How 5 Aspects of Storytelling Influence Your Brand

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Over time, the ways we tell stories may have changed, but the reason why we tell stories remains the same. We all want to hear and feel something meaningful and emotionally true.

The good news for brands is that we’re all hard-wired to respond to storytelling devices.

MRI studies show that the human brain literally lights up when confronted with information told in story form.

Most of us have seen reports and studies about the number of marketing messages we receive each day — some peg it between 4,000 and 10,000. If that range is accurate, then directly connecting with your audience is harder than ever. And if it’s harder to reach your audience, then using a technique that’s faster, more effective and more powerful seems like the easy choice. That’s where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling for Marketing

The technology to make an accessible video — a very compelling way to quickly tell emotional stories — has enabled brands to touch the heartstrings of their customers. Beyond video, however, is a host of marketing communications techniques that brands need to access so they can best resonate with their audiences.

When building a messaging framework to write the copy for a web page, landing page, mailer, email, etc., businesses have numerous options and resources. Just Google “Messaging Frameworks,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Marketing firms and agencies have done a good job sharing their approaches to garner more web traffic and authority, so the secret sauce of how to build a good framework is not-so-secret anymore. It’s just how your marketing team best fits its skills and talents into an approach that works for your business.

For a storytelling approach to messaging, there are tons of resources to help with this, ranging from Donald Miller’s business StoryBrand, to Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars,” to all of the on-line videos about how to tell a good marketing story. What I’ve outlined below isn’t new. But what I hope it does is challenge your team to better understand how to meaningfully engage with your audience.

The 5 Universal Aspects of a Story

  1. The Hero: From Gilgamesh, to Elizabeth Bennett, to Luke Skywalker, to Carol Danvers, the hero is to whom we attach ourselves. We follow heroes through their struggles, hopes, and their desires to somehow transform their lives. Your hero is your customer. What does s/he struggle with? What is s/he motivated by? What kind of transformation is your customer looking for?
  2. The Villain: The best villains represent something bigger than themselves. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the villains were shown as police, farmland holders …and most importantly, the system. It was The System that uprooted the Midwestern grasslands. The System planted nutrient-draining cotton, which depleted the soil, and helped cause the great Dust Bowl. The System ended up forcing the share-cropping farmers to migrate. The villain is what your customer/hero has to overcome. Is it high prices for poor service? Is it lack of confidence? Inconvenience? The gap between the increase of the cost of education vs. the increase in wages? This is your team’s hard work. You need to deeply dig into who or what the villain is.
  3. The Mentor: All stories have a guide or mentor, some kind of facilitator who steps in to help the hero. The guide helps lay out the path. The hero has to do the actual work. It’s the independent work of the hero that makes the journey worthwhile. As every parent knows, children learn and grow and gain confidence when they do it themselves. You and your business are the mentor. You help show the customer-hero how to overcome obstacles and get to a place they want to go.
  4. The Journey: This is how the hero actually transforms. In fiction, the journey could be physical, psychological, emotional or all of the above. It’s the path the hero takes that results in a transformed state of living … happier, healthier, stronger, wiser … all of the things we want to be. Every human wants to become more than they are. We have an innate desire to improve and grow. Your customer-journey is the plan, the path, that you lay out for them. You, as both mentor and business, show the customer what the journey looks like, and so facilitate his or her growth.
  5. The Transformation: This is the golden reward, the place the customer wants to go. Like I explained in “3 Types of Brand Stories,” this can be a functional, emotional or moral transformation. It is a clear and hopeful resolution, when confronting and besting the villain. As a business, you need to make the transformation extremely clear for the customer, so s/he can see how life will be better because of trusting you as a mentor and following your suggested path.

I recommend you Google “Storytelling for Marketing” and explore two or three pages deep into the rich set of helpful resources and firms that have outstanding advice. You become their hero, they become your mentor, and these resources help you best the villain of audience attrition on your journey to transform into a stronger storyteller and brand professional.

I hope this helps, and as always, I welcome your feedback.

storytelling secondary art

Get Used to It: Your Customers Want Stories

Earlier this month I was in Cleveland for Content Marketing World, where the theme was “The World of Stories.” Who doesn’t love a good story? At our core, humans are storytellers, and we are receptive to them.

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing World disucssing storiesThat is … unless you’re marketing to the robots who might eventually become our overlords if Amazon doesn’t beat them to it.

Earlier this month I was in Cleveland for Content Marketing World, the very place that gave me the swift kick in the pants to launch this blog (and then later “What Were They Thinking?”).

The theme was “The World of Stories,” which sure, sounds quaint. Who doesn’t love a good story? Most of us were raised on them: the bedtime story, the stories our grandparents told us about our families, crazy stories about parties gone awry in college, bad date stories, weird work stories … we love them all (or maybe that’s just me).

At our core, humans are storytellers, and we are receptive to them. Story is the universal language … and remember, you don’t need words to tell a good story.

