The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

Facebook stories drive SEO and build our network, so we can troll for new business. Instagram tells our stories visually and helps our brands come alive. Linkedin allows us to tell our business stories to peers and prospects in a “news” orientation.

Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.

Brands that win the most likes, posts, shares, retweets and resulting web traffic, live traffic and ultimately sales  are those same brands that know how to tell the best stories. Stories about our founders, our values, our products, our mission, and how customers can be part of our tribe. Patagonia is a master storyteller. Its catalogues read like diaries in the life of a customer who is living the life we’d like to live: canoes over white water to school, rock climbs at 80 years old, treks in Asia with sherpas, and more. In fact, its stories have been so well-received Patagonia’s published several books with content from its catalogues which you can buy on Amazon. True story!

Most reading this post likely have mastered the art and science of crafting solid brand stories and sharing them across all of the diverse communications channels we use today. So let’s shift perspective for a moment and look at storytelling another way.

What Are the Stories of Your Customers?

We invest enormous energy into CRM programs and systems that tell us about customer transactions, anniversary dates, revenue spend, demographics, and so on. This information helps us form “mass personalization,” as we lump them into categories of like customers and try to make them feel singularly special. They’ve caught on. Personalization at this level does little for sales and loyalty these days. Largely because we are telling a Single Story and trying to make it fit many diverse people.

My amazing daughters introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author famous for her TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story.”

She points out just how much people within all societies look at others, issues, the world from the lense of a single story, instead of multiple stories that, when combined, present a more accurate story of a person, a population, an issue, culture, a brand, and a customer. She discusses what it was like to go from Nigeria to school in the U.S. and how she was put into a story that others believed, as it was the only one they knew

You are from Africa. You must be poor, hungry, uneducated, and so much more.

Marketers are so often guilty of listening to and acting upon a single story when it comes to our customers. Women in a given demographic all shop alike, want the same products, have the same values. Men from coastal cities like purses, men from middle America do not. We craft our customer profiles around these stories and build messaging, content workflows, and experiences, accordingly. And it works, to a limited degree.

But what if we went a little deeper in researching our customers, so we could really tell amazing stories about them or to them that really struck at their heart and soul?

What if we asked them for their stories? Not testimonials about how wonderful we are; but instead, stories about them? How they feel about the world in which we live? Their communities? What inspires and moves them in life? How they like to spend their free time? Their favorite jobs, hobbies, and so on?

If we could create customer profiles that go deeper than transactions captured in our CRM systems, we would see our customers from many different perspectives. We would know what moves them to do what they do, choose what they do, and how we might be able to be part of a more meaningful story than just what they value enough to buy. In other words, a story about their life.

Takeaways

Slow down for a moment and listen to your customers speak about anything BUT your product. Discover those fascinating stories that make customers more than statistics. Move away from the “Danger of a Single Story” about customer groups you manage and sell to. As you do, you could just compete with Patagonia someday for the top-selling book on loyal customers!

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

10 Storytelling-in-Content Marketing Lessons Learned

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and event sales.

During this campaign, we’ve seen, first-hand, the power of story with diverse styles of video content marketing that included interviews, behind-the-scenes stories building up to a major event, and the high viewership of the final long-form video

Regular readers of our blog may be aware that I am a member of a world-class international Barbershop Harmony Society champion chorus (we recently won our 12th Gold Medal competing among 31 groups from four countries in front of a live audience of 7,000 plus thousands tuning in via webcast). I handle the marketing for the organization (with assistance from Reinventing Direct co-author Perry Alexander). We have the latitude to explore new approaches, and we share them from time-to-time with readers like you.

Because it’s a music-based organization, and because we frequently use video as the primary messaging vehicle, we have come to realize the power of not just music, but overlaying storytelling.

Now that the six-month pre-contest campaign has concluded, we share 10 lessons we’ve learned from this campaign about storytelling and content marketing.

