Don't have time to read? Listen to the article instead

As storytellers, we put a lot of energy in finding a good story. We invest time in talking with people across a business trying to listen for a story worth telling. Still, the value of a story, and sometimes even the magic, doesn’t lie in its reality, it’s in how we craft and tell that story.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to a really neat group of marketers about storytelling and one of the things we focused on were the three things we need to consider when we build a story. Because regardless of what storytelling technique you use or, ultimately, how good the story itself is, if you’re not mindful about these three key elements, the telling of said story will flop. Every single time.


The Ingredients

I’m not a fan of frameworks and templates because they tend to box people into someone else’s working style but we all need a little bit of structure and planning. Stories do too. From books, movies, and even brand stories, all of the stories we love to tell and re-tell have a few ingredients in common.

We need a Focus to give our story direction and a goal, a Star to which our audience can relate, a Heart to create an emotional connection with the audience, an Impact to show us what difference the story has made and, finally, a Hook to draw in our audience and get them to experience our story, in the first place.

Miss either one of these components and you’re voiding your story of meaning and value. There’s no particular order you need to consider them as you tell your story, however, I would encourage you to develop them in this order as you build your story.

The Tasters

There’s no point in cooking up a good story if you’ve got nobody to share it with. In Marketing, in particular, people tend to struggle with writing for anyone other than the brand, which is why brand stories often read like boring entries in a journal. Today, we celebrated our 6th birthday and it was wonderful. A lot of exciting people have joined and we were happy to see them.

Are you cringing yet? Stories like this are an exercise in narcissism. They’re not built to delight, inspire or teach. These stories are built by the brand for the brand and are dropped in the audience’s lap. No wonder we tune them out.

Marketers are not writers who create stories because they feel inspired to do so – by the way, nowadays, even books are heavily edited to appeal to certain audiences – marketers weave stories so they would appeal to a group or groups of people. For some brands, these will be your buyer personas but for others, with a more well-developed marketing strategy, these people will be grouped into audience personas, as not every fan is a buyer. (more about this in a later post)

Go through your Google Analytics data, rummage through the mountain of data available through your social media profiles and begin mapping out who are the people who are part of your audience, what they care about and what motivates them. Make assumptions, test, adapt and improve.

The Flavoring

So we’ve nailed our ingredients, we know who we’re serving the story to, now all we need is to add the flavors they love the most. Enter context. Context is how we make sense of a story for a particular target audience.

It implies filtering the elements that make up the build of your story (focus, star, heart, impact, and hook) through your target audience’s perspective. This is why it’s so important to define who you’re talking to. Unless you understand who they are, how they speak, and what they care about you won’t be able to create a story that is relevant for them.


The Bottom Line

There are many ways to tell a story but telling a story well means bringing together the facts, the people we want them to matter to and putting such a spin on it that it, indeed, turns out to speak to them. As marketers, we in particular need to learn to turn our audiences into stars, whether they be clients, employees or prospects, and let the company itself become the second-fiddle. If we don’t, we’re the only audience we’re ever going to earn.

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