Stop Marketing. Tell Stories!
Are you getting beat up by your clients because they’re not seeing results from your marketing? Maybe it’s not your keyword selections. Possibly it has nothing to do with focusing on Instagram instead of Pinterest. And, likely it has little to do with the subject lines you’re choosing for email campaigns.
It’s time to take a closer look at your storytelling. The reason you should look here is because it’s not that you’re failing to get in front of the people who should be converting—they just don’t give a rip about what you’re telling them. And, it’s because you’re trying to sell them a solution before they’re even ready to hear about it.
I have a problem
If we all knew the solution to our problems, it’s what we would enter in our search queries—but that’s not how the journey begins. Prospects begin their search for a solution by first seeking out validation. I have a problem, and I want to know more about it. What can you tell me about my problem?
Selling begins with establishing a relationship. Establishing a relationship begins with defining a common goal. And, the common goal of anyone you will eventually sell to is based on the foundation that you understand the problem a prospect is trying to get more perspective about.
If your email campaign is all about the solution, how does that establish a relationship? All prospects want at this point is a demonstration that you get where they’re coming from. They want you to tell them more about their problem. They want proof. They want validation that you understand their pain.
As a marketer with an active sales funnel, you must have a deep level of content communicating different things to people at specific points as they move from prospect to customer, and eventually to advocate. The deepest level of storytelling must revolve around the problem, and not your solution.
Who’s really doing the chasing?
Agencies often assume the role of casting the net on behalf of their clients. But, it’s not your job. You want to be caught in the net. It’s the prospect who’s doing the active searching, and the objective is to make them feel as if they were successful in discovering you.
To do that, they must come across content clearly demonstrating you understand their pain point—and it needs to come from your heart and gut. If you can’t prove you’ve been there, too, how is a prospect supposed to believe that your product or service is a real solution?
It’s why most marketing is ineffective. It focuses on the what and the how, instead of the why. It’s time to turn your approach upside-down, and get to the heart of storytelling. Think about your favorite stories. From fairytales and legends to blockbuster movies. They all start with a problem.
Meet John Montagu
It’s the year 1748, and the Fourth Earl of Sandwich—John Montagu—has a problem.
He’s a British politician who also happens to be an aristocrat, but he’s not really that good at either. What he’s most interested in is gambling and playing cards. And eating
Anyone who’s ever tried to eat and play cards at the same time knows these two activities don’t quite mesh. That was certainly John Montagu’s problem. So, he set out to find a solution to his problem. It turned out that pieces of beef between two slices of toasted bread was the answer. He could hold it in one hand and his cards in the other.
Will you ever forget discovering who’s responsible for the invention of the sandwich? That is, if you’re just learning about John Montagu for the first time here. You’ll retain this information because you learned why he found it necessary to invent the sandwich—now how he did it.
Here’s why you’ll retain this information—and also why prospects engage and convert when you apply the power of storytelling.
1. When someone subjects you to marketing that’s all about how and what, you’re just getting facts and figures. Only two areas of your brain are activated. They’re known as the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s areas. They deal with language processing. No other part of your brain is engaged.
2. When you read or are told a story—such as the one about the Earl of Sandwich—a multitude of additional sections of your bran light up. The most important section being your sensory cortex. A story puts your entire brain to work processing what you read, watch, or hear. Here’s what’s powerful about this: your brain then processes the story as if you are actually experiencing what you are consuming.
3. This occurs because your brain evolved using narrative thinking. Everything your brain processes is in the form of a story, and the premise of every story is cause and effect. Problem, and then solution. We retain and accept what we read, watch or hear when your brain finds and links it to a cause and effect relationship of something we’ve already experienced.
When you take these three elements and combine them into your content—whether it’s a direct email campaign, a blog article, an explainer video or even an interactive quiz, you help prospects place your value proposition into their world view. But, only because you lead with the problem—that thing they went searching for in the first place.
So, storytelling is just as much science as it is art
And, maybe even more about science. What’s more, we humans are better at storytelling than we are about marketing. After all, we’ve been telling stories since we mastered the concept of language. It’s tens of thousands of years old.
We stumble when we put on our marketing caps because we prioritize the wrong elements. We lead with our solution and we illustrate it with what and how. Plus, we likely trip over the technical aspects of sentence structure and grammar.
History’s greatest storytellers break all the rules. Take Ernest Hemingway, for example. He went out of his way to avoid descriptive language in his writing. Good luck trying to find adjectives or adverbs. Hemingway instinctively knew the second point of the science behind storytelling. He knew his readers would process what they read as if they were experiencing it themselves—and they preferred to keep that process of discovery for themselves. They would insert whatever descriptive language they needed to fit the story into their worldview.
Hemingway had another reason. Short sentences produce clarity. They make for fast reading. You’ll zoom through his novels. He’d have made a great blogger or agency email campaign writer.
The best-selling author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once offered this advice about writing. “As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare. The longest word is three letters long.”
What do all these quite-dead writers have to do with your digital marketing efforts? They were masterful storytellers, and they’re proof that simple stories with uncomplicated writing work best. Storytelling is better than marketing because it sticks in our brains. We are literally hardwired to engage with storytelling.
Need another benefit? Simple, unadorned sentences position you as sincere. And, what’s more important than sincerity when you’re trying to establish a relationship? Marketers fall back on being entertaining when they focus on how and what. But the true story isn’t what your brand is or what how it works—it’s about why it exists.
Marketing is nothing more…
Successful marketing is nothing more than passionate storytelling. It starts with establishing that you understand the problem. It creates the foundation of a future relationship where, yes, you ultimately will do some marketing. Prospects are curious to know more about you. Customers want reasons to justify their relationship with you. Storytelling accomplishes this.
And, storytelling is a lot of hard work. The perfectly crafted short sentences didn’t just roll off the top of Hemingway’s head and onto his fountain pen or typewriter. He was fond of telling people that he worked like hell to clear the excess away. Hemingway also had a particular distaste for commas.
You’ve got plenty of competition. They can match your price. Anything you can do they can do just as well. Except tell your story. And, what sparks the connection with projects is communicating why you do what you do.
Storytelling sets the course of a self-directed journey. Prospects will take the next exit if they feel they’re not in control—which is precisely what occurs if marketing has a focus on your product or service instead of their problem.
Storytelling is about relationship-building. It accomplishes what most marketing fails to do. It validates that you understand a prospect’s problem, and you’ve successfully solved it yourself. The irony is that the story you to tell the most is about yourself. And you will—further along the sales funnel. But if your marketing leads with the solution, you’re prescribing medicine before you’ve even asked your prospect where it hurts.
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