  1. Stimulate interest/earn trust: You audience probably isn’t interested in what you have to sell until you have stimulated their interest and earned their trust in your value to making their lives better.
  2. Give them unusual access: They want to be let in on what’s behind-the-scenes. Video can deliver this experience better than any other channel.
  3. Build tension/release with joy: Like any good story, add an element of tension, but let the audience experience joy. People will remember you for how you made them feel.
  4. Give context in your story: As an insider, it is your responsibility, as a storyteller, to set the stage. Refrain from using acronyms and jargon, so the viewer can appreciate the importance of an upcoming element of the story.
  5. Leverage the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Craft your story so it builds from one part to the next, so your audience, while fearing they’ll miss something, is looking for your message.
  6. Let characters be stars: If you have multiple people in the story, creatively develop a delivery vehicle so everyone can participate. (We had a crazy idea about how to include over 140 people, including myself, in a video. See the result here.)
  7. Put your audience inside the story. Don’t be detached. Invite them to come along with you.
  8. Encourage comments and reviews. Your audience will tell you what they think, so invite participation.
  9. The story dictates length: Many claim videos must be short. Not necessarily true. They must be tightly edited and move the story along. The final video in this series was 36 minutes long, and YouTube audience retention was higher than average, all the way to the end. Use YouTube analytics to reveal where fall-offs occur and to improve your overall storytelling.
  10. Strategically monetize: Think long-term about monetizing content marketing. In this series, coming into the all-important fourth quarter, this audience is pumped, which makes selling performance tickets, recordings and fundraising all the easier.

Beyond building the brand (and winning the contest), tangible results of this six-month campaign include combined video views of over 22,000 (still growing daily), website views spiking by four times over average, consistently strong email open and click rates, Facebook Fan page follower increase of 25 percent, and Twitter follower increase of 27 percent.

Bottom line: You must continue to offer multiple reasons using circular viralocity for people to return to your website. You do that by developing a compelling story and content.

Finally, a word about music and the brain, and why this storytelling campaign was so successful: Recent brain imaging studies are telling us more about the importance of singing or playing a musical instrument than we’ve known before. For instance, if you’re a manager or executive, chances are that as a child you sang or played a musical instrument. A recent study reveals that early musical training can be influential in determining an individual’s success.

And there’s more: Emotions encouraged by music activate similar frontal brain regions, and can have a significant impact on your marketing messaging.

Music has the power to create a pleasurable experience that can be described as “chills.” As chills increase, many changes in cerebral blood flow are seen in brain regions such as the amygdala. These same brain areas appear to be linked to reward, motivation, emotion and arousal, and are also activated in other pleasurable situations.

Storytelling works. The inclusion of relevant music in storytelling can stimulate and take people to desirable emotional places. And if you want reaction, make sure the music “chills.”

Make Brand Waves This Summer!

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention. In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders.

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention with this bite-sized story:

A Man – A Boat – A Dog

A True Story

The seas were rough. A man was tossed about trying to steady his sails and struggled to find sure footing. Paul Sperry almost lost his life that day. He was a lifelong sailor and inventor, driven to perfect a non-slip boat shoe. One day after watching his dog dart effortlessly across the ice, he carved grooves—like those on his dog’s paws—into the bottom of a rubber sole. In that moment of inspiration, the legend of Paul Sperry was born.

In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders:

1. What is your brand driven to perfect? A former Sperry Top-Sider ad was headlined with the words: MAKE WAVES. This innovative, problem-solving mindset is part of Sperry’s brand DNA and drives all they do. Their “passion for the sea” infuses their brand with a desire to make life better for those who love being near the ocean. Does your brand provide buzz-worthy, practical and useful solutions for your customers?

2. Where do your brand ambassadors—those creating problem-solving products and services—get their inspiration? How much time is dedicated to “moodling” and looking up and outside your industry for creative solutions? A similar story to Paul Sperry’s can be told about Martin Keen, founder of the KEEN sandals. After he perfected the design of a practical hybrid sandal and grew KEEN into a significant brand in the outdoor sporting world, he found inspiration for his second company in his barn. A rusted metal stool with a tractor seat became the impetus for his ergonomically designed Locus Seat, marketed as the “the perfect balance between sitting and standing.” Rarely is brand inspiration found in a cubicle.

