Grrrrr! The tent walls shook with ferocious growls coming from outside as I dove under my sleeping bag, shivering with delighted fear as only a 7-year-old can do... Okay, maybe it was just my dad stalking outside of the tent, but still, when I was a little girl camping in the shadow of Mount Rainier, nothing could compare with flaming marshmallows and telling ghost stories.
Not much has changed despite our ages, since storytelling has exploded in the marketing profession like that same marshmallow tossed in a microwave (don't try it).
I can see why. Done right, sharing information through stories makes a message sing like NOTHING else can do.
On a mission to improve my own skills, I stumbled across the Rock and Roll Zen blog the other day by Mark Hermann - music producer turned storyteller. Inspired by his bio page, I shot him an email to pick his brain for bits of wisdom to share.
Here's what he had to say.
Your bio should paint a compelling portrait of the person behind the blog. It should draw the reader in and give them some personal details that lends depth and breadth to your persona.
It shouldn't be a sales pitch and it shouldn't be boring with a history that reads like a resume. YOU're not boring, right? So your bio or About page should be anything but. It should give the reader an immediate sense of your passions, your beliefs, your big WHY?
It should leave the reader with a feeling of confidence that your expertise is well deserved and why you can uniquely help solve their problems. It should get them excited to hear what you have to say next via your blog, your newsletters and your offers.
Q: Do you feel storytelling has a specific place where it should/shouldn't fit into marketing efforts and/or content marketing?
Absolutely. Not only does storytelling have a place in marketing efforts but I believe it's the very key to successful marketing.
People don't buy from brands. They buy into the story behind the brand or the product.
My bible on this subject is Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories. In this small but amazing book, he recounts a wide variety of stories about marketers who have learned to tell their story successfully in a way that resonates with the worldview of their audience.
My favorite example is the story of Riedel, the world leader in fine crystal beverage glassware. Their belief is that for each and every spirit, there's a matching glass of a specific shape and size that will deliver the exact "message" of that drink. This mission statement is the very foundation of the company and every single employee from the owner on down, completely believes this to be true.
However, in double blind scientific taste tests, where the glass shape and size could not be known, it was proven that there was absolutely no difference in taste whatsoever between the generic glass and the Riedel. And though this is public knowledge, nobody cares. They've already bought into the story because it resonates with their own worldview. So Riedel thrives and remains the world leader.
THAT'S the power of storytelling.
Q: What are some storytelling best practices that you recommend?
Well, I have a few. But that involves a story...
When I lived in L.A. I took a screenwriting class at U.C.L.A. (yes, it happens to everyone there, I'm afraid). It was a lecture series where every week a different Oscar-winning screenwriter would tell the tale of how their story went from concept to the big screen to winning the Oscar.
Talk about a lesson in patience and perseverance!
Though each tale was different, they all shared certain common traits. First off, you learn that almost every great movie begins at (or very close to) the point of crisis.
Example: The movie opens on a scene of someone standing in line at the bank in a very mundane setting. Suddenly, the doors fly open and a half dozen men in ski masks burst in, wielding deadly weapons and demanding that everyone hits the floor. You're immediately sucked into the crisis.
So one practice I've taken away from that experience is to APPLY THAT PRINCIPAL TO MY BLOG POSTS. Jump right into a point of crisis.
Often, that means a major pain point for your reader with an empathy building opening to suck them in. Some people do this exceedingly well. Copyblogger's Jon Morrow is a master at this. They even gave his openings a formal title: The Morrow Opening.
From there, most screenplays often follow the arc of the classic Greek 3-act play.
- Act One: Setup and character development.
- Act two: plot builds tension as main character begins to change, leading to the climax.
- Act three: resolution.
In blogging, you can be doing a How To post or a List post or whatever, but I still like to follow this arc and lead the reader through a post that builds to a sort of climax. That might be the 'Aha' moment that solves the problem for the reader.
And like the main character that changes in any good movie plot, I like to surprise the reader with an unexpected twist. Then you offer them a resolution in the form of next steps. That's often your call-to-action.
Like any great story, you should leave them in a state where they walk out of the theater changed from that experience. Give them a work of masterful art they'll remember for a long time and want to come back and revisit your work. I try to approach every post this way, even if they all don't end up as blockbusters.
Q: Any unusual or out-of-the-box tactics you use for creating a great story?
