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Guest

The Art of Storytelling

By: Guest | January 2, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Lindsay Bell.
“We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”  – Samuel Goldwyn

Traditional advertising is dead.

Content marketing is the new traditional advertising.

Phew. Glad *that’s* out of the way.

Ok, that opening statement is an exaggeration (bet it caught your eye though), but it’s no exaggeration to say that marketing and advertising have been irrevocably altered by a communications revolution.

Social media, mobile technology, and word-of-mouth marketing have been serious game changers. People today communicate around the world 24/7 and are flipping past magazine ads, voicing displeasure over banner ads and pop ups, and watching less and less TV.

In order to reach today’s tech savvy and attention span deficient consumer, companies must stand out in today’s clutter of information overload. And they have to reach people in ways that transcend bullet points and snappy ad copy. In today’s world, corporations have to focus a significant amount of time and money towards content.

Content IS King – It’s Just Not New

In the worlds of social and digital marketing, you can’t swing a cat without hitting an article about content: Why you need it, how to write it, and how to make it relevant and sharable.

No question great content is a powerful marketing tool - consider 80 percent of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles vs. an advertisement. Sixty percent say company content helps them make better product decisions.

Those are impressive stats. But why is it so powerful? And what exactly is content?

Not the blog or vlog or Tweets or Facebook updates. Not the ad campaign or podcast or video.

See, those are the media through which you share the content. Now you’re scratching your heads. But this isn’t difficult. And it’s been around since The Epic of Gilgamesh was chipped into a stone tile sometime around the third millennium B.C..

Content = storytelling. That’s it. Simple really.

Storytelling Actually Isn’t Simple

Yes, making sure your content tells a story takes work, but it’s incredibly effective.

If you’re not a history geek and didn’t click on The Epic of Gilgamesh up there, let’s put that particular nugget into perspective. Homer wrote The Odyssey around the 8th century B.C.. Well, The Epic of Gilgamesh was written 1,500 years before that and is considered the first recorded story in mankind’s history.

There’s a reason for that longevity. Evolution has created brains that are wired for stories. Go back further than Gilgamesh, back thousands of years. Even in picture form on cave walls, our knuckle-dragging forefathers were sharing stories: Stories about adventure and hardship. About shared experiences and intimate connections. About understanding our place in the world. And people remember stories. Not facts.

Good stories are sticky and embed themselves in people’s subconscious. There’s a reason why you remember your best friend shooting you in the left thumb with a BB Gun 30 years back, but can’t recall where you left your phone an hour ago. Getting shot by your best friend is illustrative and emotional. Misplacing your cell phone? Not so much.

But Storytelling Sounds Hard!

Storytelling isn’t hard. But it’s not easy either. The c-suite needs to embrace the “out with the old, in with the new” concept. If the higher-ups are balking at change, toss this statistic from above their way: 70 percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company. That’s a lot of eyeballs. And a lot of warm and fuzzy emotion.

The key is to keep that warm and fuzzy feeling – and make it warmer and fuzzier! But bear this in mind – when marketing with content, the worst possible thing you can do is just dive in, unprepared.

If you want to keep your consumers happy, and ask them to spend 10 or 15 minutes reading a blog post or listening to a podcast, invest in whoever and whatever your organization needs in order to make that content sing.

When you communicate with your customers – not at them – through storytelling, you are developing a unique and collaborative connection with them. And you are inspiring genuine interest and loyalty towards your brand.

We live in what some call a ‘participatory culture’ – because there is more information out there than we can store in our heads, we are motivated to talk about and share the content we consume. Tell a good story and this increased conversation creates buzz and builds trust in your content. Tell a great story, and your audience not only looks forward to your daily/weekly/monthly marketing, but also actively shares it within their own tribes. The reward, in the long run, will be increased content sharing, leading to increased interest, leading to increased sales and customer conversions. And that’s no bedtime fairy tale.

Lindsay Bell is a Canadian freelance writer, story teller, editor, and grammar freak. A former television producer, she is a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. At home in Toronto she has an incredible husband, a rocking 12 year old son, and an extensive music collection. And she blogs here.

141 comments
jpolyzotis
jpolyzotis

Hi Lindsay. I recently found your posts and have been enjoying them quite a bit. I was also a TV Producer in Toronto for many years and am now making the switch to PR. I totally agree that our participatory culture is driving us to share content we consume, online and in real life. Storytelling is how we communicate and crafting narratives that engage people and allow them to participate by sharing their own stories creates a meaningful exchange.

jepelp
jepelp

I would like to think I am a storyteller, every now and then I am a truth teller. like! jimparrishavitator.com

kennettkwok
kennettkwok

Thank you so much for writing this post. Very inspiring! It definitely reminds me of Apple in some way.

Katebleau
Katebleau

Good thoughts Lindsay. I think those dudes who wrote the sticky note book shared your thesis. Of course I can't remember their names or the real name of their book! And the only reason I have my phone located is because I tell myself where I'm putting it. Out loud. Like I would be telling another person, but it's me. But I can remember the time when I was 8 or so in our backyard in Wisconsin, we were having a family picnic. My grandad bit into a slice of watermelon and as he pulled it out of his mouth, his choppers came, too. Tops and bottoms. Without a word of a lie! And if that isn't a content story for Poligrip marketing, I'll eat my hat. With my choppers. I'm calling the Poli people right now. Well done.

bdorman264
bdorman264

I used to be pretty good at telling a story; but I kept getting my butt whupped for it. When I started telling the truth, it just wasn't as interesting any more...........

