4 Steps to Creating Authentic Stories Your Customers Will Want to Read
Authentic stories help powerful brands make deep connections with customers. But that high-level principle creates real-world challenges for content marketers. What is a powerful story and how do you tell it? I’d like to share four tips on how to tell stories that make connections and get results.
1. Find a moment
A moment happens at a specific place and time. No two moments are exactly alike. Think of your own personal stories, from a first kiss to a moment of triumph. What happened? Who was there? What did they say? What would we have seen?
Now think about this in terms of your brand. Every brand lives for customers as a series of touch points. A parent may have made a special meal using your product. An IT administrator may have cut request time in half and been promoted. Or in our case at Story2, a student may have just received an admissions offer from the college of her dreams. If you can put your customers at that moment where they feel what it’s like to encounter the best value of your brand, you’re one moment closer to connecting them to your brand.
In written and multimedia stories, the Adidas #mygirls campaign exemplifies the value of a moment with content about young women using Adidas products in contexts from mountaineering to field hockey to running. But the stories are not about selling the product. Each woman’s story starts with a compelling moment, illustrating the brand experience. “There was a massive pop, so loud it sounded like a gunshot reverberating through the training gym,” begins one story about an injured South African field hockey player. The moment links courage and determination with the Adidas brand but never hits the viewer over the head with that connection.
2. Use your authentic voice
The language of marketing is notorious for feeling artificial. Generic product attributes and abstract business-speak is forced. Believe us when we say no one really cares about “quality manufacturing” or “industry-leading service levels” unless they know exactly how that feels and believe what you say about your brand.
When using stories as a vehicle for content marketing, take this advice from the Story2 Moments Method®: Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and tell your brand story out loud. Do you believe it? Now tell a friend or family member face-to-face. Does it connect with the listener? If the answers are “yes,” take that authentic story in your voice and write it down.
In authentic storytelling there’s no need to “business-fy” it. GE Reports a Tumblr blog excels at this, sharing rich stories about inventors and users of high-tech industrial products. One recent example: a story about their scientific microscopes. One scientist on the team brought a bee’s leg from his daughter’s science project to test the capabilities of GE’s latest imaging device. The topic would have been a great occasion for jargon and product-speak, but instead it authentically sheds light on the passion behind the product.
3. Map it
A map is simply the arc from the beginning to the middle and then the end. When you want to captivate your reader, think like a Hollywood blockbuster. In these two examples, you can see how it works:
- Draw them in, like a magnet:
Story 1: Half the potatoes on the floor and the rest behind the stove … what was I supposed to do about Thanksgiving dinner now?
Story 2: Our CFO had just called for the fourth time asking for last quarter’s numbers, but our systems were still down.
- Raise suspense, with a pivot:
Story 1: “That looks great, but we don’t serve frozen food at holidays,” I told my husband as he stood there with the foil tray of FoodCo’s carrot soufflé.
Story 2: SoftwareCo’s representative sat next to me at my desk for an hour while he fixed the broken database queries. I couldn’t help grinning when I saw the numbers pop up finally.
- End on a memorable glow:
Story 1: We’ve had carrot soufflé instead of potatoes on our family’s menu ever since, but we still laugh about the look on my face when someone mentions anything scalloped.
Story 2: I was home that evening in time to tuck the twins in bed and read them a story.
Once you map the story, you can think of all sorts of ways to describe your current audience’s journeys and how its stories can help your brand connect with new people. Coca-Cola, as part of its truly impressive “Journeys” approach to brand journalism, does this in numerous ways. I was struck by a story told by a Coca-Cola employee who took up skydiving. The story uses a “magnet, pivot, and glow structure. And while ostensibly it’s about her personal experiences, it does a fantastic job selling Coke’s corporate culture and inspires the desire to work with employees like her.
4. Focus outward
You’ll notice that none of these points in the story map use wording like “I thought,” “I felt,” “I realized,” or “I learned.” That interpretation and analysis puts up a wall between you and your reader. Experiment with different ways to present your thoughts and feelings using dialogue, sensory details, and physical descriptions. In our hypothetical examples, we used these details to show the reader how the high quality of a frozen food adds something to the customer’s life, and how reliable, diligent service helps software users get their job done with less stress.
Hallmark’s “Ideas” website section does a great job of this with stories about card-giving occasions mixed in with lifestyle tips, nicely aligned to using a card or gift to express the emotion in the moment.
In summary, these four steps, all built on the neuroscience of storytelling, provide content marketing techniques that literally synchronize your reader’s brain with your brand marketing content. As our examples show, throw a few stories in the mix and see just how compelling brand messages can become.
Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com