This summer, why not give your brand the gift of spaciousness and see what waves you might make?

5 Ancient Storytelling Methods Copywriters Can Use Today

What does Ancient Greek and Shakespearean storytelling have to do with direct marketing today? Perhaps more than you realize. Today we dissect a proven five-step process that has been used for centuries to hold the reader to the end of a story. Direct marketers can use this timeless framework to write compelling copy for

What does Ancient Greek and Shakespearean storytelling have to do with direct marketing today? Perhaps more than you realize. Today we dissect a proven five-step process that has been used for centuries to hold the reader to the end of a story. Direct marketers can use this timeless framework to write compelling copy for storytelling that engages and sells.

Marketers clamor to have their messages go viral. We want our customers to become advocates and evangelists for us. We want them to “like,” comment, and share our messages for us. A mention on the evening news can skyrocket the number of views on a video into the tens of millions, all for a “feel good” moment.

How do you reach a goal to reach the masses? Most likely through effective storytelling, since it’s not too likely your hard-hitting sales message is going to be shared or talked about.

This column was inspired by an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool.” It reveals how a five-step process in Freytag’s Pyramid has been a successful storytelling framework going back centuries.

Personally, I think storytelling can be used by direct marketers today as part of the “for good movement” that has permeated into our culture, largely fueled by social media. Your challenge is how to engage through story, and effectively monetize these efforts better than your competitors.

To illustrate this point, I turn to an analysis that I completed for an organization that balances “for good movement” messaging with selling. In this case, the “for good movement” messages drive interest and traffic from videos of performance and behind-the-scenes stories. We see the interest build and go viral in the likes, comments and shares of certain types of social media messaging. More importantly, it translates into more web traffic. And more web traffic has translated into more event and product sales. The numbers don’t lie.

A few illustrations:

  • An informal video—recorded on an iPad and put on YouTube—where the organization performs for a boy wounded in a school shooting is posted on Facebook and Twitter, yet is watched thousands of times in just a few days. Nothing was sold here—just the feel good story.
  • A behind-the-scenes interview is watched by thousands so fans get something they don’t hear elsewhere. The video closes with a subtle reminder of an upcoming performance. Again, nothing sold here—just insider information shared.
  • A static post overtly selling an upcoming event doesn’t get much traction for likes, comments or shares. That doesn’t mean it was a failure. It simply says that people don’t want to be sold. They want to choose to buy. And in this case, they choose to buy in bigger numbers when a series of stories have lead up to the event.

People want to be part of a movement, and when they can experience an event, they are ready and willing to buy. When there is product available for sale, demand has already been generated because the customer is ready to buy before you ask them to buy.

With that distinction in selling style, it’s vital that you don’t forget to strategically weave into your “for good” messaging a way to monetize the effort. That doesn’t mean that you add an intrusive sales pitch in the message. It means that you naturally lead your customers and prospects through a planned sequence, timed in a way that takes the individual to the ultimate goal: purchase.

Using your imagination, you can see how the five-step process of Freytag’s Pyramid applies to direct marketing copywriting and story:

  1. Exposition
    The exposition is the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience; for example, information about the setting, events occurring before the main plot, characters’ back stories, etc. Exposition can be conveyed through dialogues, flashbacks, character’s thoughts, background details, in-universe media or the narrator telling a back-story.
  2. Rising Action
    In the rising action, a series of related incidents build toward the point of greatest interest. The rising action of a story is the series of events that begin immediately after the exposition (introduction) of the story and builds up to the climax. These events are generally the most important parts of the story since the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax, and ultimately the satisfactory resolution of the story itself.
  3. Climax
    The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonist’s fate. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the plot will begin to unfold in his or her favor, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist, often revealing the protagonist’s hidden weaknesses.
  4. Falling Action
    During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
  5. Denouement
    The dénouement comprises events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader.

