Of Stories and Content: the Devil is Not in Detail. Look for Intent.

“Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”Alan Kay, Hewlett-Packard Executive, Co-founder of Xerox PARC

Want a story?

I like stories. Everyone does. If you want me to listen to you after your 8 seconds is up, you better have some anecdotes. I am not asking for dramatic elements like in Oedipex Rex, or the Republic TV. But, it should make me relate, produce an ‘aha’ or, at the very least make me curious for ‘what next’. If you can’t do that, ‘Sorry buddy, I have a better place to be’. This is the case for every reader. Scientists have measured it. As per the latest finding, we have lost patience, more than half of what we had, less than a decade ago. In early 2000, we could stay tuned to something for 12 seconds and now we get exasperated in just eight!

And when attention spans are shrinking our demand on audiences is increasing. We want them to listen to us. We want their mindshare. We want a good share of their wallet. Tough ask!

But even the most distracted kid settles down to listen to a good story. So, why not bring storytelling to business? When you write the content, you tick off a requirement, but when you tell a story, you engage. Why not build a differentiated voice? You have the opportunity to rise above the similar sounding marketing campaigns and craft engaging stories, that bring your audience along?

Now, how do you go around finding a storyteller? How would you even spot a Storyteller? Well, these species are not so hard to find, if you look intently.

You must dig deep and look beyond the obvious to find the right one, committed to the craft and respectful of intent. The only way to identify storytellers from content writers is by reading them. There is no easy way to do this. You cannot judge them on the basis of the domain or topics that they write on, as storytelling is not creative writing. It is domain or genre-agnostic.

Take storytellers who write on technology, finance, banking, or analytics for instance. They make even your straight-laced sales figures, technical reports, and instructional content sing. They do this by building context and creating opportunities for audiences to relate, and remember, long after they close the tab on their browser. What is storytelling then? That brings me to my next point. Anyone can be a good storyteller. It needs no excellent vocabulary, qualification, or years of experience. But, not every writer you see is a storyteller.

Let me explain. Selling Vs Buying

Content is focused on selling what you have in your cart. Storytelling is making the customer yearn to buy the product. This is not magic. This is the power of listening. This is the strength of observation. You sell because you know why your customer yearns to buy and how.

The good old principle of show and not tell is at the heart of good storytelling. A story is driven by context, carried forward by the protagonist while the anti-hero or a complication adds a twist to the plot. The same applies in the context of marketing narrative or communication for teams within an organization. The purpose of a story is to empathize, understand, and deliver a message that resonates with the audience. A good story builds anticipation, grabs attention, and invokes a desire to act. Remember the Bagpiper?

Information Vs Communication

Now when you pick up a datasheet or a service brochure, you get every information out there. There are numbers, facts, details, comparisons, validations. Everything. Every ingredient for a perfect dish. But that’s it, you have a platter full of ingredients. The dish is yet to appear. A good story will harmonize all the ingredients, blend them masterfully to enhance flavors, and bring a deliciously charming dish on the table, enticing you with both presentation and taste. Your datasheet is now elevated, well from being a datasheet to a perfectly weaved story of your product or service offering. You get the difference, right?

An average content piece is not obsessed with mattering to the audience, making them remember their own personal experiences or pulling them along to show a brief picture. Storytellers, in contrast, put themselves out there so that they can evoke their audience’s own experience, to make them think, and connect. There are a lot other ways in which storytelling is different from other kinds of writing, but that’s a story for another day. Next time you read a piece that invokes a desire in you to connect with the product or service and become their advocate, you know there’s a storyteller somewhere around. Don’t you want to know who?

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