So this past week I heard about (and in some cases, saw), the stories GE produces. Learned about Death Wish Coffee’s brand story thanks to Jay Acunzo. Skyword’s founder and CEO Tom Gerace shared with us a story about Indian detergent-maker Ariel, and how it convinced husbands and fathers to #sharetheload.

I was blown away by the stories Casey Neistat creates using video and his wild imagination. Coca-Cola shared how their customers create stories around their brand (and fun ones at that!) Colson Whitehead — an amazing writer — shared his story of becoming who he is now, weaving together well-placed jokes, anecdotes and simple truths about what it’s like to really be a writer.

Scott Stratten shared the story of how he took down a Canadian telecom who was posting BS reviews of its app (all while not wearing pants — what a life!). And Hollywood actor, director and maybe the most adorable guy (aside from my boyfriend Johnny) Joseph Gordon Levitt shared how he created the HitRecord at a time when he couldn’t get hired, and how it has blossomed as a diverse community of artistic collaborators.

Yes, these were keynotes and sessions … but they were all stories. Stories inspiring the content creators in Cleveland to head home and tell more stories. To build connections. To entertain. To inform. To help their customers become even more successful at what they do.

At our core, we are all storytellers, from the Fortune 500 CEO to the copywriter, from the small business owner to the SEO strategist.

What’s YOUR story?

Marketing to Millennial Business Buyers

The Millennial generation has been out in the workforce for a while now, and this cohort is now entering the stage of their careers where they are part of the business buying process. Much has been written about Millennial preferences as consumers. But how about them as business buyers? Let’s take a look.

The Millennial generation has been out in the workforce for a while now, and this cohort is now entering the stage of their careers where they are part of the business buying process. They may not all be decision-makers quite yet, but they are certainly important influencers. So we B-to-B marketers must consider how to appeal to Millennial business buyers effectively. Much has been written about Millennial preferences as consumers. But how about them as business buyers? Let’s take a look.

Millennials were born in the range of 1977 to 1995, more or less — some researchers put it at 1980s to 2000s. So they range in age today from around 20 to late 30s. As consumers, they are tech dependent, they value authenticity, and they are attracted to brands that think and act like them. Here’s what this means to B-to-B marketers.

Broaden your communications media channels. Millennials prefer mobile text, and IM networks like WhatsApp for direct messages. For advertising, use social media like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Streamline your lead gen. Make it effortless. Use auto-populate techniques for forms, where possible. Ask for minimal data elements (but fill in the company profile using an outside provider like ReachForce).

Mobile-enable all communications. This means mobile-friendly website and email formats.

Ask for referrals. Millennials are very loyal, once they establish a trusted connection with a brand. So they are likely to refer, especially if you ask.

Avoid marketing speak. Be real, authentic and truthful (they fact check). Get to the point, fast (but make plenty of information available if they want it). Don’t be too serious — make them laugh.

Don’t sell too hard. Not only do they fact check, they’ll also look at reviews, comments and other online validation.

Be active on social media. The B-to-B value of social has been proven again and again. But if you’re still not convinced, the behavior of Millennials should be enough to put you over the top. This generation expects you to be tweeting, blogging, posting on Facebook, and participating in LinkedIn groups.

Tell stories. These buyers respond to emotion. Use case studies, testimonials.

Treat them uniquely, not as a member of a group. This translates into taking full advantage of personalization techniques, like dynamic web page serving and data-driven customized messaging.

Talk about efficiency, and results. These are the themes that interest Millennials. They want to operate faster, cheaper, better. And they want their efforts to change the world. If you can help with those missions, say so. These are the product positioning angles that are meaningful to the new business buyer.

Any other ideas to add to the list?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Blogging for Sales Leads: The No. 1 Reason Your Blog Isn’t Getting It Done

I used to believe in blogging authentically, transparently, telling good stories and being a thought leader, but these ideas consistently failed to generate leads for me. That’s because I was missing the one, essential piece that content marketing and blogging gurus don’t even know about: Use a blog to create confidence in the buyer—not me, my brand or my business.

I used to believe in blogging authentically, transparently, telling good stories and being a thought leader, but these ideas consistently failed to generate leads for me. That’s because I was missing the one, essential piece that content marketing and blogging gurus don’t even know about: Use a blog to create confidence in the buyer—not me, my brand or my business.

Today’s most successful B-to-B sellers are using blogs to do one thing really well: prove they’re worth investing in before customers pay a dime. They’re giving customers a few results and letting them experience what success feels like.

Blog to Help Prospects Believe in ThemselvesNot in You
The blogging gurus love to tell us to build trust with prospects using social media. Yet they never mention the best way to build enough trust to close a sale. (probably because they’ve never actually closed a sale)

I’m talking about helping a buyer get so confident in themselves—so sure that buying will give them everything they want—they can’t help themselves. They buy because they cannot argue against not buying anymore! (and of their own free will, of course)

Enter social media and all the bogus short-cuts we’ve been told will create trust. Telling stories, being honest, showing customers our “human side.” These things might help you foster trust but only if you apply them to help prospects get more confident in themselves.

