“What’s one of the most effective marketing tools you have on your tool belt? …Storytelling.”
I’ve seen countless articles start with a hook like this.
And it’s true.
Few things are as effective at engaging and compelling your reader as storytelling is.
In a study by Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, only about 5% of people remember statistics in a speech, whereas 63% remember stories.
By using stories along with statistics and other evidence, you can be far more persuasive than you could with data alone.
But I’m not here to convince you to use storytelling in your marketing. Plenty of other people have done that remarkably well.
No, what I’m here to do is to tell you what you’re doing wrong.
Plenty of articles tell marketers to use storytelling, but not many tell you how to tell those stories. And I’m sorry to say, but not every marketer is Stephen King.
So, let’s get into the biggest writing sins I’ve seen marketers and bloggers make.
Don’t Write Without a Reason
Don’t just throw in a story because you think every article needs one. This is a sure-fire path to confusing the reader or boring them with a long, drawn-out story that isn’t doing anything.
Every story needs to have a reason for being there. It needs to build you toward your overall point.
You can have a story to illustrate a point, explain a complicated idea, or offer a compelling before and after, but your story must have a goal.
If you’re struggling with coming up with a purposeful story, try creating an audience profile. It can help to know who you are telling the story to as It may change the way you tell the story.
I highly recommend using the Big 5 personality traits to create a model of your audience. It’s the personality traits they use to target ads during elections, so it’s pretty good.
Once you have a model, use it to tailor your story. Is your audience motivated by fear? Authority? Compassion?
This can be the difference between an interesting story and a story that really captures your audience.
As a marketer, advertiser, or just a person with an opinion, attention is your currency. Attention is hard-earned, so, don’t waste it and don’t take it for granted.
I can’t tell you how many speeches I’ve heard where the speaker starts with a story — even an interesting one — that ends up having nothing to do with the rest of his speech.
It’s the equivalent of click-baiting your audience, and it will lose that hard-earned trust and attention faster than anything.
I was just recently at a conference, and at the end of the conference they were giving out awards. And the biggest award went to one of the sweetest and nicest guys you could ever meet. You were drawn in just by his smile.
He opened with a story about his childhood…
And he was a fantastic storyteller, but the story had absolutely nothing to do with anything, and only succeeded in confusing everyone in the room.
You could hear the murmurs of people trying to make sense of what he was talking about. He was saved by his natural likability, but they nearly pulled him off the stage with a giant hook.
Don’t do this.
Have a goal and stay on topic!
If you find yourself going down a rabbit trail, shoot the rabbit and find your way back to your point.
Don’t be Too Flowery
Don’t go crazy with your imagery. You’re not trying to impress anyone with your vocabulary.
You’re not trying to write the next great novel.
It may feel like you’re being “writerly,” but most good writers know that less is more.
You want to make the reader picture the scene. They should feel like they’re there, but you don’t want to bore them with over-the-top, flowery language.
A compelling image can be achieved with remarkably little.
Take this example from a post on Mirasee:
“Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” I say as I juggle my daughter and son into their clothes for daycare.
You can picture that. It’s short and to the point, but it sets the scene well.
Now consider what could have been:
“Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” I say as I juggle my daughter and son into their brand-new clothes for daycare. My son is wearing a light blue shirt with a monster truck on it from some new kids show he loves. The monster truck has a weird smiling face on the front, that I guess is supposed to make it more likable. My daughter is wearing a Disney princess shirt adorned in so much glitter that I’m afraid to touch it. I’m wearing a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, already wrinkled from the effort of corralling my two kids.
Sure, you can picture the scene…if you don’t get bored and skip past it waiting for the writer to get to the point.
Thankfully he didn’t write something like that.
National Geographic is an expert at using very minimal storytelling to huge effect. If you look at their Instagram, Twitter, or even their magazines, almost every post and image comes with what amounts to a short story that gives you the background on the photo. They don’t just tell you so-and-so took this photo here.
They take you on a journey.
Look at this blurb from one of their most recent images on Instagram:
“14-year-old Sonam Dargye nervously waits to be called to the 2000-meter speed race… “
Just adding the word “nervously” creates interest. It draws you in. You’re imagining the race, wondering why she is nervous, what is the rest of her life like?
You only need the barest hint of an image for an interested human mind to do the rest, and how do you keep that mind interested?
Don’t Write a Boring Story
Speaking of action…
Something needs to happen in your story.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed by how many writers drone on without anyone doing anything.
By action, I don’t mean a car chase, although those never hurt, something needs to be happening. Like in the example I used above, action could mean simply trying to get your kids dressed for school.
Regardless of what it is, you need to keep the story moving forward.
Don’t Drag it On
We don’t need a long, drawn-out thing that takes up half the page.
Remember, this is a short story meant to engage your readers or illustrate a point. It’s not a novel.
A story can be as short as two sentences.
There is a famous short story by Fredric Brown, “Knock,” whose first two sentences give a compelling and chilling story all by themselves:
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
Boom! That’s it.
If you find your story getting too long, then break it up. Start the story at the beginning of the article, Segway into your main point, and then close with the rest of the story. You can also pepper bits of the story throughout if it’s a longer sales letter.
Think cliffhanger. Soap operas use them for a reason. Stories act as little treats to entice your reader to keep trudging through the boring stuff.
Simple as that
That’s pretty much it. If you’re still unsure of how to create stories then check out Duarte.com for content and courses on how to tell more effective stories, if you’re wondering how to tell your brand’s story then check out getstoried.com, or just get a book on storytelling. There are lots of good ones out there.
Stories add colour and interest to what could otherwise be boring information. Looking at it like that, mastering storytelling is as important for business as SEO or copywriting.
Now go forth young writer, and sin no more.