How to tell a story

As I sat there listening to him, my mind wandered.  Why all the ten dollar words?  Do people actually think it makes them sound smarter?  Oh god, do I do that? What would I have for lunch today? Something just vibrated, was that my phone? My eyes feel heavy, I wonder if he notices that I’m about to fall asleep. Seriously, what is the point of this conversation. Oh god, he just used a noun as a verb, that is seriously my biggest pet peeve. Wait, I just think he may have actually hit on the point of his inane rambling.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that last part?” I said, leaning forward and changing my body language to indicate active listening.

If you are still writing “marketing copy” in 2015, your business is suffering because of it.

Everything is a story.  Every picture you use tells a story. Everything you write tells a story. Every Interactive Development piece tells a story.

Storytelling is like anything, it takes time to master, but there are some simple rules that just by following, will help you become a better writer, illustrator, or even programmer.

The Four Ingredients for a Better Story:

There are four simple ingredients that will make your story something that a reader will want to care about.

  1. The Hook
  2. The Problem
  3. The Characters
  4. The Conclusion

1 – The Hook – What is the reason that someone reading your story cares? How fast are you getting to the hook? How can you break the hook down in as few words as possible? One of my favourite books recently was “The Martian” by Andy Weir.  The first three lines are this:

I’m pretty much [expletive].

That’s my considered opinion.

[Expletive].

Within the first page, you find out that this guy has just woken up from being impaled on a metal pole, which tore through his space suit, and ruined the electronics that reported his vital signs.  With him showing no signs of life, and the landing site being compromised, his crew took off from the planet Mars, and he was now stranded, with no way to communicate.

That is a hook. In three sentences Weir grabbed me, and didn’t let go.

2The Problem – Something that needs to be solved, that you can clearly identify, and that you can show a resolution to.  The problem needs to be simple, it needs to be clear, and the best problems are a pain point.

3 – Characters – Actual relatable human beings.  A story about “Company X” is not interesting until you show that “Company X” is made up of Jane, Shelly, Bob, and Richard.  Companies are just a collection of people, and people are relatable, while companies are not.

4 – The Conclusion – All stories have to end, the best stories have a moral or a lesson at the end of them. The conclusion should wrap up the problem in a satisfying way, by reframing the problem from the beginning and reflecting the “hook” at the end. If you can include an actionable element that the reader can implement, all the better.

Who does it well:

Examples of good storytelling are everywhere, you just need to know where to look. This is something that Apple has mastered. They are able to convince otherwise reasonable human beings that they need a $1000 wrist watch that does basically the same thing as their phone which sits within arm’s reach.

They sell an experience, not a product, and the story they tell is about how miraculous the device is.  They use words like “personal”, “magical”, “wonderful” and “amazing”. They sell the impossible.

Our most personal device yet.

To make the best use of its size and location on your wrist, Apple Watch has all-new interactions and technologies. They let you do familiar things more quickly and conveniently. As well as some things that simply weren’t possible before. So using it is a whole new experience. One that’s more personal than ever.

With their opening statement, they are telling you that personalization matters to you, then this device beats all their other devices. They tell you that what this thing does wasn’t possible before. This is a personal device that does the impossible.

That’s just their opening paragraph!

How you can do it.

1The Hook

If you are still writing “marketing copy” in 2015 your marketing is on life support.

What is “the hook” to your story? It should be simple, to the point, and it should quickly challenge the reader to think whether they are guilty of “marketing copy”.

2The Problem

Too many websites contain indecipherable language about “value propositions” and “market penetration”, they assume that people know business lingo, and that it means the same thing to everyone. By telling simple stories, you can help people understand what we are saying, and keep them interested in your story.

The Problem is a simple statement that gives you something you need to solve. By the end of your story, you will have solved this problem.

3The Characters

Imagine Jane, she’s a busy manager who has eight people reporting to her, and needs to figure out a better way to keep track of her employees time so that she can send out billing information to her bosses.  Jane is smart, but she’s a people person, not a business person. Jane isn’t looking for “best practices” or “market fit”, she has a problem and needs to solve it. By telling a story about what problem you are solving for her, you will make her want to learn more.

Characters are who the reader should care about. The character can be the person actually reading it, although changing this up to actually speak to the problem a person (real or imagined) has is effective.

4The Conclusion

By simply telling Jane how you can solve her problem with a story, you are making her decision easier.

The Conclusion is where you draw all of your proof together into something better. Whenever possible, make it something that the reader can actually put into practice.

Mastering storytelling is an essential skill whether you are a writer, illustrator, or developer.  Understanding what makes a good story, and using a good story structure will help you create compelling content that gets used.

See storytelling in action!

Storytelling is important in all of your work, but the easiest way to see it in action is through an email.

Try this in your next email, make the subject provocative, and make the first paragraph controversial.  Watch your open and click through rates before and after and see if it makes a difference immediately.

Using storytelling techniques to write your marketing copy will come much more naturally to you than forcing “marketing speak” on yourself, and will make everything you do better.

Comments

comments