What do you and Tolkien have in common?
While it might be tempting to answer, “nothing,” I’d encourage you to look a little deeper.
Sure, Tolkien invented magical lands and languages and creatures few of us could concoct in our wildest dreams, but there’s still a similarity. That similarity links you and me, and all of us who work in the written word, to Tolkien, Rowling, Nabokov, and Chekov. What is it?
The similarity is a love of stories and a fondness for telling them.
Today, too many people sell “marketing” or “commercial” writing off as a pursuit devoid of creativity. They see it as nothing more than some empty pitches and a hard-sell. Lucky for them, and for us, those people are wrong.
As someone who has spent all my life creating and consuming stories, I can tell you that storytelling is central to great brand writing and that only companies who nail it right off the bat succeed with their customers down the road.
Today, we’re going to talk about storytelling: what it is, why it matters, and how you can blend it into your web content. Read on.
What is Storytelling?
No matter who you are, where you came from, or what you studied in school, you’ve probably had the experience of hearing a story that knocked your socks off.
Think about that story for a moment.
How about the opening lines of Star Wars (one of my all-time favorite cinema classics)?
Maybe you were enamored by the opening lines of Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”
Or Nabokov’s Lolita:
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee.Ta.”
Maybe it was the opening line of The Hobbit that made you sit up straight in your chair, suck in your breath, and clutch the book a little tighter at the sheer joy of the story to come:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
While each of these stories came from a different part of the world, different culture, and a different time, each has one thing in common: they grab you, and they won’t let go.
This is storytelling, in all its richness and beauty.
Why Stories Matter
Storytelling in copywriting is the perfect way to engage readers and claim their attention. To understand how to tell great stories, though, it’s essential first to figure out why they matter so much.
Stories are integral to human society. Stories are and have always been, a part of life. Since the excellent way ancient beings painted petroglyphs on the walls of caves, to the day when Rowling sat down to write the first few lines of her Harry Potter series, not much has changed. Stories are meant to entertain and delight, to help people pass the time and uncover deeper meaning in life.
Today, the methods by which people tell stories has changed, but the importance they hold in society hasn’t. As such, marketers who understand how important telling stories is can succeed capturing something rare and extraordinary that allows them to reach the next level of connection and emotion with their readers.
The Connection Between Copywriting and Storytelling
You don’t think copywriting and storytelling go hand in hand? It might be time to think again.
What do you think you’re doing when you write up that long product description or your latest press release? Sure, you’re providing customers with the facts, but you’re also telling a story. It might not be something from the Brothers Grimm, but it’s a story nonetheless. And this story helps delight your readers and assist them to make a connection with the product, good, or service you’re writing about.
When you tell the story the right way, you have the potential to make a new connection with your readers and help them remember you the way you want them to remember you. This is a rare opportunity afforded to only the best and bravest marketers.
How To Incorporate Storytelling In Your Web Content: 5 Epic Tips
Even if you fancy yourself more an inbound expert than a mythologist, it’s still possible to create unforgettable stories. Here are five epic rules for incorporating storytelling into your online content, starting now:
1. Keep it Relevant and Interesting
A great story teller knows who is going to read it, and tailors its voice accordingly. The same needs to go for your online writing. Relevant stories perform better with their audiences, and help perpetuate that feeling of enchantment and mystery.
Luckily for you, staying relevant doesn’t have to mean getting boring. To keep your story relevant and exciting, find ways to tie it back to your target audience consistently. As you write, ask yourself if they would appreciate, connect to, or identify with the topic of your story. If so, keep going. If not, reevaluate. The more relevant you can keep your tale, the better it will perform with your readers.
2. Do the Opposite of What GRRM Did
George R. R. Martin is known for his lengthy descriptions of banquets and the gigantic nature of his A Song of Ice and Fire novels. He is also known for taking eons to publish his books. They are amazing, there’s no doubt about it.
But if there’s one thing online creators should learn from George, it’s what not to do – and here’s why.
