Lessons on Storytelling from the Masters

In social media, there is a constant, buzzing noise you can hear at all times, especially if you follow people in the marketing or business worlds. What’s the source of the racket? Buzzwords. People love to jump on these words and use them to death, all trying to fashion themselves as leading experts before people invariably move onto the next big thing. There is one buzzword, however, that I think is here to stay … and that’s storytelling.

Stories – A Love Affair

I am a lover of stories, thanks in large part to growing up in a family of voracious readers. Every surface of my childhood home was covered in stacks of murder mysteries and psychological thrillers. Our regular family outing was to Borders Bookstore (yes, I actually cried when they shut down), where we would spend hours scouring the aisles for the next tome to add to our personal collections.

This love of stories carried me to through my college days, where I majored in print journalism, and into my career of social media marketing at BIG YAM, an integrated marketing agency in Scottsdale. No matter the distribution format, I have discovered through personal experience the power of content and stories to galvanize people to action. Harnessing this power for brands is where content marketing comes in.

The Elements of Successful Content Marketing

When it comes to content marketing, there are a few, key things you either have to know or learn how to do to be successful in the long run. One, you have to be a good writer. Two, you have to be consistent and strategic in your efforts. Finally, you need to know how to recognize and tell a good story. I’d like to think I’m a fairly decent writer, but I could tell I needed to brush up my storytelling strategies and techniques. So, I started reading blogs, books and articles, only to discover that worthwhile information on this topic can be a little difficult to find.

Finding the Real Gurus

The content marketing industry is still relatively new. Because of this, and the lack of general accreditation in this field, there are a lot of people – many of whom have worked in the industry for less than a hot second – who call themselves content marketing experts, gurus or ninjas. I could throw a rock at an industry event and probably hit 5-6 of them (but I won’t, because I hear they frown on that). As they saturate the market with sub-par insights, these so-called experts can make it really hard to find actionable insights about storytelling.

So, I turned to my trusty friends Google, LinkedIn and Twitter and really started to research who the key people were in the storytelling game. Over and over again, I kept hearing about this book, “The Storytelling Edge,” by Contently’s Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow. I gave it a try … and have been inundating all of my friends, family and coworkers ever since with all the great information inside. Now, it’s my turn to geek out with you, my fellow lover of content marketing, and share some pivotal takeaways from this highly recommended book.

Integrated marketing agency Scottsdale Storytelling edge

We’re Hardwired to Be Impacted by Stories

Joe and Shane start off their book explaining the science behind stories. You see, people have a physiological response that occurs when they listen to a story that differs greatly from just hearing facts. Our brains release oxytocin, the empathy neurochemical, leading us to bond with and care about the person telling us stories. That’s why storytellers like musicians and actors are often so beloved, in spite of the fact that many are them are kinda terrible people. When listening to a story, about five times the amount of neurons light up than when we are just hearing facts, enabling us to feel like we’re experiencing the story ourselves and increasing the likelihood that someone will remember and act upon the moral of the story.

Key Takeaway: At a physiological level, we all have a visceral, inherent response to storytelling. The brands that can learn to harness this response will be powerful indeed.

The Elements of a Great Story

One of the largest hurdles in storytelling is establishing relevance. On a daily basis, I see brands posting about things they care about, assuming that everyone and their dog (who probably has its own Instagram account) is also going to care. This saturates the market with irrelevant insights, making truly great stories hard to come by.

In journalism, there are seven elements of newsworthiness that reporters are encouraged to take into consideration before writing a story. Joe and Shane narrow this list down to four:

  1. Relatability: “One of the secrets to BuzzFeed and a lot of the modern Internet’s successful viral sites is they don’t try to speak to everyone in every story; they try to relate very deeply to specific identity groups and bet that those groups will share these stories prolifically. That is why character-driven stories are so powerful and why the characters that tend to be our favorites are the ones that resemble our loved ones or ourselves.”
  2. Novelty: “Stories will give you something you can relate to in the beginning to get you comfortable, then they will give you something novel to keep your attention. Too much relatability is boring, while too much novelty makes it hard for us to care about it because it doesn’t relate to us.”
  3. Tension: “This element is what keeps us glued to our seat, no matter how badly we have to pee.”
  4. Fluency: “A great story doesn’t make you think about the words being used or the mechanics of the story itself. A great storyteller will speak at a level that doesn’t force you to think about the vocabulary. You focus on what’s going on … then, they tell the story in a way that means you don’t have to think about anything else.”

Mission Driven

Every successful content marketing example referenced in the book had a similar purpose – putting the audience’s needs first. Each of the brands identified the people they wanted to connect with and were creating content that was inherently valuable to those groups. This was the overarching mission of every piece of content they created – not shoving company messaging down people’s throats.

“In reality, content marketing is more like a political campaign. You have to introduce yourself to people and earn their trust. You have to listen to their concerns. You can’t just begin your campaign by brazenly demanding that people give you support before you do anything to earn it. More than anything, you need a mission that drives your content and resonates with people.”

The Storytelling Edge

At BIG YAM, we have a mission – to help our clients discover and tell their unique stories. Contact us to get started today.