I like contrast and controversy. I love to challenge "conventional wisdom."
When I wrote the Jimi Hendrix piece for Copyblogger, it originally started out as a fairly conventional list on how to do good work and become immortal with your content. I chose Jimi Hendrix because of my deep roots in his music, and rock and roll in general.
When I finished the first draft, I liked what I wrote... but didn't love it. So I asked myself, 'What would Jimi Hendrix do if he were alive today and wanted to do for blogging what he did for the electric guitar, which was to turn the whole world upside down?'
So I decided to turn the post into a fictitious interview instead and let Jimi speak for himself. That's when it started to get interesting. That's when I started to smile.
Q: How do you recommend marketers can learn to be better at telling stories, so they make an emotional connection with readers?
In a word: EMPATHY.
When you can see the world through the eyes of your reader and really put yourself in their place, you can tell a story that immediately resonates with them. You can frame it through the lens of THEIR worldview.
But you don't do this to manipulate them into buying what you're selling. When you sincerely empathize with your reader - you end up understanding their deepest fears; the things that keep them up at night.
And when your stories are written with them in mind. you end up truly helping them. And when they find themselves nodding their heads and saying, 'Exactly!' They naturally want to share your story because it's their story.
We are hardwired to want to hear and tell stories. Storytelling is how we navigate our world. It's through storytelling that we have historically passed our culture onto the next generation. This is how it's always been.
If you begin from that framework, you immediately have an advantage over your competition because the reader on the other end is already wanting to hear a good story, whether they realize it or not.
Or you could look at its opposite. NOT storytelling puts you at a decided marketing disadvantage.
Q: How did you go from being in the music industry to branding, storytelling and writing for Copyblogger?
Well, I've been listening to music since I was like 5 years old... and telling stories for almost as long.
One of my earliest recollections is sitting with my older brother, listening to the radio at Christmas time while they broadcast the Top 500 countdown of the greatest songs of all time.
We would listen while having a tape recorder running and overdubbing our own commentary on top of the music. So we were spinning our own stories over the existing story (the music countdown)! Telling stories using technology became a theme for me very early on.
Then I started playing guitar in my teens and eventually became a songwriter. When you write songs you're really telling a story in a very short form. A few minutes. I got into music production and started working in a big New York recording studio, which led to my touring years with rock stars like Foreigner and Joe Walsh. When you produce the music of another artist, you realize that your principal role is to help the artist realize THEIR musical vision. You're helping them to tell their story. That story is their personal brand.
So branding, with respect to music, was something that came very naturally to me. I realized that I just had a knack for helping people unearth their own unique story and deliver the soundtrack to their personal brand.
More recently in life, the writer in me began to emerge and blogging became a natural extension of that storyteller. So the idea of storytelling and technology (utilizing the internet to blog and spread the word via social networking) came full circle. I also realized that I enjoy the long form of storytelling. Brevity was never my strong suit.
It seemed a logical extension of my production skills to be able to help other creators to find their groove in life by unearthing their own unique story.
When I decided I wanted to create a presence for my online voice, I wanted to learn how best to go about it. Somewhere in that process, I discovered Copyblogger and started to soak up all the great articles they were regularly dishing out about content marketing.
I became very familiar with their content style and made a mental note that I wanted to write for them one day.
That's when I came across Jon Morrow's Guest Blogging Course, after reading one of his posts about the power of guest posting on other big blogs to quickly build your audience. That's probably the single best online course I've ever taken. (Get Jon's free blogging tips here.)
One of his promises is that AFTER you graduate, he would guarantee that you will get a post accepted on a big blog. So Copyblogger was always a major goal for me because they were one of the first big blogs I discovered that really showed me the ins and outs of content marketing. I thought a major victory would be giving something back to them in the form of an article worthy of being published there. When I mentioned the Jimi Hendrix idea in the Guestblogging forum, Jon liked the idea and thought it could work for Copyblogger. He said that if I could turn it into a long list post, they would have a tough time refusing it.
That's because long list posts show that you've done a lot of homework and it's going to be jam packed with good content. I guess it must have been because, to my surprise, they included it in their Best of 2012 list. Brian Clark tweeted to me that it was one of his favorite posts that he's ever published.
That was pretty cool.
Very cool, Mark, very cool.
Do YOU have any storytelling tips to share? Put 'em in the comments!