I wrap-up with an insightful quote from author Maya Angelou that succinctly sums up why storytelling in copywriting is so important:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Feeling good is what effective copy in storytelling, and the “for good movement,” leads to. And leading people to feel good is how you move them to respond.

Landing Pages: This Worked, That Didn’t

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action. Today we are reviewing emails and their landing pages from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.”

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action.

Every component of an email has a simple purpose: Move the person reading it to the next step. The purpose of the subject is to motivate the recipient to open the email. Once opened, the content should be a continuation of the subject and provide information for the next step.

Today we are reviewing emails from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.” The emails—found in the Email Campaign Archive—are similar in content and creative, but very different in execution. The challengers are Build.com and Rejuvenation.

Both emails have a do-it-yourself subject line. Build.com uses “Make Your Outdoors a Masterpiece” and Rejuvenation has “Update a Hardworking Bath with Lighting, Hardware, and Accessories.” Recipients gearing up for home improvement projects would find the subjects appealing.

The Rejuvenation email (Image 1) has a photo of the beautiful bathroom. The copy at the top of the photo reads: “Hardworking Spaces: Bathroom Simple, warm, practical – a rustic bath will stand the test of time.” A button under the copy has a link to “Shop Bathroom.”

Clicking on the link takes the potential buyer to a landing page (Image 2) that continues the story started in the email. The same image is featured in the email and on the landing page. The headline on the landing page, “Time-Tested Bathroom,” is consistent with the copy from the email. The copy following the headline says:

For a bathroom that stands the test of time, consider borrowing design ideas from that other hardworking space: the kitchen. An apron-front sink and butcher-block counters stand up to just about anything, and will only get better with age. Burnished metals with a timeworn patina suit this understated aesthetic perfectly. Try a pair of Kent wall brackets in Antique Copper and beaded mirrors in Bronze finish for warmth and sparkle.

Featured products continue the story immediately following the copy. This is an excellent example of using an email to move people from their inbox to the shopping cart.

The build.com email starts out well too. It has a photo (Image 3) of an exquisite house with a sunset backdrop and beautiful lighting. The copy tweaks the subject line into “Make Your Outdoors an Oasis.” The button at the bottom of the image reads, “Get Started,” creating an expectation of additional information on how to get this look. There is another link at the lower left corner that is barely visible. It reads, “Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting.” One expects that the link will take you directly to the lighting used at this house.

The beautifully crafted email takes a surprising turn when you click on the Get Started link. Instead of information on how to create the look or the products used, the landing page is the company’s outdoor department (Image 4). The first thing you see is a lawnmower. Scroll about halfway down a very long page and you’ll find information on how to light up your night. Before you get there, you pass a video on grilling and the segment on indoor living outdoors. Only the most dedicated email recipients will search the page for the information they’re seeking.

The Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting link is also disappointing. Instead of going to the product page, the potential customer is taken to the outdoor department. Getting to the featured item requires choosing from thirteen outdoor lighting links or doing a site search. There is nothing easy about finding the items featured in the email. A search of “Sea Gull Outdoor Light” yields 2,606 products. Good luck finding the ones featured in the email.

The winner of the landing page challenge is Rejuvenation. To insure that your emails are always on the winning side:

  • Make links take people to the page they expect to see. If you don’t have an appropriate page, either build one or change the email message.
  • Keep the path from first click to checkout as short as possible. The longer the path, the more likely people will leave.
  • Tell a continuous story. Continuity keeps people moving forward. A good story answers questions at the right time and removes all resistance to completing the final call to action.

Purpose + Frequency + Free = Marketing Turnaround

If email marketing and social media results are not meeting your expectations, it may be time to shift direction. Today we share part two of our experience that transformed an email and social media marketing campaign with online video. Sales increased 20 percent using a strategy centered around purpose, frequency and free content marketing—with online video at the center of the program—to rebuild email marketing and social media engagement. It’s easy to get into a rut of using

If email marketing and social media results are not meeting your expectations, it may be time to shift direction. Today we share part two of our experience that transformed an email and social media marketing campaign with online video. Sales increased 20 percent using a strategy centered around purpose, frequency and free content marketing—with online video at the center of the program—to rebuild email marketing and social media engagement. It’s easy to get into a rut of using the same direct marketing approach over and over and expecting results to improve. But if it’s time to change direction, this strategy has proven itself to produce results.

