Separating the Story from the Telling
I tell stories for a living, mostly on behalf of companies eager to convey their brand promise to others.
Many companies struggle to get their message across. They create materials that are uninspired, disorganized, confusing or just plain ugly. They present too much content with too little structure, yielding one inpenetrable page or screen after another. And when that happens, they alienate employees and customers alike.
They wreak havoc unintentionally, eager to reap the benefits of storytelling but unclear on how to do it well. It is my job to show them the way.
The way, it turns out, is to separate the story from the telling.
There is nothing more important to storytelling than the story itself. What makes brand stories effective:
• Make your point in one sentence. Think about the person who retells your story after reading, viewing or experiencing it. Your point needs to crystal clear, so that the message that matters is the one that gets texted or tweeted.
• Identify your audience. Know what excites them, and what keeps them awake at night. Find ways to make your story relatable by connecting your brand attributes to their wants and needs. Where possible, make your story about them, not you.
• Establish your goals. Be very clear about what outcome you desire from a story well told. A transaction. A decision. A relationship. Whatever it is, make it measurable so you can assess whether your story is doing its job.
Consider starting fresh — sanding to bare wood rather than painting over layers of weathered storytelling elements. Get all of your ideas onto the table and remove those that don't support your point. Organize what's left so that one idea flows into another, with emphasis on how your story begins and ends.
At the beginning your audience will be most attentive. If you fail to hold their interest, you may never get them back. Your ending is equally important. This is where you complete your mission, achieving whatever outcome you defined at the start. Ideally there are multiple paths between start and finish, providing flexibility to suit your audience's needs.
Your goal is a storyboard or outline, undesigned and unembellished. That comes next.
How will you tell your story? Stories need not be confined to words. Add zest by blending ingredients that add serendipity to storytelling:
At the same time, consider which platforms best support your story and objectives:
- Responsive web
- Native app
- Interactive touchscreen
- Social media post
Each platform has strengths and weaknesses. Apps offer flexibility but require downloaded software. Responsive websites are easy to access but harder to differentiate from one another. (Scrollmotion's new Ingage platform combines the benefits of apps and websites. Check it out.) It may require several formats to suit your objectives — short-form, long-form, broadcast, narrowcast, active, passive, presented, self-guided, and more.
The way you tell your story matters.
But the story you tell matters more.
Story and telling are paired like food and wine to bring out the best in each other. The food selection drives the wine selection, just as the story drives the telling. Through effective storytelling, companies of all sizes have the potential to raise awareness, answer questions, build relationships and sell more products and services.
Now that's a story worth telling.