Storytelling is central to marketing – and it’s the main way we make sense of the world. Here are a few tips for putting words to work and crafting compelling narratives.
Nowadays brands – like people – have personalities. They become friends, companions and – occasionally – bogeymen. Marketing is a bit like matchmaking, followed by seduction and engagement. Hopefully the attention you lavish on your customers doesn’t stop once they’ve purchased your product. Customer loyalty is a highly valuable asset, so you’d better keep wooing them.
And what better way to do that than through storytelling? People love a good story. We make sense of our world, events and phenomena through the stories we tell ourselves about them. Whether you’re marketing a product or a political candidate, controlling the narrative is crucial.
But what makes a compelling story and how do you craft one? Since the beginning of time, rhetoricians (see Aristotle) have known you have to involve both cognition (logos) and emotion (pathos), plus a little thing called character (ethos) to influence and persuade. Here are a few additional suggestions:
Narrative analysis (Labov et al., Gergen, Coates etc.) tells us that every good story needs a valued end point – its tellability. What is the point of your story? How is it relevant to your audience and is it worth their time and attention in our over-communicated world? Ask yourself these questions before penning it down. How does your story stand out and what does it all mean? What exactly are you trying to convey? Understanding your audience and knowing their interests, needs and desires is key. Alignment with these helps create affinity between you and your readers – without which their minds and hearts will remain off-limits to you.
A story is a sequence of sentences that moves the reader through time. It’s a captivating series of ‘and then what?’. It needs structure: a selection and ordering of events meaningful to your particular message. That does not necessarily mean having a strictly chronological order – in fact, most media stories don’t. Nor are they linear. But coherence, cohesion and a sense of direction are of the essence. When the story is over, lead the reader back out into the present with a clear call to action. This way, your story will actually generate behavior.
Good narratives are gripping, immersive and hold the reader’s attention. Bring readers under your spell with vivid imagery, but also make sure you understand beforehand how your intended audience feels about the symbols and myths your story draws on. Are you reinforcing or challenging those myths – and could it all backfire? How do you intend to engage readers – by addressing them directly, by way of allusion and intertextuality (i.e. getting your target readers to sort of ‘self-select’ by solving the semiotic puzzle you are offering), by appealing to their deepest emotions etc.?
4. CONSISTENCY AND PRACTIcING WHAT YOU PREACH
It always helps if you avoid confusing your audience. Ambiguity won’t take you very far. It’s all part of what Gergen (1998) calls “stability of identity”. So, does the story you’re telling match your company’s actual behavior? Keep in mind that actions are stronger than words. We humans are hardwired to detect imposture. Make sure your modus operandi is aligned with your brand story and the personality you are trying to project. Make sure your employees and sales reps buy into that personality wholeheartedly. How you deliver a service also tells a story. How you solve complaints or deal with crises is yet another story. If these clash with your official line, your reputation is going to take a hit. Remember: a brand is the whole package, the entire series of moments and experiences you offer your customers.
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