Let’s Get the Story Straight About Storytelling

Storytelling. Messaging. Copywriting. Content Marketing.

What do they all have in common? A lot.

If so, then what’s the difference?

There are endless articles and blog posts that try to define what effective storytelling is. To muddy the waters even more, people have created sub-categories like third party storytelling, visual storytelling, theatrical storytelling, digital storytelling and more. I think it’s safe to derive the following:

  • Storytelling is a hot topic.
  • Storytelling doesn’t have a uniform; it can come in all different shapes and sizes.
  • The definition of a story depends on a person’s perspective.

I’ve worked in six different industries with tremendously different approaches to marketing (largely B2B high-tech companies, mostly with $100 million revenues and above). After ten years of observing various marketing styles and customer behavior, here is how I define storytelling:

A Defined Targeted Persona, Place & Purpose

I am most adamant about this aspect because, without a specific buyer profile in mind, marketers do not know how to create a connection with that person. “Buyer profile” doesn’t just mean basic demographic information; it means understanding the customer’s role in the purchasing cycle, their frustrations and what keeps them up at night.

Furthermore, a story must have a place and purpose. This means knowing where the story will be told and understanding what the audience should walk away with after reading it. Without these three things, a story is not a story – it becomes cheap, vanilla-flavored garbage.

Prominent Use Of Buyers’ Language

This is equally as important as the above storytelling ingredients; if you do a good job researching the buyer profile, you should understand how that buyer likes to be spoken to, as well as how they “talk shop” in your vertical. Be aware not just of tone and voice, but of actual choice in language as well.

This is critical to making a connection with your target audience. I passionately believe that marketers should spend time in front of actual buyers; too many sit in cubicles and have very limited engagement with the market. Marketers should be insight machines that serve as advisors to sales teams.

Taking a Story From Mediocre To Marvelous

How do you know if you’ve created a good story? This is a separate topic but one worth discussing. I asked three intelligent people if they thought effective storytelling could actually be measured. One of them is a comedian-CPA, one of them has an Emmy under his belt, and the other is a successful serial entrepreneur. The net of the discussion was that it’ll be obvious if the story is a home run. Here are the reasons, in their own words:

  • Sharing is caring: “Every time we comment, like, or retweet we are casting our vote for a good story,” Geni Whitehouse, Founder, EvenANerd.com
  • Choose your measuring stick: “Define success and see if your story measures up,” Michael Aars, President, Tidal Wave Agency
  • Your listeners will let you know: “We measure effective storytelling not by the teller, but by the listener, and what they do after hearing the story,” Eric Swayne, Vice President, Mutal Mind

You can read their full perspective on my blog.

Storytelling lies at the intersection of strategy and marketing. I say this because storytelling truly requires critical planning. It requires us to strategize the profile of the audience, where the story will be told, the intended purpose and use the right language to tell that story.

The theory may sound obvious but it is a real deficiency among marketing organizations today. Yet, the reward is great. Follow these steps for a greater chance at making an emotional connection with your audience and achieve the stickiness, appeal, and relevance that you strive for.

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