If you want to succeed at storytelling online, do the opposite of what George did. Instead of going into painstaking detail so extensive you lose the online reader, who has 8 seconds to keep their attention on one topic, take a large-picture approach and ensure that what you’re writing is useful and exciting, first and foremost.
Don’t write extremely long stories and don’t take forever publishing your content. While there’s some evidence to suggest that long-form content performs better online than short-form content, this isn’t a good reason to string your content along just because you can.
Remember: there’s a difference between long-form and overstuffed. Today’s successful online content needs to be more than just long: it also needs to be helpful and exciting. With this in mind, avoid cramming your content full of junk just to extend its word count or make it seem more extensive.
3. Read, Read, Read, Then Write
As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” Reading is paramount for crafting great stories. You will not be able to come up with something witty and intriguing if all you do is look at Facebook every day.
Note that when I say read, I mean things both inside and outside of copywriting. While it’s smart to read your industry papers, publications, and journals, you should also venture outside your industry into the great novels, stories, and poetry of the world. While it might seem like there’s nothing to be learned here, these storytellers can give you a master class in how to construct and deliver appealing content to the masses.
To put this another way, when you read things that will inspire your writing, you give yourself the competitive edge in a very competitive industry. Try checking out Orson Scott Card’s Ender series or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
If science fiction and fantasy aren’t your jam, try Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Lemony Snicket, Fyodor Dostoevsky, or Charles Bukowski. No matter who or what you love to read, reading more and writing more will both help you flex and build your storytelling muscles, and enjoy more compelling stories in no time.
Remember: you don’t have to tie yourself into a particular genre or brand, either: just find an author you love to read and go with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re hooked on presidential biographies or fantasy novels, just as long as you’re reading.
4. Treat Your Brand Like an Epic Tale
Think about fairy tales for a moment: they’re some of the most archetypal stories out there.
Each of them has a few things in common: a separation, initiation, and return, and a series of characters that typically includes some assortment of a wise old sage, a young hero, an animal assistant, and a villain. While stories like The Little Mermaid and Bluebeard may seem very different, they share some key ingredients that make them work.
If you want to incorporate storytelling into your web content, one of the first things you’ll need to learn to do is to take a hint from these epics: treat your brand as a story for the ages, and it will become one.
When you look at it this way, your brand launch wasn’t just a launch: it was a great quest for a distant goal. Your founders aren’t just founders, they’re adventurers paving new roads. The problem you’re seeking to solve isn’t just an annoyance: it’s a foundational villain you’re out to destroy.
The more you can incorporate the storytelling structure into your content, the more successful you’ll be both in the long- and short-term.
While this doesn’t mean you need to use fantastical language or create fantastical demons to star in your product descriptions, it does mean that incorporating the structure of storytelling into your daily life can help you master the art of online copy.
5. Craft a Narrative Arc
For the stories in your online copy to be as compelling as possible, they need to follow a narrative arc that takes them from the introduction to the conflict to resolution. Not only does this keep the reader interested: it also serves to structure your story and makes it more recognizable as a story than as marketing copy.
Keep the narrative arc in mind as you write your stories, since this will provide the foundation and roadmap they need to become truly unforgettable.
If you’re having a difficult time finding the narrative arc in your story, consider having someone else read it for you. The second set of eyes will be helpful to identify storytelling structure and help you improve it accordingly.
Happy Storytelling to You!
You’ve read the tips for interweaving stories with your web content, and now it’s time to get to work integrating the age-old practice of storytelling into your daily writing and life.
Need an example of a brand that does storytelling well?
Look no further than Starbucks!
The coffee chain released a story about their siren logo and how it came to be within their brand. Are you surprised they pulled it from literature? Or that people loved its inception story so much?
Telling a story about your brand and how it came to be is a great way to garner more interest in your company, as well as establish a personal connection with customers. When you master it accordingly, your readers and your brand both stand to benefit far beyond your wildest dreams.
What’s more, telling a story is one of the only ways to hone your writing, improve your brand, and make your products, goods, and services unforgettable to your customers.
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