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The Art of Good Storytelling in Marketing

05.14.2018 / Posted in Articles, Content Marketing

Two lessons learned in creative-writing class:

  1. A good story doesn’t begin at the beginning.
  2. Good stories show more than they tell.

These lessons don’t count solely for ripping yarns read on epic cross-country flights—they count in marketing as well.

Let’s explore these rules together, why don’t we? And, as good stories don’t begin at the beginning, we’ll show you the “show vs. tell” rule first.

Storytelling: Show vs. Tell

At worst, companies “tell” when they dump out a list of their products’ and services’ features: Safe! Compliant! Easy! Award-winning! Eye-catching! Cost-effective!

At best, “telling” happens when companies blather on about what their products and services will do for their target audiences: Increase sales! Reduce expenses! Achieve nirvana! (No, we don’t know what product does all of this or even just the latter, but sometimes actual benefits lists read about like this one does.)

Yet even the best of telling is still pretty terrible, isn’t it? Really, whether you dump out a list of features or blather on about benefits, you shouldn’t tell much about your products and services at all. Telling only helps when it supports showing.

For example: As cheesy as they feel, infomercials work. And they work because they show so darn well. You don’t simply have a bunch of text or a talking head telling you about the features and benefits, oh no. You have paid actors or even actual customers reenacting the before and after of the product’s or service’s introduction to their lives.

The treacherous, rickety ladder climb. The tremulous reach for the sticky, fragile light bulb. He twists once. Twice. He twists again. Finally, the light bulb staggers loose—and shatters. His tender hand, sliced through with thin shards of glass, clutches to his chest as the ladder shakes beneath him.

And then…

The lights amp up, the tones get brighter, you see your compatriot in dead light bulbs smiling with an extension tool in hand, reaching to grab, turn, and remove a light bulb with his feet firmly grounded on his living room floor and his fingers far from danger.

Magic! Who wouldn’t want this much relief from something so equally dangerous and tedious for the low, low price of $19.99?

Even if you don’t want your marketing to have the cheese factor of an infomercial, you can’t deny that infomercials have mastered the art of showing versus telling. Take a few lessons from the greats and employ some of their tricks for showing versus telling. (After all, don’t pretend you haven’t bought something you never thought you needed before you saw an infomercial. Snuggies, anyone? Chia Pets? How about the ThighMaster? Exactly.)

Storytelling: Good Stories Don’t Begin at the Beginning

A good story pops you into the middle of the action, catches your breath, and compels you to turn the page.

A good story doesn’t begin at the beginning. Nor does it truly end at the end.

After all, we have enough noise competing for our attention. If something doesn’t grab us right away, we probably won’t notice it at all. And if it drones on and on, well…. Enough said.

Good storytelling is a challenging enough proposition in novel writing—and we venture that it’s equally difficult for marketers, just in a different way. Here’s what we mean: Unlike marketers, who have something concrete to describe, fiction writers must weave a tale from scratch to capture an audience. However, novelists don’t necessarily have a specific group of people they need to convince to take an action.

Marketers do.

Marketers need to understand what their target audience feels, sees, knows, wants, and experiences, and they need to understand how the value proposition of their company, product, or service best slots into the target audience’s world views, needs, and pain points. Only once they have a good grasp of all these angles can they figure out what story will most effectively show their audiences how what they sell does what their prospects need—and get them to act.

As with infomercials, stories in business situations often take the form of case studies, testimonials, and examples. The good examples of these stories don’t start way back when the company first struck up a conversation with a prospect customer—and they don’t place the company doing the marketing in the protagonist role.

Your client—the target audience’s peer—and his or her company are the main characters for your story, and how your offering solves their problems are the narratives. Just remember: Your narrative should focus less on the features and benefits of what you do (see above) and more about how the main character’s life or prospects changed through working with you.

Yes, You Need Storytelling

Sound complicated? Exhausting? Like trying it will make you look as ridiculous as the people in the “before” halves of infomercials?

Sound a lot easier just to tell people the great stuff you can do?

Circle back to the “show vs. tell” section of this article. Consider a good story the magical product in the infomercial that makes your life positively glow.

Yes, crafting a magical tale takes time. But nothing comes easily, does it?

Need Storytelling Help?

If you’ve realized that your marketing is drier than you thought (and we don’t mean that in the dry-wit, complimentary kind of way), we can help.

We have some of the best messaging folks in the business here at FrogDog. (Okay, really? We have the best messaging folks in the business. Truth.) Let us show you: Read few of our case studies.

We’d love to bring your company’s story to life—and the story of your products and services, too. Send us an e-mail and let’s set a time to talk.

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