Stories have the power to change minds, and in marketing, we all want to change minds, says Rachel Klaver. Here’s how to say a good one that will be remembered.
Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specializing in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: Every morning during my walk I listen to a podcast. After a good year of using the time to keep up to date with the ever-changing world of digital marketing, I wanted to take a break and started listening to a podcast called The Moth.
The Moth began as a gathering of stories in New York where one person at a time was given the stage to tell a story of their life. It has now evolved into a global storytelling event, and select stores are compiled and streamed live on this podcast.
As I walked in all weather early in the morning, I burst out laughing, was moved to tears, and shared the lived experience of hundreds of people who have both very different lives from the mine and shared experiences that resonated deeply with me. Not only that, but listening to these stories from real people changed my perspective on different ideas in ways that facts failed. Stories have the power to change mindsets. And in marketing, we all want to change mindsets.
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Marketers love to tell you to embrace storytelling as a business, but it can feel a bit tricky when it comes to discussing the boring details of your business. It can also be difficult to de-corporate your stories and keep what’s really important – the emotion and connection of one person telling a story to another.
We often want to share facts to get people excited about us. It could be the number of awards we’ve won, the sales we’ve generated, or even the lives we’ve been able to change through our work.
But all of that is balanced by the power of a story.
Instead, imagine a story about how you overcame a struggle and won a prize. Or a story of the rejections you pushed, or a funny anecdote about how everything that could have gone wrong happened, and yet you sealed the deal anyway. Or perhaps the story of a life changed, and the impact that experience has had on you and the rest of the team.
A fact can be powerful. But tell a story that demonstrates this fact and you will be remembered. When we tell a story, the listener will tend to relate to it. It can be you, the protagonist of the story, or someone else, either actively participating or just watching everything that unfolds from the sidelines.
This helps his brain remember the emotions and connections you used to explain a fact, making it easier for him to retain the information.
Of course, we can tell any type of story. I’ve used fairy tales to illustrate marketing concepts and one of my favorite little stories is about what spiders do when they catch their prey (it’s quite shocking and a great reminder of how we shouldn’t behave when someone shows an initial interest in what we do!). I told stories that I learned third-hand, from a client’s experience and journey. And all of these stories work but not as well as the stories of your own lived experience.
When we start sharing a story that we have personally experienced, it will always be a more powerful and memorable story.
If you want to try storytelling as part of your marketing, here are some guidelines
The story doesn’t have to be an epic tale. Often, simple stories that share an experience many of us have had work best because it’s easier for all of us to relate to. For example, a near-death experience makes a dramatic story, but may not be as powerful as a story of running out of gas on the way to an important meeting (people are either running out of gas or late for an important meeting, or experienced the stress of being worried about both!)
The story should start from where you are. Start with a sentence that helps us imagine you. This may explain where you are sitting, the temperature in the room, or a sound you may hear. It helps us move from where we are to where you are in the story
It’s still a true story with forgotten details. Often we can get stuck on a small detail to try to give everyone the full experience, but not every detail adds to the story. Too much detail on the serious stuff and you’ll lose us.
History should stand on its own merits. It doesn’t need a closing line like “and that’s why you should always wear woolen socks!” or another summary that tells us why you told the story. Allow us to find that conclusion ourselves through your story. Trust your story. Most importantly, trust us as listeners.
If the story is very dark and sad, be sure to add some light and humor. If the story is light and humorous, add some darkness. Contrast is always essential and helps us experience the emotional roller coaster of your story
Be brief, practice it, but not to make it perfect. By doing so you don’t forget all the important stuff, speak from the heart and keep it in your own style. If you speak softly with a dry sense of humor, that’s how you tell your story. If you are loud and like to move then this is your way. There is no best storytelling personality type.
When we keep people engaged, we help them feel, we attract them, and we trust them to understand why this story matters, we connect in a way that a list of factual information cannot. When it’s in a commercial context, we do marketing. And that’s the type of marketing that makes us remember us. Maybe it’s time to tell a story.