Content marketers need to be great storytellers. That said, content marketing has become a major player in the game of marketing, which means that the stories you’re telling through content needs to really stand out from the crowd – pack a punch! So, how do you do this? By making your content as relatable and personal as possible to the reader/viewer. Use content to tell a story about your brand, your products and services – whether directly or implicitly – in a compelling and authentic way.
Some people may think this is a hard concept to grasp, and the expectation they put on themselves to be better than the next blogger, YouTuber, content marketer, or writer can certainly become overwhelming. But, the truth is, no matter how much time you spend on creating your content, you still need to learn the basics of being a storyteller, and then develop further to become a real champion of the game.
Everyone is capable of telling stories!
If you think about it, we tell stories through our day-to-day activities. Whether presenting a business proposal to your colleagues at work, teaching your children the difference between right and wrong, or convincing your best friend to try out the same make-up brand that you use. We may not realise it, but storytelling has been passed down from generation to generation, through the centuries, and seen society grow and change over the eras. From ancient Greeks and their parchments, to Egyptians and the African San people carving symbols and painting illustrations on rock and papyrus, storytelling has always been an integral part of civilisation.
Storytelling is a means of sharing information and is simply used to make sense of the world around us. It is a way to impart important and compelling messages that resonate with audiences, adding value and influencing change and action. When it comes to traditional written storytelling, there are three main types of writing, all of which require the skills of a storyteller: informative writing, narrative writing and opinion writing. Although each is written using different formats and structures, they tend to share the same common objectives – to inspire, to resonate, and to influence. These three objectives should be the main motivators for all avenues of storytelling, regardless of the output.
A memorable story makes for an effective story
A story that has recently resonated with me is The Swim Reaper campaign, effectively launched to raise awareness of water safety in New Zealand in prevention of common Summer drownings. Swimming has always been something I’ve loved and been good at, so this campaign really piqued my interest and grabbed my attention. However, no matter how good a swimmer you claim to be, accidents can and always do happen. This campaign is supported by social media content, videos, radio ads and articles that cleverly wrap around the message of swimming safety. There’s no doubt that the content team behind the initiative is a group of content superstars! The message is clear, plays on the very ethos of human reaction, provokes a sense of fear and challenges the audience’s way of thinking.
Although some might perceive this as a tactless, tasteless and satirical marketing and advertising activity, I see it as an approach that effectively takes consumers by surprise, using an unorthodox and impactful method of dispersing a nation-wide government message with the intention of increasing public awareness and safety around water.
Remember Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York photoblog? Yet another great example of what effective storytelling looks like. Established in 2010, Stanton, an American photographer, wanted to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers to create a unique catalogue of the every-day-stranger on the street. It quickly evolved into something that became well-known to and admired by the world. Stanton decided to start interviewing the subjects he was photographing, and included short stories about their lives with his photography, giving his audience an inspiring and informative outlook on society. His work has spanned across various countries around the world and has since appeared in two bestselling books.
In essence, a story that’s been developed with every bit of extra care and effort, has the potential to be remembered and shared for days, months or even years to come. From research, my education in Communication Studies, and my own experience in content marketing and writing, I’ve pulled together a list of helpful tools that you too could add to your own storytelling toolkit.
1. Inspire and incite your consumer to take action
Think of ethos, play on the emotions of your consumers, as emotion is a pretty powerful tool. Your content needs to resonate and evoke your readers to feel something when taking in your content. Good or bad, the emphasis is on the word “feel”. The same goes for the headline you choose to give your story. Make it strong, make it bold. Headlines are the first thing that people usually see, so the more engaging you make it, the better the chances of the consumer continuing to engage with that piece of content.
"Words are the fog one has to see through.” – Anonymous
2. Quality over quantity
Yup, you’ve heard it all before! But there’s a reason for this. Don’t create content for the sake of creating content. I believe that if you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all. Rather, think about what you want to talk about. Plan your content, the message you want to get across to your audience, and how you want to get your message across.
3. Become a thought leader
What does that mean? Thought leaders are considered experts in their field, and use credible, innovative ideas and information about their business or industry to influence their audiences to make an informed decision or take action. However tempting it may be to replicate a piece of advice you’ve read in someone else’s blog or information you’ve seen on another website, try and make yours as original and different as you can. Even if you choose to research topics and information for content that you want to write or produce, it still needs to be retold in your own way with your own unique angle.
4. Leave your readers/viewers with an aftertaste in their mouths
Being able to create content that leaves an impression, means that you need to make it memorable. Encourage your audience to think about and reflect on the take-outs from your content. Take a moment now, to think about all of the childhood books you’ve ever read or that were read to you by your parents and grandparents. Which stories can you still remember to this day? What were the messages that you took away from those stories? If you can remember a piece of content, then the storyteller has done their job – and done it well.
“We write to taste life twice…” – Anais Nin
5. Revel in your own creativity
Don’t be afraid to open the floodgates and let your creative juices flow into your content. The way in which you tell a story will be unique and different from that of another storyteller. As long as the message is consistent and accurate, you can pretty much tell or retell it as seen in your eyes – as you perceive it.
“Life is the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that everyone has a different question paper.” – Unknown
6. Read a variety of books, articles and engage in other content
As a storyteller, it’s important to have the ability to change or use different voices for whatever content it is that you’re developing. Keeping an open mind to how others write or produce various content pieces, and borrowing their techniques to formulate your own suite of voices, is important when exploring what works well for your own brand and being flexible in writing and creating for different requirements.
“Your perspective is always limited by how much you know. Expand your knowledge and you will transform your mind.” – Bruce H. Lipton
7. Remember what you developed 10 years ago, last month, even in the past 7 days?
Go back to that piece of content and review it. How did you find it? Did you think it was a good piece or did it make you cringe and wish you hadn’t created it in the first place? Revising the content that you’ve developed in the past can encourage you to think of ways in which you could improve your creativity and progress it into something you’d be proud of re-using. Remember, as you grow as a storyteller, so does your writing or other creative talent. Learn from your mistakes and always aim to be better next time.
8. Leave your audience with a trail of intrigue
Your story needs to invoke the consumer to ask questions, to be left thinking about how they can take your story, your advice and information, and apply it to their own lives, but on their own terms. To do this, your content should be clear, concise and, most importantly, compelling.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
9. Step out of your comfort zone
I find that the best way to achieve inspiration is to change up my routine. Whether it’s picking up my laptop and heading to a café to work on my next blog article, or looking for ideas outside of my industry that I can talk to, it’s a healthy exercise to do if you find yourself in a writer’s block or clawing for fresh topics to create content about.
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” – Frank Zappa
10. Switch your mind off for a few minutes each day
I know, this sounds strange right? But, turning off your digital devices, and switching your brain to “nothing mode” forces you to take a break from the noise that is your imagination. In fact, I find that giving my mind a break by not thinking about anything significant for a few minutes in the day, helps clear the clutter and often inspires ideas I hadn’t the time to think about before. So, take advantage of those quiet moments, and let your mind wander.
“Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” – Unknown
Anyone can be a storyteller, but if you want your story to attract an audience, really make an impact, deliver a memorable experience, then having the right tools to work with can help you get the job done more effectively and a hell of a lot less painfully.
Remember, there are many different ways to tell a story. You don’t necessarily need to be a good writer to be a good storyteller. People choose many other creative avenues such as photography, videography, singing, dancing, painting, and so on, to tell stories.
I, for one, like to tell stories through written words, and this is something I continually strive to build and perfect, as it is my passion, my creative flair and a talent that I pride my work on. If you feel that your brand needs to pack more of a punch, then get in touch and let me help you tell your story and get your message across just a little more easily.