember that YOU are not the hero of the story. You are the mentor, the leader, the guide. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they are Luke Skywalker in the story of their brand. You are the person who bestows wisdom on the hero to fight the good fight. You share your roadmap, you inspire, and you share your wisdom with integrity and authenticity.
4. Use the K.I.S.S. method (keep your story easy to understand)
Simplify your story. Keep It Simple and Straightforward. Is your message clear and easy to understand? Would your grandmother understand? Would a twelve year old understand? Or is your message and mission vague or unclear? Your story doesn’t need to be naive or childish, but it should be simple, easy, and understandable.
5. Tap into the human yearning to be part of something bigger than ourselves (be mission—oriented)
“People are desperate to believe in something bigger than themselves.” says Peter Gruber, Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, owner and co-executive chairman of the Golden State Warriors, and a professor at UCLA. “The storyteller plays a vital role by providing them with a mission they can believe in and devote themselves to.” Envelop your story around a mission or cause that you and your community wholeheartedly believe in. Consider the story behind Charity:Water. The founder, Scott Harrison, had a unique story. He successfully showed people what it would be like to have nothing but dirty water to drink. The ideas spread like wildfire on Twitter and other social media platforms. (Christina Gleason:Five Brands Taking Storytelling to the Next Level)
6. Different Yet the Same (be consistent and in context)
Your story should be tailored to your current method of online communication, but remain true to your mission. Each social media network and online communication tool presents your message differently, and may also have a different audience. Each story you tell needs to be customized to meet the needs of the community. For example, your message on Twitter must be tailored to fit the 140 character limit. Twitter followers are used to “sound bites” of information and links to further information. Whereas, your blog community will consume your message in short or long-form copy. The MISSION and central theme of your story is what remains the same.
7. Express your story visually (be visual)
Visual Storytelling is a powerful way to share your message. Your visual story can be told through photos, illustrations, and video. Videos can be used for impactful storytelling in a way that even images can’t match. 8/10 most shared content on Facebook last year included some form of video (Jeff Bullas: 5 Visual Storytelling Tips to Power Your Content on Facebook). In this smart post by Dawn Papandrea on Content Marketing Institute, she shares: “To nail visual storytelling, incorporate these three factors: authenticity, sensory, and relevancy.”
Your community wants authentic, real candid moments. Moments that draw on all the senses. Panpandrea adds that “A good image not only pleases the eye, but it stimulates all the senses. Images go beyond communicating a place or thing—they can create warmth, evoke nostalgia, or instill modernity.” Your images should be relevant to your community—something that speaks their values and mindset.
8. Keep your story exciting using elements of surprise, drama, or the unexpected (be suspenseful)
In any good story, you have to have a villain! The villain is any person, place, or thing that prevents your hero from achieving his or her goal. The unexpected obstacles that get in your hero’s way keep your story exciting and suspenseful. But how does this translate to marketing storytelling? Think about the issues that your community faces everyday. How can you interject their struggles and their pain into your story? How can you evoke moments of drama that will keep them in suspense, wanting to know more? “Start with a problem and explain how your life is about creating a solution to that problem.” – Donald Miller, Storybrand
9. Close with a BANG, not a whimper (have a GREAT closing)
Every story has structure, a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Stories have at least one “moment of truth.” The best stories show us something about how we should treat ourselves, others, or the world around us. Call it an “Aha” moment – that point when your story conveys a message that really makes your audience say, “Yes! That’s a powerful idea.” (The Dragonfly Effect)
At the end of the day, words and ideas presented in a way that engages listeners’ emotions are what carry stories. It is this oral tradition that lies at the center of our ability to motivate, sell, inspire, engage, and lead.”
Enough said, don’t you think? What methods or tips do you use to share your story?