In his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs suggests something shocking: He says that those who tell (and live) the best stories will rule the future.
I am about to show you how one of the most cited financial works in the 20th century got its start as content marketing.
Not only that, I will show you how it became famous because it tapped into a powerful content tool that Sachs talks about: stories.
The book you didn’t know began as content marketing
This tale begins when a man named George was born on November 7, 1874.
He was pretty adventurous: In the 82 years he lived, he was a soldier, a businessman, and a writer. But the reason I am mentioning him today is because of a publishing company that he started.
The 1920s brought a sustained period of prosperity to peoples’ lives. In 1926, George saw the need for people to learn to build their wealth, so his publishing company began to issue the first of a series of pamphlets on saving and financial success.
How he used content marketing to distribute his pamphlets
The ingenious thing he did was that he had these pamphlets distributed by banks and insurance companies. They served as content marketing for these institutions, whose customers needed and wanted this type of information. (I am assuming that they paid him to distribute this content to their customers.)
It was through these unique distribution channels that his content became familiar to millions. And because of this, the success of George’s pamphlets grew and grew.
The stock market crashed three years later (in 1929), and the Great Depression that followed changed the level of prosperity of many Americans.
With the country’s economy in a tailspin, he realized that financial management lessons were more needed and desired than ever, so George S. Clason compiled his favorite stories from his pamphlets into book form and titled it The Richest Man in Babylon. In 1930, he published it through his Clason Publishing Company.
Clason’s fictional stories of Bansir and his friend Kobbi, and their search to discover the secret of wealth in ancient Babylon, has appealed to people for over 80 years.
If Clason had just written out the lessons, his book would never have become the well-known work it is today. But instead of just writing out the raw lessons by themselves, he wrapped them in stories.
And that changed everything.
The Richest Man in Babylon has now been printed in more than 30 languages and 26 countries around the world. And the truths he shared in those stories are still helping people today.
The three powers of story
I am sure you have heard that stories are powerful and important to use as a content tool, but do you know why? Let me give you three of the most important reasons:
1. They grab your attention: The phrase “Once upon a time” contains what are probably the four most powerful and magnetic words in existence. I don’t know what it is in humans, but we seem to be wired to love stories. They draw us in when we’re kids and they still have the power to draw us in as adults. If you ever want to get someone’s attention, don’t state a bunch of compelling facts, tell a story. It works every time.
2. They give context: Think about The Richest Man in Babylon. The reason that the lessons in it are so intriguing is because of the story. It’s because they’re told by “the richest man in Babylon.” The context of the story gives the content more impact, and makes the content itself more attractive than if Clason just told us the lessons himself.
3. They make your message more memorable: If I asked you to tell me the story of The Three Little Pigs could you do it? Of course. If I asked you to tell me the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, could you do it? Again, you’d likely have no problem!
How is this possible? It has probably been years since you’ve heard those stories. It’s not like you sat around memorizing them so you could remember them as an adult.
Why are you able to do that? Because unlike facts or numbers, our minds seem to be wired to easily remember stories — and we remember them for a long time. (That is how much of history and culture was shared before the written word was invented.)
If you want to create content marketing that grabs attention, makes an impact, and is memorable then the most powerful way for you to do that is to remember George Clason and tap into the power of stories like he did.
Three ways you must harness the power of stories
Today, I want to give you three important ways that you should harness the power of stories:
1. Wrap your content in a story: The first way I would encourage you to harness the power of stories is in your content itself. If you’ve read my previous posts on CMI, or my own site, then you’ve probably noticed that I always use stories in my content.
Take this post for example. Instead of just telling you these three ways to harness stories, I started with George Clason’s story. I did it to grab your attention, to make these points have more impact, and to make this content more enjoyable and memorable.
You must do the same thing with your content. Become a connoisseur of stories. Collect them. Categorize them, so you can use them to enhance your concepts and ideas for your prospects and customers.
Think about it. When Seth Godin wanted people to see the need to make their business remarkable in order to stand out, what did he do? He told a story about cows and explained how a purple cow would really stand out. It was the power of stories that made his concept stand out, become memorable, and have such impact.
If you learn to do this well, then your content marketing will begin to resonate in ways it never has before.
2. Wrap your business in a story: You need to realize that your content isn’t the only thing that can benefit from the power of stories. Your business itself can be wrapped in a story.
A common way for you to do this is to work on your “origin story.” This is the back-story of how your business came to be. Like wrapping your content around a story, it makes your business stand out, makes it memorable, and can give it more impact than other businesses in your niche.
For example, when Sara Blakely tells her story of buying a pair of white pants in her 20s that she couldn’t wear, it grabbed the attention of her prospects, who could relate to her struggle. And when she explained the “aha” moment that happened when, out of desperation, she cut the feet out of a pair of pantyhose and solved her problem, it made the resulting product, Spanx, more memorable.
There’s something else about your origin story that you should realize: It creates a powerful context for all of the content you create. In her customers’ minds, Spanx’s content is always filtered through the context that Sara understands their challenges; she has created a context of, “I am one of you.” And that is powerful.
Don’t neglect wrapping your business in a story. Just make sure of two things:
- Your story is memorable and/or relatable
- It’s true
3. Wrap your product in a story: It’s not just your business than can benefit from the power of stories. Your products can benefit too. When the product itself is a part of a story, and it invites your customers to join that story, you’ll grab your prospects attention, create a magnetic context, and make a big impact in their lives.
Toms Shoes stands out from other shoemakers because of its origin story. Blake Mycoskie’s story about visiting the country of Argentina after competing on the second season of The Amazing Race and seeing so many kids running around with no shoes draws us in. When he tells us that this condition is the underlying cause of many diseases, it creates a powerful context.
But he does more than that. He wraps his product in a story and invites us to be a part when he explains that whenever you buy a pair of shoes a pair will be given to kids around the world who are without them.
Again, this is simply content marketing and the power of story. But they are being combined and used in ways that are much deeper and more powerful than most content marketers think of.
In Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs says that we’re in a war these days and we don’t even know it.
It’s the battle to be heard in a world full of static and noise. The only way to win this war for attention is through the power of stories.
The brands, businesses, organizations, and individuals who are able to break through are the ones who know how to harness this power.
Want more insight on how to build and share your brand story? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.
Cover image by Peter Griffin via Publicdomainpictures.net