We’ve achieved success by telling a story, in increments over time, using online video as the central messaging delivery vehicle.

Think of reading a book. The story is divided into chapters to help the reader know where one part of the story begins and ends, and each part leads to the next. Once all consumed, the entire story comes together with the sum being greater than the parts.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

In our last blog post, we introduced the concept of giving purpose to email, social media and other channels. We shared a marketing make-over that resulted in a sales increase of 20 percent. If you missed part one where we explain the importance of purpose, we encourage you to watch it now.

The three elements of the strategy we talk about in today’s video include:

  1. Creating purpose to your email and social media touch points
  2. Enabling frequency in reaching out to customers, donors and prospects
  3. Giving away content that’s free and builds confidence before making the purchase decision

Successful direct marketing should have purpose every time you reach out to connect with your installed base of customers or followers. Your email, social media and other channels can be transformed from a screaming “Buy me now! Here’s a discount! We can change your life!” campaign to “you’ll learn more about how the product is made” or “we’d like to earn your trust so get to know us better” or “take a behind-the-scenes look” or other transformational marketing messages.

Softer? Yes. And in our culture today, we’ve seen, firsthand, that it’s more effective.

A campaign that has purpose gives you permission for frequency.

A word about frequency: Like many of you, I’ve been in direct marketing for a long time. Whenever I’d hear that the secret sauce to making radio and television advertising a success was frequency, I’d roll my eyes.

You may look at the frequency pitch as just an excuse for radio and TV folks to sell more time and run up your cost. As direct marketers, we believe that if we mail an offer once, we’ll get most of the response in that first effort. Rarely does a second mailing produce more than the first mailing.

But we’ve learned the online space is different. When your message has purpose, with a story built through the use of video, it generates a reason for your touch points to become more frequent.

In the case history that we describe in today’s video blog, you’ll learn that we were fearful that frequency might result in email open and click-through declining. But the opposite happened. Once hooked, people looked forward to the next email or social media post to hear the continuation of the story. In fact, open and click-through rates increased substantially over what had been done in the past and those levels were maintained throughout the campaign.

Social media engagement soared because frequent posts meant friends shared the video with their friends. The Facebook metrics and reports that are available are a direct marketer’s dream. We were able to measure the viral effect of our video beyond our core group of fans.

With email and social media costs being relatively low, it means that with frequency your installed base of customers or followers spread your message on your behalf. And if you don’t have a large number of customers or followers, you can build that list faster with video.

The third key concept is a paradigm shift for those of us who are classically trained direct marketers. Over the years, we’ve always known that an offer of “free with purchase,” would increase response. Today we challenge you to shift “free with purchase,” to simply “free.” You may have heard it referred to as “content marketing.” Giving content away invites a prospective customer to build trust in you. Videos can tell the story of how your product is developed or you can interview real customers telling their real stories and testimonials.

In today’s video, we explain how giving away a 99 cent value item in exchange for a $56 average order increased sales by 20 percent.

With online tools and technology, you can create stories that are delivered on video. You’ll give purpose to email, social media and other vehicles. You will have permission from your installed base of customers and followers to contact them frequently. And when you give away something of value, you build trust and allow them to be more confident in their decision to purchase. When you combine purpose, frequency and free, it can transform and turnaround marketing approaches that are fatiguing or in a rut.

Also in today’s video, we share with you several ideas about topics you can use to create your own series of videos. If you’re struggling with ideas of how you’d use video using these three principles, tell us about your product or service in the comments below, or contact us directly. And for our loyal followers, we’ll freely share our ideas via email or a conference call of how a video series could make sense for you to engage your customers, donors or prospects.

