2014’s Content Marketing World, an annual conference held by and for the world’s best and brightest Content Marketers, was closed by (of all people) Kevin Spacey. In his closing, his keynote talked about the idea at the core of what makes successful Content Marketing successful: Story.
Content Marketers will tell you time and again that good stories are essential to successful Content Marketing. They’ll answer all the questions you’ve got concerning what stories can do for business, how to tell them, who’s telling the best ones, etc.
But ask Content Marketers what ‘Story’ means, and you’ll get crickets. Talking about the how and the what, when it comes to a product or service, is easy. Clearly and convincingly expressing why a product or service is difficult, but only those who do experience the fullest realization of value Content Marketing can provide a business.
And the only way to convincingly express why your product or service is with Story.
Why Should I Care About Story?
Let me answer that question with one of my own:
Why should I care about the product you sell, or the service you offer?
Most business owners can spurt out a quick response to this question, an ‘elevator pitch’ containing some ‘value proposition’ they labored to craft in the early days of their business, sometimes containing fun buzzwords like ‘Thought Leader’, ‘Optimization’, or ‘Sustainability’.
Responses like this are generally concise and clear, but they lack persuasive punch. They do the work of educating, but they fail to convince, and therefore fall short of persuading an audience to do engage with your business.
Feeling + Knowledge = Belief
Communicating in rational terms makes can people think what you provide is valuable, but it doesn’t make them care. If you have a belief that you want another to share, in this case that they ought to engage with your business, they must feel that the decision or idea you are advocating is the right one as well.
Think about it this way:
You can sit an Atheist down at the table and explain the benefits of Christianity till the cows come home, but that’s not enough to make him believe Christian doctrine.
You can sit a potential client down and comprehensively educate them on every conceivable advantage of health insurance, but if you can’t relate to them why they ought to care about health insurance, don’t expect them to sign on the dotted line.
So how do you make someone care about health insurance?
You tell a story like Hong Kong’s MetLife spectacularly did in 2014:
Knowing that something has value is not the same as believing it has value, and only through cultivating belief can you inspire action. Belief requires feeling, and the best way to inspire feeling in others is with a good story.
Now that an audience cares about life insurance, the work of selling it to them takes care of itself.
What a Good Story Can Do For You
J.F.K directed the most powerful economic engine in the history of the universe, coordinated human effort on a scale that defies comprehension, with a simple story. He made a nation believe as he did, and that nation did what they previously thought impossible. They landed on the moon.
In the same decade, through the stories he told about his dreams and his visit to the ‘mountain top’, Martin Luther King spurred a movement that did something people of that time would consider just as impossible.
Looking back through human history, it’s hard to find any meaningful human achievement that didn’t result from a story that organized the behavior of people around a shared belief.
This is what stories do, and this ability has tremendous potential for your business.
Stories provide common ground. An idea, belief, or value that people of differentiated experience can stand on and share together. For business, storytelling provides an audience the opportunity to participate in a shared vision through their choices as consumers.
For example, through inspired storytelling; Denmark’s TV2 turned watching their channel from just watching T.V. into taking part in the love for one’s people and nation.
Perhaps one of the best brands in the world when it comes to deploying the power of storytelling, Nike’s famous “The Chance” ad turns buying running shoes into so much more than just buying running shoes. It allows a consumer to participate in the belief of achieving our dreams, if we commit to perseverance (and wear Nike’s!)
Like campers around a campfire, a good story exudes light that attract people near and far, bringing them together and providing the means to share an experience. With a good story, you can turn your product or service into the means to share an idea or value, and experience all the benefits that result.
So how do you tell a good one?
What’s Your Story?
What is your business for?
What idea, value, or belief does your business organize its efforts around?
This questions is extraordinarily simple, but ought to be extraordinarily difficult to answer. Telling me what you do, how you do it, or the benefits of your product/service, but these are answers to different questions.
I, and the rest of your audience, are only interested in what you are for.
Nike is for achieving your dreams. TV2 is for coming together around a love for your people and country. Metlife is for investing every day to better the lives of those around us. ‘Business’ itself is for making things better for people, so what is it about life that you make better?
Take the time to articulate to yourself what your business is for, and you’ve made the most important step towards defining the story to tell about your business, and capturing all the benefits that result.
Just don’t make it up!
Telling a good story isn’t about creating a truth, it’s about revealing one. Even fictional stories (at least the good ones) are ultimately about expressing a truth. Even if the truth your story is meant to tell is a small or apparently insignificant one, it’s far better than a lie.
Certain frozen pea companies might tell you that their product is grown in the fields of a jolly green giant. Certain makers of Oats and Oatmeal will put a friendly pilgrim’s face on the box to create the impression that he is who you’re buying it from. Both these stories are designed to conceal the not-so-romantic reality of factory processed foods, and thus don’t attract people to a product, but merely prevent them from being repelled by it.
Fabricating a lie about what you are and the values you represent carries tremendous risk. If you’re making false claims about the nature of your service or product, all it takes is a single tweet exposing them for your story, and all the work you’ve put into crafting your brand, to be undermined.
Establishing A Strong Foundation for Your Story
If you’re struggling to answer my above question, chances are you’re approaching it right. Philosophical questions concerning the purpose of things aren’t meant to be easy, so you ought to be on guard if you can answer it quickly.
I challenge you to take some time to really approach the task of articulating the philosophical purpose at the core of your business. Don’t hold yourself to any expectations of distilling things down to a quick tagline, simply write down your ideas any way you feel comfortable. If you’d like some help or input on refining your message, feel free to send them off to us for some input!
Once you’ve done this, sign up to be notified when we publish our next article on storytelling, where we’ll go in depth as to how you can optimize your selection of content channels to broadcast this idea, and access all the benefits that good storytelling can provide your business.