In La La Land—one of my favorite films—Emma Stone’s character gets called into an audition for a movie in Paris and is instructed to do one thing by the two casting agents: “Tell us a story.” She stares for a few seconds and then begins. “My aunt used to live in Paris. I remember she would come home and tell us stories about being abroad…” She had us at “My aunt.”
The late, great novelist Pat Conroy—author of The Prince of Tides and The Water Is Wide (made into the excellent film Conrack with Jon Voight)—said that “the most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story.'” It still resonates today in all sorts of ways.
At our AMPLIFY Content & Marketing Summit in June, storytelling consultant Randy Ford and Alexis Redmond, senior director of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association for ASHA, presented a session on storytelling and its much-welcomed place in our B2B and association world.
Ford talked about the Rule of Threes in storytelling—“For many centuries we have been wired to take things in with a beginning, middle and end,” he said. “We are all looking for that end when we are looking at stories. And that is very often that Call to Action if you’re doing B2B or association writing.”
Everyone has a different lived experience, he said. “The best you can do is to try to understand what you can about them, which is why data is so important in the publishing we do because we need to know who we’re communicating with and the kind of experiences they’re bringing. And you change your message based on who that is.”
Here are some tips on storytelling from Redmond, Ford and others:
Get members/subscribers to tell their stories. Redmond talked about the previous work she had done at ASHA managing their Career Portal, hosting Instagram Live Stories with members. “When it came to the lived experience of our members and work settings, us saying certain things didn’t have the same weight as members talking to members. I had to make sure I understood my audience and also knew when to pass them the mic to get the point across.”
Look at social media as a vehicle. “The one magical thing about stories—and especially from the horse’s mouth—is that it makes it approachable and engaging, and that it’s not an insurmountable task where only the perfect can have access to these,” Redmond said. “With the [Instagram Live] series, we were able to show the various aspects of the lived experience in different work settings. Story allows you a lot of dimensions and multi-facets.” She posted an example of their 90-second videos of How I Got the Job. “These said, ‘I understand what you’re going through; I know how hard it is—here’s how you do it. Here’s how you expand what story can do’—not just here’s the evidence, here’s the data point, but a person you can point to. ‘I know her, I know her story’; now you can remember that.”
Be careful with humor. “Humor can be unifying or divisive,” Redmond said. “If that’s you, it’s fine. It’s not my husband. If you’re failing [in using] it, it’s awkward.” Added Ford: “It comes back to listening to your audience—if that’s what they want or need.” Someone in the audience offered a remembrance. “My first boss used to pledge ‘sincerity’ to me. ‘It’s all about that,’ he said. ‘Put it on the mirror when you’re shaving. Sincerity. Once you can fake that you have it made.’”
Celebrate. Three years ago, Mario Garcia, a Columbia professor and author of the book, The Story, closed his well-received BIMS keynote by saying: “The takeaway is if you have a good story, people will stay with you… I don’t sit here and lament what was. I celebrate what is. These are the best times to be a storyteller, but you have to explore all that is there.” I’ve also often heard managers say that it’s important to celebrate successes—probably even more so in these remote times.
Develop a plan for measurement. From a whitepaper titled What You Need to Know About Storytelling in Marketing from the Atlanta chapter of the American Marketing Association: “Be prepared to isolate the data that matters to your storytelling efforts. Then analyze what messages had an impact, which ones didn’t and where there is room for optimization. Also, leverage this data to get a better picture of your customer and where there are opportunities to extend the relationship to create stronger, even lifelong, connections.”
Build a framework. Also from that whitepaper: “Stay true to your brand story by creating a framework or a charter that your internal and external teams can use when acting as the voice of the brand. This will ensure that your narrative stays authentic and consistent across your brand’s entire marketing ecosystem.”
You can purchase videos of the Ford/Redmond session and all the other great AMPLIFY Content & Marketing Summit sessions on demand here.