In our next blog post, we’ll explain how to build your story, chapter-by-chapter so you can maximize the purpose/frequency/free content strategy.

How to Tell if Your Storytelling Strategy Is a Dud

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow? Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow?

Customers Care Less About Your Story
Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

They care more about their own problems or goals.

That’s why smart B-to-B marketers are asking themselves a tough new question in 2013-to make sure their storytelling strategies actually drive sales.

“If customers make purchase decisions based on how well we solve problems for clients, why is our social media strategy focused on stories and image?”

Connect Stories to Your Selling Process
Telling prospects “I can solve your problem” through a story is weak as compared to the other three-part option:

  1. Getting their attention with a good story;
  2. helping them make better decisions, learn a new skill, avoid dangerous risks and;
  3. doing this in ways that build confidence in themselves, trust in your brand and result in a sales lead.

In my own experience, success starts happening more when I resist telling prospects all about my company’s “unique story,” or those of my clients’.

Instead, I’m connecting my stories to a simple process, a nurturing program. The more I’m promising prospective customers a cure for an expressed pain, and taking them on a journey toward the remedy, the more they’re identifying themselves as leads and transacting with me.

The difference is distinct: Telling disconnected stories that create images versus proving you’re worth consideration by creating micro-successes with prospects. This is the way to start leading prospects toward (or away from) the larger solutions we’re selling.

Here’s How to Get Started
Let’s say you’re using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. When participating in LinkedIn group discussions ask yourself, “How can I get prospects to take an action based on what I know they want?”

Think of a shortcut, a smarter way of achieving a goal or avoiding a risk you can share. Solve a problem for them. But do it in a way that provokes an action-gets readers to more deeply explore the thought you just provoked.

In return you’ll earn a chance at getting their permission to take them on a journey to a better place … to continue a very focused, purpose-driven digital conversation that ultimately you can relate to whatever it is you sell.

If you do this, you’ll have a much easier way figuring out how to create a social media sales strategy that creates sales for you! You’ll be generating B-to-B leads with social media more effectively.

6 Video Presentation Tips to Elevate Your Online Marketing

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video

Online Video Marketing Deep Dive co-author Perry Alexander takes over this week while Gary is away.

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video stands little chance to be viewed.

Think of the parallel: We know that without the intentional series of steps to get our direct mail package into readers’ hands, opened and scanned long enough for them to catch the lead, there’s slim chance it’ll make any impact.

Just as the direct mail letter headline and lead must drive the reader to stick with it, so must the first few seconds of your video. Your video must create and instantly set the visual and auditory tone that will draw the viewer through those precious first few seconds and into your story.

My co-author and business colleague, Gary Hennerberg, is the master copywriter of our team and, as he says, I “make stuff look good.” I make sure the story isn’t overshadowed by lousy presentation or distractions, which can repel, or at least divert the reader. Let’s go through some of the ways to make your video command attention—during the first few seconds and beyond.

