Here on Copyblogger, you’ve seen us talk many times about how to tell a terrific marketing story.
Because stories are fundamental to how we communicate as human beings. Tell the right story and you can capture attention, entertain, enlighten, and persuade … all in the course of just a few minutes.
Stories are memorable and shareable — and those are two of the most important aspects of the very best content.
So we can all agree that stories matter … but how do you tell them?
What, specifically, makes for a good marketing story?
Here are five critical components, and how they fit into your marketing and your business.
We’ll start, as every good story does, with the hero …
1. You need a hero
All good stories are about someone (even if that someone is a professional monster or a talking toy).
The biggest mistake businesses make is thinking that their business is the hero of the story.
This is prevalent among a lot of insecurity-based advertising (“buy our toothpaste or you’ll die friendless and alone”), but it makes for a selfish, easily ignored marketing message.
To tell a compelling content marketing story, your customer must be the hero.
And what defines a hero? The hero of the story is the one who is transformed as the story progresses, from an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.
In other words …
2. You need a goal
Good businesses are about solving customer problems.
To put it another way, they’re about customer transformations.
You need to understand where your customer-hero is today, and where she wants to go.
What transformation is she seeking? Does she want a health transformation, a relationship transformation, a wealth transformation, a career transformation?
- What will she physically look like when the transformation has taken place?
- What will she be able to do that she can’t do now?
- What will she have?
- What will she believe?
- What new connections or relationships will she have?
- Who will she be?
Until you understand your customer-hero’s goal, you don’t have a marketing story, you just have a collection of anecdotes.
3. You need an obstacle
If transformation was easy, your customer wouldn’t need your business.
Obstacles are what make stories interesting. The gap between where your hero is today and where he wants to go is the meat of your compelling story.
There are often external obstacles to your customer’s eventual victory, but the most interesting ones are nearly always internal.
What’s keeping your customer-hero from attaining his goal? What external elements are standing in his way?
More importantly, what emotional and psychological roadblocks has he created himself? What inner limitations must he overcome to achieve his prized goal?
4. You need a mentor
If your customer is the hero, where does that leave you and your business?
If your customer is Luke Skywalker, you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re the wise mentor who can provide essential information and tools that allow the hero to attain his goal.
As Jonah Sachs points out in his interesting book Winning the Story Wars, one difference between an empowering marketing message and the old-fashioned, insecurity-based toothpaste ads, is that you emphasize that your hero’s journey results from her own effort and work.
Your business doesn’t exist to swoop down and solve all of her problems for her. That would infantilize your customer, which is ultimately unsatisfying all around. (Having a bunch of neurotic crybabies for customers just isn’t that fun.)
Your business exists to guide, coach, mentor, and help.
5. You need a moral
When you’re telling a marketing story, it’s always wise to explicitly spell out the moral of your story.
So yes, use stories to show people just like your customer-hero overcoming obstacles and attaining their goals.
Show how your business can mentor and guide customers to become better versions of themselves.
Show how customers can overcome external and internal obstacles to gain what they’re searching for.
But then circle back around and spell it out. Let the audience know what they should do next, or what their main takeaway should be.
The most subtle and sophisticated stories leave it to the audience to figure out the moral of the story. But the audience for those stories isn’t consuming them in the sea of distraction that is the open web.
Don’t be afraid to spell it out. Be clear and direct. Clarity is golden.
Bonus: You need the truth
There’s one more element of your story marketing toolkit that’s more useful than ever.
In an age of unparalleled digital transparency, you can make amazing wins just by telling the truth.
“[19th century copywriter] John Powers had given us all we’ve ever really needed to know. Be interesting. Tell the truth. And if you can’t tell the truth, change what you’re doing so you can. In other words, live the truth.” – Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs
It takes courage, and finding that courage can be something of a hero’s journey of your own.
But the more honest you can be about your business, about who you serve and the problems that you solve, the more loyalty you will find.
Every story needs a spark of something remarkable, so it can be remembered and shared.
And in the world we live in today, honesty can be one of the most remarkable story elements of all.