A good story provokes the brain, stirs emotion and persuades action, and this should be the ultimate goal for all content marketing produced for an organisation. How well this goal is achieved comes down to how well the story has been crafted. While some people are naturally gifted at spinning a compelling yarn, others deliver the facts in semi-conscious streams of thought, unable to be interpreted by even the most curious of minds.
For those less gifted, there are ways to fake it. Or rather there is a formula to follow that will ensure your story is told in a way that is both entertaining and easily understood. It all starts with a plan. A story plan needs to consider and cover off the ‘who, what, when, why and how’ (remember that jewel from primary school?). Who will be reading, watching or listening to your story? What medium will they be using? When will you publish? Why are you telling them a story? How do you get them to take action?
A sharp angle
Once you have noted these key points down, you need to look for your angle. Ideally, you want to reveal what makes you, your company, or product special and interesting. Emotion has to be included. Nostalgia and inspiration work well when there is no new product or obvious lead to get you started.
Pick your protagonist
The easiest way to create emotion is to write in the first person. For example, when I was starting out as a consultant, it was a leap in my personal and professional development. I remember thinking ‘This is it, I am on my own. I’ve handed in my formal resignation’.
Feeling a sense of excitement for the unknown and relief leaving a role that I had grown out of, I was also feeling the pressure of having two babies at home, and no corporate perks like paid holidays, sick days and that sense of security that a regular pay-cheque provides. Most importantly, I felt a devastating fear of failure. If this doesn’t work out, how will I ever cope with failure? But the energy I felt that day was un-paralleled to anything else I had experienced in my working life. The lid holding in my creative capacity had been lifted. That’s how I knew that I would make this happen; this would work.
There is a formula to follow that will ensure your story is told in a way that is both entertaining and easily understood.
By writing in the first person emotion is created. It is more interesting than saying “Amanda handed in her resignation, and is now a consultant”. It has also enabled me to paint a protagonist for the story of my business. People identify with people over companies.
Creating emotional engagement
A PwC report from 2016 entitled ‘Can you feel it? Why brands must focus on emotional connection’, finds that, “Emotions can exert a more powerful behavioral effect than purely rational decision making.” Aside from writing in the first person, successful brands target underlying emotional needs of their consumers that may not necessarily be obvious. As the PwC report explains, this is significantly different from having consumers simply like your brand.
There are numerous examples of brands successfully engaging with emotions and subsequently achieving consumer loyalty. For instance, UK brand Andrex (known in Australia as Cottonelle Kleenex) is renowned for its endearing advertising, which features adorable, bounding Labradors. This key piece of marketing — while coming across as simply cute — speaks to the underlying human emotions of love and joy. It’s no coincidence that Andrex, which is worth more than £1 billion, has become the UK’s biggest non-food selling brand in a grocery category.
Another example is Qantas, which, in 2014 launched its ‘Feels Like Home’ campaign. By pairing poignant music with tales of travellers journeying home, the brand tapped into the underlying emotional need for connection. After posting its biggest-ever loss of $2.8 billion in 2014, the national airline posted record underlying profit before tax of $1.53 billion in 2016.
The rule of 3
After creating an emotional connection, the next consideration is the rule of 3. The rule of 3 is a writing principle that things are funnier, catchier and more memorable when listed as 3. ‘Just do it’, ‘3 little pigs’, ‘blood, sweat and tears’ (which was originally said by Winston Churchill and was actually blood, sweat, toil and tears, but 3 items are more easily remembered).
The reason why the rule of 3 works is that 3 words creates a rhythm and provides enough information to form a memorable pattern. The rule of 3 can be applied as 3 words, sentences, or paragraphs. At the very least, your story will have 3 acts: the beginning, the middle and the end.
Finally, after you have used emotion to relate to your audience, introduced an interesting protagonist to follow, and used the rule of 3 to make your point memorable — your story will come together. Back this up with an active voice and your story, whether written, filmed or illustrated, will command attention and give an insight into who, how and what makes you special, and can form as the anchor for future content marketing.