The Writer As Storyteller: How To Turn Marketing Content Into A Bestseller
Good press release writers have known how to do this for years. The content marketing writer must find the storyline, the newsworthy aspect of the subject, before he can produce writing that grabs the reader’s attention.
This taps into the centuries-old art of storytelling – one that has largely been forgotten in the age of informative content, marketing copy, and sales talk. Even a good case study needs a storyline, which presents the three elements of storytelling - are conflict, action and resolution.
Finding the Storyline
This requires looking for the meat of the issue. To find the story, it’s necessary to identify the hook, the one point that your target market is likely to find most interesting. The audience may not care why you think they need your product, but they will care if they understand clearly what it can do for them.
For example, in an optimization exercise for a surfboard manufacturer, the content marketing writer discovered by reading the existing copy that the product, more expensive than its competitors, was also 17 percent lighter than boards sold anywhere else. Turning this into a story meant identifying the conflict or problem it addressed (the weight of surfboards), taking action (creating lighter boards) and the resolution (the ease of carrying and the increased flexibility of the surfing).
Why Storytelling Works
Every content marketing writer knows the reasons why publicity is deemed to be more credible than advertising. It’s considered to be more objective, to be more truthful because it is unpaid, and to be subject to the fact-checking standards of journalism. Well, good journalism, anyway.
The fact is that there is zero evidence that any of these attributes apply to the average news story. What does work in their favor, however, is that they are stories, designed to raise the conflict / problem, talk about the actions or steps taken, and tell how the problem was resolved (the happy ending).
Implementing a Storytelling Ethos
The difficulty a content marketing writer experiences in convincing clients that storytelling is the way to go stems from the way the corporate mindset clings to the belief that advertising-speak sells. Traditional clients are grappling with the concept of the "conversation" that prevails across the Web 2.0 environment and social media, and jaded audiences have long moved on from believing what they are told.
Bringing the two back together takes a return to the drawing board, or in this case the storytelling circle. To quote John Seely Brown, co-author of The Social Life of Information and Chief Scientist at Xerox, we must “learn to unlearn” in order to open our minds.
Telling the Story
As a content marketing writer, once you find the hook, use it to create a believable scenario and point of view.
Establish the hero of the story, whether it’s a person or a company, and give him/it a personality.
Use emotional tags to develop the scenario: “Company X / CEO John Smith believes athletes wearing his running shoes have the means to win” goes further than “Wear our running shoes if you want to win” does.
Create a single, main point for the story. Don’t try to promote the company’s whole range of products. Pick one and write the story around that.
End with an action that tells the reader what to do with the information learned and how it can benefit him.
The Happy Ending
“Hollywood is right, it’s got to have a happy ending,” says Steve Denning, author of The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations and program director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank. No audience is likely to be impressed by a story about a product that doesn’t benefit the user.
Denning explains that there is neuro-scientific evidence that shows happy outcomes enable the cortex of the brain to promote feel-good responses. Translate this into the fact that a surfboard weighing 17 percent less than other boards available can make the surfer faster, lighter and more agile, and the content marketing writer will have created a credible story explaining why the buyer should spend more on this type of board.
Reviving the forgotten art of storytelling is a feature of the post-advertising age. With the options presented by geo-targeting, cookies that identify appropriate messages to serve up, and the birth of the conversation era, the messages users retain are the ones they want to remember. The good content marketing writer turns the content into a story, and makes sure it becomes a bestseller.