Storytelling, storytelling, and more storytelling

This is a guest post from Drew McLellan, CEO and Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Seems like every marketing book, blog, and study is talking about how we should be using storytelling as a marketing technique.

storytellingI couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I think most attempts fall short.

Marketers clearly believe that storytelling is a critical component of their marketing efforts. It’s one of the most talked about topics in marketing circles today.

So, no argument that marketing’s version of storytelling is critical to a business’ communications success. The question is — why are so many companies doing it badly and not experiencing the results they want?

The stories don’t evoke an emotion.

There’s not a memorable story around that isn’t seeded in emotions. For some businesses, especially those in the BtoB sector, it’s hard to imagine what emotions their products or services might trigger. That’s because the marketers are staying at the features level of sales, not delving into the benefits that lie beneath.

It might be as simple as your prospect is afraid if they make a bad decision, it will cost them their job. Or it could be that what you sell is helping your clients fulfill their reason for existing — which to them is very emotionally motivated. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the emotions behind your stories. Be sure you expose those in your storytelling so that your audience can relate to and empathize with the people in the tale.

The stories don’t use data to lend credibility.

What makes true stories so dramatic and grabbing are the facts that are dotted throughout the telling.

Data can be used in a variety of ways to tell your story. Think visual data like an infographic or let the data suggest a new angle or insight for both you and your audience.

The story doesn’t take us on a journey.

In marketing’s version of storytelling, we often take shortcuts to get to the big reveal. But in taking the shortcut, we rob the audience of story’s arc. Every story is, in essence, a journey that chronicles the problem, the fight to solve the problem and how things are better once the challenge is resolved.

But a great story lets the journey also help the audience see the motivations, frustrations and worries of the characters while they try to face the problem. The outcomes are also wrapped in more than just the tangible results. When the story is rich with details, we also learn more about the intangible results and ultimate value of delivering the right solution.

The story doesn’t include a next step/call to action.

Here’s where most marketers really miss the boat. A well-crafted story draws the audience in, helps them connect with the main character, and feel their common pain. As the story evolves, the prospect is pulling for the character — because in reality, the character bears a striking resemblance to them. They experience the ups and downs within the story and as the story delivers the happy ending — the prospective customer is thinking and feeling relief and a desire to share in that sort of outcome.

So marketing’s version of storytelling is all too often, a big tease. You led them right to the edge, get them hungry for what you’re selling, but don’t give them a clear and defined next step. Ask yourself — what do I want them to do next, and be sure you make it easy and quick to take that next action.

What do you think? Can you tweak the way you’re telling your company’s story so that it actually drives leads and generates sales?

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About Drew McLellan

Wall Street Journal calls Drew McLellan’s blog, DrewsMarketingMinute.com, "one of the ten blogs every entrepreneur should read." His passion is helping clients discover their story so they can create authentic love affairs with their customers. He's also an author, national speaker, and has owned his own marketing agency in the Midwest since 1995.

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