  1. Bad audio will douse viewers’ interest long before bad video will. Don’t rely on your on-camera mike or, worse, your computer mike. You’ve heard these videos—they sound like they were recorded in a barrel or a cave. Viewer’s interpretation: Your presentation was slapped together, therefore your product or service is, too, so why should I bother listening?
    The Deep Dive:
    If your camera has a mike input, use a lav mike (Gary and I each use a $25 Audio-Technica). If there’s no external mike input on your camera, use a digital voice recorder to record quality sound, either through its built-in mikes or plug the lav mike into it (we both use the same $100 Sony recorder). Then, in editing, sync the audio from both the camera and voice recorder, then mute the camera audio. The mechanics of this are tricky at first, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes routine and your sound is crisp and clear.
  2. Bad video won’t help matters. A webcam video looks like, well, you used a webcam—even an HD webcam. Not only is the image soft, but exposure is usually off, color isn’t great, and what about all that stuff in the background behind you? The message struggles to get out. Again, it screams that your story doesn’t deserve the viewer’s consideration. It’s just a throwaway webcam production about a throwaway idea. What does your viewer do? Click away to something else after just a few seconds.
    The Deep Dive:
    You wouldn’t dream of tossing a half-baked direct mail piece out into the market, expecting it to convince your audience of the value of whatever you’re offering them, would you? Anything that distracts from the message must be stripped away so only the message is noticed. Same with video. Get a $100 Flip or Sony camera and a tripod, or even the latest iPhone. Better: spend $400 for an HD video camera for long-form videos. If your shots are under 5-10 minutes each, use your DSLR. (We use a $100 flip-type camera on Gary’s videos.)
  3. On-camera jitters? Maybe the prospect of speaking into a camera lens is frightening, or at least off-putting. Really, though, after several miserable attempts, you will improve. Evenutally you get to where you imagine you’re just talking with another person in the room, and your fear melts away.
    The Deep Dive:
    Your job is to tell the story. How? Reveal your personality and mastery. Build trust. The call-to-action will produce nothing for you until after that’s all been established. Consider being in front of the camera just long enough to introduce your premise, then moving into slides, charts, photos, graphics or other images that tell your story. That way, you don’t have to memorize a long script. You can refer to notes as you narrate what’s on screen. On-camera script reading is usually deadly, anyway. If you’re on screen for a quick 20-30 seconds, know your stuff. Roll through several takes until you’ve looked that monster in the eye (lens), and said your piece naturally, completely, and with relaxed authority. Now you have their attention and trust!
  4. Stock photos, stock footage, stock music, stock sound effects? You’ve seen the websites with stiff and trite stock photos. Somebody, please explain what that might ever accomplish, because we’ve all seen that picture a thousand times. Filler doesn’t move the story along. But, relevant graphics that work can emphasize a point quickly and vividly. An occasional “foley” sound effect can emphasize a point, just don’t overuse transition swooshes, or they’ll become distracting gimmicks.
    The Deep Dive:
    Map out your storyline. What images will support or clarify what you’re saying? Use images that are specific to your product, service, technique, timeliness, etc. Short of that, invest time finding stock images, footage, music or sounds. It’s all online, and for not much money. YouTube and Vimeo even offer stock music beds you can use at no cost. But be careful in your choices. Be brutal in editing. Anything that distracts or detracts from your story and message, leading to your call-to-action, must be cut.
  5. Go short or go long? Conventional wisdom, born out by YouTube analytics, is that video viewer falloff is precipitous after the first 30 seconds or less. So, does that mean we must never consider creating a 3-minute or, horrors, a 15-minute video? Perhaps. Remember, everything must serve to support the story. Do that right, and they’ll stay with you.
    The Deep Dive:
    Conventional wisdom has always warned us not to use long-form copy in letters. However, seasoned, successful copywriters know that a well-told story will hold interest across 2, 4, even 16 pages. Same with video. Don’t rush to push features, advantages, benefits. Find the relevant hook, then reveal, build and educate about the issue. Lead them to want—then crave—the answer to the quandary or dilemma you’re setting up. Now, the sales copy tastes like good soup.
  6. Editing is half the storytelling. Putting up an unedited video is like mailing the first draft of your letter. It’s probably loose, meandering, dulling to the senses. Resist, revise and remove whatever doesn’t move your story along!
    The Deep Dive:
    Video editing brings clarity and precision to your story. The pace and direction are honed so the viewer is drawn in and held through the call-to-action. It’s an interwoven dance of timing, splicing, movement, color, design, sound, mood and the ruthless removal of what’s not contributing. But, you need two things: A) the knack to know when it’s right and when it’s not and, B) mastery of a video editing program, so you can accomplish your vision.

There’s so much more to cover, but perhaps you’re getting a sense of how online video marketing requires many skills and decisions so familiar to the direct mail pro. Different tools … different vehicles … similar foundational concepts. As always, we invite your comments, criticism or questions.

