“Tell me a story”

Good storytelling is at the heart of creating successful marketing communications and building strong brand relationships.

Says marketing guru Seth Godin, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” This is especially true for companies that sell intangibles, like professional or educational services. Why? Because the credentials, focus areas, mission statements and awards of many organizations often appear to be interchangeable. In a saturated market, bringing your value promise to life depends on the stories that illustrate it.

The building blocks of story

People have always been drawn to stories, from the days of the earliest cave paintings up through today’s story-driven video games. But simply reciting a set of facts doesn’t make for a great story. Here’s what does:

Holding out for a hero
Every story needs a hero. Who’s the hero of yours? Spoiler alert: It isn’t you. To appeal to your audience, the hero needs to be an avatar for the people you want to reach. The thinking is, “If they can help that person or company, they can do the same for me.” Their success illustrates your skills.

Use the hero’s actual name — or at least a robust description — to boost credibility and engage the reader. Include the names of other key players where relevant. Remember to get permission before identifying your hero by name. 

Something important at stake
Real stakes make a story more compelling and underline the value of your contribution. What did your hero want to achieve and why? What would happen if the goal was not achieved?  Understanding those stakes helps the reader identify with your hero and invest in the outcome.

The struggle is real
An obstacle to overcome (sometimes more than one) is a key ingredient of your hero’s story. Know what forces you are facing. A changing market? An aggressive timeline? Community sentiment? A well-funded opponent? One hundred years of precedent? Then explain how you conquered or surmounted them. Be as specific as you can. By talking about the challenges, you create interest in your solutions.

A meaningful result
“Achieved a successful outcome” may be your version of happily ever after, but it doesn’t make the grade in the storytelling world. Even if the specifics are confidential, you must at least say why the result was important. What did your work enable your client to do? Improve a market position? Continue selling a product or using a trademark? Transform an industry or a community? Strengthen employer-employee relationships? Create opportunities? If your client issued a press release, check it out to see what mattered most to them. Or ask yourself: Why is this story important to tell and interesting to read?

Your employees are essential in making the brand come alive, so they must be on board.

Tips for sticky storytelling

With the building blocks in place, it’s time to focus on additional strategies that will help you create standout stories.

Set the scene
Grounding your story in a particular time and place give context to the events and the stakes. Think about all the changes in workplace policies that took place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that added weight and urgency to projects. How can you provide similar texture to your stories?

The personal touch
Telling a story in the first person is a great way to grab the reader’s attention. Think about it: Would you rather read about an organization’s policies on diversity, equity & inclusion or hear directly from an individual who benefitted from those policies? Recruiting, careers and community service stories also come to life when told in the first person.

Consider video
Video stories are easy to watch and easy to remember — and they instantly build a connection with the viewer. Instead of giving your subject a prepared script, provide talking points to prompt genuine, spontaneous responses. Creating a storyboard will help you decide if and where to add voice-overs, animation, infographics and B-roll to provide texture and emphasize key points.

Beware of bloat
Ever look up a recipe online only to get lost in 2,500 words of (mostly irrelevant) story before you reach the first ingredient? That’s story bloat, and it happens when writers are convinced that longer is always better. Get to the point or your audience will lose interest, and you’ll lose your audience. You can tell a great story in 10 pages — but you can also tell it in one  paragraph.

Want to make your stories sing? Try a Right Hat story session. Get started by scheduling a meeting with Dawn Michalak, Director of Business Development.

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