Story-telling has become all the rage in recent years in the marketing arena. And yet, as you dig deeper, you realize it means different things to different people. To a writer of fiction, a story must have well developed characters and a conflict to be resolved. To a journalist, a story must hook the reader in the first sentence. For sales people, a presentation must tell a story that buyers can relate to. Are these versions of storytelling all on the same page? I decided to look at what some classic storytellers have to say about the makings of a good story, and see how their ideas apply to the task of marketing technology through storytelling.
Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life.
Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director. Media Psychology Research Center
Dr. Rutledge cuts right to the heart of it. Stories convey meaning – deep, life-affirming meaning at their best, or just “aha” realizations at their simplest. As marketers, we have to create the stories that help our audience make meaning out of the products we’re selling. Just as the story of a hero on an epic journey can help readers see the meaning of life’s struggle, stories about particular business challenges can help technology buyers see the value of a product that helps them solve those challenges. The key as storyteller is to build a narrative where the struggle is familiar but also significant to the reader.
All story is manipulation. The kind of narrative I subscribe to trusts in the possibility that people can change. I hope this is a positive version of manipulation.
Ken Burns, Documentary film director
Just because Ken Burns creates documentaries doesn’t mean he just lays out the bare facts for his audience. There is much more to his craft, and Burns’ genius lies in his creative manipulation of the story – appealing to universal human aspirations, and playing the facts like a guitarist plays strings to create the desired human emotions. While people in more technical roles sometimes describe marketing as ‘spin’ or ‘slick’, the reality is that marketers should be proud of their skill in ‘spinning’ a good story. Marketing manipulation is exactly what’s required to turn the complex and often dry facts about technology into a story that inspires and resonates with the audience.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist
Vonnegut’s quote is colorful, for sure. And it’s only one of his 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story. For marketers, the advice can be translated as “know your audience.” For a marketer’s story to land well and help the intended audience make the right buying decision, it has to address a single persona, and understand what that audience cares about and what will resonate with them. A story that gets pneumonia by addressing too broad an audience will leave the product it tries to sell out in the cold.
Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.
Mark Twain, Author
You gotta love Mark Twain for painting a mental picture. Whenever possible, he says, Show, don’t Tell. In tech marketing, this means let customers speak for you, demonstrate actual results, or let pictures tell your story. I’ll say no more, as the quote says it best.