Give Prospects Results In AdvanceNo Excuses
What’s the connection between convincing a prospect to buy through your blog and giving them overwhelming confidence? How do you execute this idea without wasting time? You create a process that manufactures “mini-successes” for prospects—in advance of their purchase.

This is the practical, tried-and-true strategy at the center of every blog that creates leads.

Start blogging in ways that prove your product or service is worth investing in. Start giving prospects a free taste of success before they purchase.

Help them do something that they really need to do, learn or accomplish. This gives them partial satisfaction (in themselves) and creates hunger for more. Not hunger for your product or service.

Hunger for more satisfaction in themselves.

Give It Away—All of It
If this sounds like a free trial you’re right but let’s say you’re selling a complex product or service. You’ll need to go further—convince prospects to buy based on what you’ve actually done for them lately.

I’m describing a situation where buying what you sell isn’t a point of consideration; it’s a logical next step for your prospect to take. Purchasing becomes part of the journey your prospect is already on.

By doing meaningful things for people that actually move the needle (solve a problem, teach a skill, etc.) prospects build a sense of achievement. Even if it’s a small one potential customers build trust in you based on this sense.

They begin to trust in your ability to deliver the FULL result if they were to actually buy from you.

Make sure your blog articles, video tutorials, white papers, ebooks and such are:

  1. Taking prospects on a journey toward (or away from) what it is you sell and
  2. creating confidence along the way by solving problems and/or teaching them new skills.

Lots of Examples…
This strategy is at the heart of thriving companies like HubSpot. I, myself, apply the technique to generate leads for a social media sales training program. Sure, money back guarantees help us close, so do customer testimonials. But nothing works better than giving away my best knowledge and helping prospects begin to experience actual success.

Nothing creates trust like having a material impact on your prospects’ lives before they buy. Nothing. Because it proves you’re able to create success for them and willing to prove it up front.

Again, all you’re really doing is building prospects’ confidence in themselves that they cannot argue with.

Look at every one of the social media sales success stories I’ve documented on this blog, in the magazine or on my other blog. Each of these B-to-B social selling success stories are finding a way to give out samples of results in advance.

Every successful B-to-B social seller I’ve found ever (and I do this full time!) is helping prospects get confident in themselves as buyers—before they’re doing anything else.

Let’s be honest. Can you really afford to not blog in ways that give prospects miniature versions of what it is you’re so darn good at? Especially when your competitors probably are—or are thinking of it?

5 E-Marketing Lessons from Social Media News Links

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center‘s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

“The stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press,” says the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in a recent study, expanded here on Journalism.org. “But they also differ greatly from each other.” These differences highlight traits in these mediums that e-marketers must understand to effectively market through social media channels.

1. “Bloggers gravitated toward stories that elicited emotion, concerned individual or group rights, or triggered ideological passion,” according to Pew’s report on the study. Obviously this highlights the partisan boil of recent U.S. politics, but it also exhibits what bloggers want: something to talk about. To have a marketing or PR campaign picked up in the same way, it has to be a conversation starter, something that inspires bloggers and their readers to comment. If you’re going to feed bloggers, make sure there’s meat on the bones.

2. Bloggers gravitate toward newsy items more than opinions. According to Jounalism.org’s expanded report, 83 percent of the news items bloggers link to are news reports, and only 13 percent are opinion pieces. This makes sense when you consider that bloggers want to voice their own opinions on subjects, and are therefore more likely to pick up stories that report — or publicize — core facts about which they can pontificate. Your own opinionated items tend to speak for themselves, and could get picked up by bloggers more to argue against than discuss.

3. For Twitter users, “the mission is primarily about passing along important — often breaking — information in a way that unifies or assumes shared values within the Twitter community.” Twitter is known for its discussions, but it’s not a great discussion space. Updates are fast, widespread, easy to ignore and perfect for passing on actionable information: “Company X is giving away free thingamajigs! LINK. #YourCompany.”

4. YouTube’s “most watched videos have a strong sense of serendipity. They pique interest and curiosity with a strong visual appeal. The ‘Hey, you’ve got to see this,’ mentality rings strong.” However, videos don’t have to be funny or outrageous. Outrageousness can seem like the only videos that go viral because that’s what shows on the web and TV (“Web Soup,” “Tosh.0”) make famous. But any video that’s really interesting can go viral and drive sales. Companies like Dynomighty Design have had success driving whole product campaigns with simple videos showing how cool their products are, such as this video for the company’s magnetic jewelry.

5. “Across all three social platforms … attention spans are brief.” This goes both for the length of the message and the length of time it’ll remain relevant. The majority of top stories remained top stories for no more than three days, especially on Twitter. The study also found that social media picked stories up much more quickly than traditional media. Combined, these traits mean lift can be short from any one message. A marketing or PR message delivered on Sunday and picked up by Tuesday will likely lose its buzz before the weekend.