Once upon a time in the land of B2B, a marketer wanted to help drive ROI. The end.
Yeah, you’ve heard that same ol’ story a dozen times, and the plot is still MIA. Part of the problem is the story itself. As marketers, we’ve been so focused on content production and being industry thought leaders, that we’ve forgotten one of the most fundamental parts of marketing: storytelling.
We want to be data-driven and trendsetters. We want to connect our solution’s value to the prospects’ pain points. These are noble marketing goals, but for all of this “want,” we forgot the “need” to deliver the info in a way that truly connects.
This is where storytelling comes into play. Storytelling creates an emotional and human connection to our brand and offering. It creates an engaging way to learn and relate to our services or products.
At its core, storytelling is about connecting to the human experience, and we are, after all, selling to humans (at least until the AI droids enslave us as cogs under their Machiavellian reign, but that’s a different story).
So how do we bring this most fundamental element back into our marketing and sales efforts? Whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation for sales, a vlog discussing a specific pain point for a buyer persona, or a lengthy eBook that is fueled by facts and figures, let’s examine how to use some of the basic elements of storytelling in everything we do.
A plot — by the book — is defined as exposition (introduction), rising action (building tension), climax (turning point), falling action (unraveling tension), and dénouement (final resolution). Simply put, it’s a series of events that constructs your story. As marketers, we are, in essence, using these elements every day, but often fail to see if we have a “complete” narrative in our final edit.
After introducing our topic, the rising action is the pain point we are addressing. Creating tension as the pain point is discussed not only shows authority, but also demonstrates to your prospects that you fully understand the depth of their problem. For the climax, your product/service gets to ride in on the white horse and save the day. As you demonstrate the value of your service and how it solves those aforementioned tension points, it hopefully leads to the fairy tale ending for everyone involved.
Characters are the personalities that drive the plot. As marketers, we most likely know them as buyer personas, ideal prospects, and clients. So, who are the characters that bring to life the world you created with your plot? The key for marketers is to fully understand how the characters behave and interact with the narrative as a whole. Whether it’s a work of fiction or a report about the state of your industry, understanding your characters, their needs, and their motivations, makes the piece more believable and relatable (read: trustworthy) to your reader.
Let’s take for example a case study that you’ve written. Your main character is easily defined in a piece like this: it’s an existing client that you helped. However, telling the story isn’t as simple as stating the problem, what your company did, and the metrics of your success. By taking this approach, you are making yourself the main character, which is an easy pitfall in content marketing, but missing the point.
Keeping a client- or prospect-centric approach with your marketing materials means that they, not your brand, are at the center of every story. Remember, Cinderella is the main character, and you are just Prince Charming, which means that while you may save the day, we also may not even know that your actual name is Henri.
Theme and Point of View
The theme is the focus of the narrative. Ask yourself, what is the main takeaway of what I’m writing? This is your theme. The point of view goes hand-in-hand with your theme. The point of view answers who is telling your story and why they are telling it. The point of view essentially allows your readers to understand the motivations behind the narrative. Together, this boils down to your “so what.”
Marketing, just like the road to hell, is paved with good intentions. But all too often we get lost on that road, especially in today’s world of data overload. We start out crafting our content with a clear sense of theme and point of view. We know that our blog takes a stance on this assigned topic or that our latest eBook offers an analytical breakdown of the full marketplace. As content marketers, we have to remain vigilant of our theme and point of view as we add more and more information. However, information overload sometimes becomes just muddled writing. Preserving our theme and point of view is as much an act of editing as it is of writing.
Setting details the time, place, and environment in which your content exists. And before you ever say it, no, I’m not suggesting that you recreate Narnia with your next infographic (#AwardWinningIdea). In content marketing, setting means taking into account the current markets and economic influencers, and specific industries and their ecosystems. It means writing in a way that shows an understanding of your prospects and clients and the world in which they live. It means demonstrating an understanding of their internal operations and of the external influencers impacting it.
In discussing plot, the need for tension was mentioned. This is created through conflict. Conflict is the basic narrative device that motivates characters and drives the plot. In turn, it creates the theme and point of view. As marketers, we have no lack of conflict to write about. Yet, we often fail to really dig in on the conflict. We treat conflict as is if it’s technical, covering it with a robotic, matter-of-fact approach.
The truth is, conflict is emotional —the empathic context that actually allows us to connect with our readers. It’s about understanding the “pain” in a pain point and how that impacts and challenges the everyday life of the audience. Don’t approach conflict like a textbook offering a definition; our job as marketers is to create a response, a reaction. Don’t be afraid to illustrate your depth of knowledge on the issue in a relatable way.
For content marketers, it’s our end goal to craft a piece that our audience connects with, utilizes, and ultimately converts on to track through to an ROI. Over time, we’ve become much smarter and more strategic in our approach. Yet, as we’ve become more data-driven, we have to ask if we’ve forgotten about the human element — the storytelling? By making sure that our marketing efforts incorporate the elements of storytelling, we’ll ultimately write an ending that is — dare I say — happily ever after.
Ready to get started writing your brand stories?
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