Drop me an email, and we’ll get you the list of resources, brand names, part numbers and such of what we’ve found works in our ever-evolving video marketing tool chest: perry@acm-initiatives.com

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Email Storytelling Sells

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

Gone are the days of the passive email subscriber. Consumers and business professionals tire easily when publishers and marketers broadcast to them. It’s the online equivalent of shouting. Your customers and readers want meaningful conversations — and they know they have other options if you don’t deliver.

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. This isn’t complex. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

It’s simply a series of stories about use cases, cool new features and real-life implementation of your editorial, products and services. So invite your subscribers to the proverbial campfire and build their anticipation with a question, “How can I help you today?” Email marketing is great for providing the answer.

Invite subscribers on a story journey
Instead of sending a generic newsletter or “special offers,” invite website visitors to accept a two to five message email series on a particular topic. Make it about how your products, services or content will help them: “Five ways to be beautiful this summer,” “Three strategies for impressing your boss,” “Doctor’s advice on buying contact lenses online,” “Ten things your CEO wants you to know,” “Five great summer games for kids under 10.”

Make it easy to sign up by putting invitations in prominent locations on pages that have related content. And be sure permission is clear. If the offer is just for two to five email messages over the same number of weeks or days, then say so. You’ll likely find a higher sign-up rate and higher response and engagement because the content is so targeted. If you’re also signing them up for your ongoing e-newsletter, be clear about that. There’s no reason you can’t encourage a further subscription after you’ve delivered the series, too. Earn their trust first, then sell. Consider the following strategies:

  • Make your story interactive.
  • Tap the socially connected nature of today’s digital experience.
  • Integrate opportunities for subscribers to share with their social networks or forward to others.
  • Invite subscribers to take a poll or survey or give you feedback.
  • Offer a page where subscribers can upload their own stories or photos, and then share that user-generated content back to the group in your series.
  • Ensure your customer service team monitors these pages so that you can quickly respond to any questions or direct prospects to your sales team or e-commerce site.

Why does it work? An email series strategy is based on a fundamental truth of marketing: Provide something of value and customers will continue to engage. A series makes it easy for you to customize messages to the interests of subscribers at that moment. The topic is top of mind for them, and that creates selling and relationship opportunities for you.

Another benefit is that when your email messages are more relevant, you won’t have as many people clicking the “Report Spam” button, which registers as a complaint at internet service providers like Yahoo or Gmail. Even a small number of complaints can result in a poor sender reputation and a block on all your messages. Make even some of your messages more relevant, and the response rates for all your messages will go up and complaints will go down.

For content, consider the following four options:

1. Make it easy to learn more. Offer website visitors a two- to three-part email series rather than a whitepaper. Most downloaded content never actually gets opened or read. Once a whitepaper is downloaded and saved, it’s out of mind. An email series forces marketers to package up content in bite-sized pieces (you can always link to more detail on your website), and gives them several opportunities over a few weeks to engage. Advertising CPMs for these targeted messages can be at a premium, as well.

2. Comparison shopping. Advertisers know that readers are researching and want publishers to help them shorten sales cycles. Use a series of email messages to help subscribers compare competitive sets — the more honest/nonadvertorial you are, the longer they stay on your site! — find testimonials and bloggers, and make a strong business case.

3. Move free-trial subscribers to paid circulation. A series can give prospects confidence in your content or technology. Help them actually use your service during the trial — help them find the best reviews or product feature comparisons, or let them download tools that help them forecast productivity, revenue or cost savings as a result of making a decision to buy. Test if increasing incentives as prospects move through the cycle helps or hurts your conversion (and margin).

4. Educate. Send one great idea each week, and include ways to practice or implement. The next week, ask for input or a story about how that idea worked or didn’t work. Then, the next day, send the next idea. This interactive cadence will build value for subscribers and let them engage repeatedly over time.

Storytelling lets you retain control over the content while giving subscribers the freedom, choice and interactivity they crave. Successful email marketing is built on a very simple concept: Give subscribers what they want, and they’ll give you what you want. Subscribers want you to help them. When you do, they’ll reward you with higher response and sales, positive buzz and sharing, and stronger brand loyalty.

Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.