Story telling is an art and the better story you can tell the more you will not only captivate your audience, but make them willing to share as well. It's like telling a good joke, only longer....:).

You have certainly hit the nail on the head; thanks for sharing this at the house where Spin really does Suck.

manamica
manamica

@belllindsay@belllindsay Looove it! "make that content sing"! I am making a poster out of that, if I may. You've convinced me, I'll try to tell more stories, instead of "publishing content." I am curious what you think of this - elevator pitches - can you tell a story in an elevator pitch or is that too short?

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @jpolyzotis Thanks! Where were you working...? I wonder if we know some of the same people. TV Land is a small world. :)  Stories are so important, one of the very best ways to create "sticky" in my opinion. Congrats on the career change, that's very exciting, and the best decision I ever made - I hope it works out for you! Cheers, LB 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @jepelp Thanks Jim! I try and do that 'truth' thing myself. Most days. ;D 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@flemingsean Hi Sean, after 20 years in TV production, story is pretty much part of my DNA, but yes, it's not a 'new' story in and of itself. :) Thanks for sharing your blog (loved how you brought in native communities as well) - I think the interesting thing is we just proved how/why story telling is so important - a great story will move along similar content - but from another's perspective, experiences, etc.. Cheers, LB

MadamWard
MadamWard

@belllindsay No worries, enjoyed the read and took away useful tips too, so thank you :-)

belllindsay
belllindsay

@hackmanj Hi Joe: that makes me happy! My background is TV, so "story" was drilled into me for many many years! And not without a fair bit of pain and a few missteps along the way! LOL It's exciting to see the rise of "brand as publisher". Glad there was some takeaway there for you! Cheers, Lindsay

belllindsay
belllindsay

@Katebleau HA! I have that book Kate! And I can't remember the name either. It might actually be called "Sticky"! Loved your story - funny how we can't recall what we did yesterday but can remember those moments. The Bell family has a great backyard BBQue story similar to yours - 1970's, lots of grandparents & assorted other elderly types, amazing food prepared, all the summer salads, etc., and the classic wooden picnic table! Toss in some bad weight distribution (why do people want to sit all on one side..?) and you have table flipped and elderly folks all over the grass covered in all that beautiful food! LOL Let me know how you make out with the Poli people! xox

belllindsay
belllindsay

@bdorman264 Ha! Great image there Bill! I have a son, so I'm very familiar.....! I love your analogy of telling a good joke, only longer. I might steal that. Cause it's absolutely true. I hope companies and marketers (and execs) fully embrace "brand as publisher" - it's such an effective way to build - as you said - a captivated audience! Big thanks to Gini and the gang for the invite. And thanks for the kind words. Cheers, LB

belllindsay
belllindsay

@manamica You have free reign to make posters and t-shirts. Just send the cheque! LOL What's interesting here is that in your post you *told* a story - right off the top, your food story. As I commented, you really caught me with the imagery and of course, since most of us have done the same time consuming prep work for holiday festivities, you immediately connected with your readers. Your story was short, but perfectly relevant to the thesis behind your post. Which leads me to your elevator pitch question. I'm not a fan of the term elevator pitch personally - it reeks of schmarmy sales pitch. But stories can definitely be all shapes and sizes. When I worked in TV, my Exec would respond when asked how long a piece should be "As long as it's good!" Simple. But so important. Words are powerful. And often, fewer words wield more power. That's why I love editing so much. When I write I keep the three 'esses' in mind: Short. Sharp. Shock. If content is compelling, memorable, and resonates with people - then it shouldn't matter how long it is! :)

bernicebaker3
bernicebaker3

@belllindsay Looking for a better job? If so you can be your own boss and work from home making 4k a month mymoneyjournalsite .com

jpolyzotis
jpolyzotis

 @belllindsay  @jpolyzotis Hey Lindsay, I was working with Sinking Ship Entertainment and Marble Media producing live action kids programs and I've worked on some feature films, commercials and reality series as well. I feel PR is good move for me. How did you make the change?

flemingsean
flemingsean

@belllindsay I'm always delighted when someone reads stuff I've written, so thank you!

One interesting piece of feedback I had at the time I wrote that piece was that by using the word "story" in conjunction with PR, I was making it sound like PR is all about making things up... IE it's all fiction, don't believe it.

Made me a little sad. The person who said that may have missed the point. The point is that that narrative (or story) has to flow through everything; it's the thread onto which you attach the individual pieces of work you produce.

It's good to have "met" you! :)

Best,

Sean

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @jpolyzotis Yep, I know Marble. I was at the CBC for 20 years. Last show I did was The Strombo show. But, I was done. Burnt out and unhappy - so I just up and left! People thought I was insane. But it was the best thing I ever did. I still miss the industry, and cringe when I'm watching TV and see a bad edit or a super misspelled, but would never go back. Good luck to you!!

flemingsean
flemingsean

@belllindsay Some people just like to look for the negative though, don't they! :)

Thanks for the twitter follow.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@flemingsean Hmmm. Interesting psychological 'A-Ha' moment : the term 'story' = 'fiction' to some people. I'll definitely remember that, and start using 'narrative' more often in pitches! Sounds smarter anyhow. :) Great to meet you as well!

Trackbacks

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