When I was an ambitious young lass, I got my MA in Creative Writing. Back then if you asked me why I was getting the degree, I would’ve answered with an incredulous and self-righteous, “Because I love to write.”
After graduating, each month I cursed that love of writing, as I made grad school loan payment after grad school loan payment, all while still paying off my undergrad degree. How could I be so impractical and stupid?
Then, in the last few years, something amazing happened. The business world woke up to the power of words and story. What began as a burden has turned into a blessing because these days storytelling is everywhere. In your face, finance majors!
So why is storytelling marketing’s latest golden child?
Because it works. Like, really well. In fact, it’s always worked. Since the dawn of advertising, storytelling has buzzed in and out of buzzword territory.
But why does it work so well?
Story makes you relatable. People want to do business with…people — real human people they feel good about supporting. Stories are how they get to know you as those very people they want to support. This means showing the real you, which could mean getting a little uncomfortable and certainly vulnerable. It seems counter-intuitive, yes. Why would you want your customers to know anything about your flaws or faults? Because if your customers can see some of what they think and feel in the details (at least on some level), they can identify and empathize with you. They'll see that you're a regular person who isn't perfect but is trying to do some great things in this world...just like them.
Story sets you apart. Now that publishing and sharing tools are affordable and accessible and no longer for the elite, this means everyone has the means to contribute. That isn't always a good thing. Every newsfeed is full of stories, endless streams of stories. Every few days, though, there are a certain number of stories that keep reappearing, shared over and over. That's because good storytelling cuts through clutter. Self-serving storytelling is disingenuous and actually does you a disservice. Today’s customers have more choices than ever, and stories are the one of the best ways to differentiate. Tell stories of what makes you distinctive. Story is essential in showing your character — the real, unique, and awesome you.
Story makes you memorable. Stories evoke emotion. Emotion is what people remember. Without a good story, ideas are easily ousted and replaced with thoughts that are more memorable. But ideas that have a specific and strong narrative are noteworthy. They include telling details that invite empathy, which increases the likelihood that they will be recognized and accepted. Take notice of trending articles in your feeds and look at those you have saved in bookmarks. Chances are those that are more long form and thought provoking will include elements of storytelling. The excitement, conflict, suspense, intensity. The articles leave you learning something — and yearning for more — and keep you entertained as they do it.
People are spending twice as much time online as they did just a decade ago (20 hours per week!), taking in an endless stream of content. To even remotely stand a part, storytelling is a skill that you need to master on a personal and professional level. And the good news is it's a talent we all possess. You just have to practice.
As luck would have it, at this year's skucon, I am going to be leading a workshop on how to harness your brand's narrative, which will give any of you folks plenty of practical ways to practice telling your story.