By Matt Pigott - July 8th, 2016

The first installment of our three-part series on content and the art of brand storytelling

It is impossible to talk about great storytelling and content delivery without talking about the importance of language, both written and spoken. While it's fairly straightforward to tell a story in pictures, eventually the mind reaches out for words to describe and explain things. This is the essence of storytelling.

Survival of the chattiest

The drive to communicate through telling stories is hardwired into the human brain. It’s a lucky gift, and arguably an accidental one, that has enabled Homo sapiens to outwit the brawniest of beasts with the sharpest of claws. Verbal communication has continued to evolve over hundreds of thousands of years to become the most useful survival tool at our disposal.

Being equipped to tell people what we want, without pointing or averting our eyes from a threat, has ensured our success as a species. And, historically, when opposing sides finally put down their swords, it was into a world of words – albeit carefully chosen ones – that they were transported.

26 letters: a billion brand stories

For brands, this is the number one consideration. Which words from that half-a-million coined from 26 simple letters should be selected to engender conversation and spawn remuneration?

Brand managers are faced with the daunting task of taking the choicest words and placing them side-by-side, in the right order to formulate a story – to hook the audience and hold them.

The survival story leans heavily on the art of persuasion, and to persuade, one must have a decent story ready to deploy.

The problem with paraphrasing

Trouble is, words are slippery little suckers? They slither and slide over each other like eels in a tub; they dive, shimmy and switch like a bait ball of sardines reflected in the eye of a nearby shark. The right word one moment, when suddenly and unexpectedly juxtaposed with another, becomes entirely the wrong word.

Words are fickle, mercurial, capricious, spiteful things! This is the main reason the wastepaper basket never sits far from the wordsmith’s desk. Despite all this, we want them, need them, daresay even – as they turn kicking screaming away from us – love them. But why? Perhaps it is because they are the threads that become the fabric of each and every story that engages the customer, turning him or her, by gentle persuasion, from a browser into a buyer. Without words, without stories, the idea of meaning ceases.

Speak to the emotions

But what is the litmus test of a good story, well told? Firstly, it must strike a chord at the emotional level. It’s no good stimulating the mind if you can’t reach in and touch the heart. Secondly, it must achieve the purpose of driving those whose minds and hearts it resonates with to take some sort of positive action. Noteworthy here is that a call to action alone isn't much good if a good story doesn't precede it.

The letter that lined the pockets of WSJ

Take the following example, a powerful letter that illustrates the power of a good story to drive business to stratospheric heights. The introduction, the meat of the story, is just 123 words. Combined with the easy yet persuasive 340 word call-to-action that follows, the ‘billion dollar letter’, as it’s come to be known, was so named because, in its 25 years of continuous use, that’s how much money it generated in subscriptions for the Wall Street Journal.

A tale of telepathy

The writer Steven King in his book On Writing said that writing is telepathy, adding: ‘all the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation.’

Over twenty-five years, the ‘billion dollar letter’ never changed; the timeless story was sent out  over and over, communicating the same simple message to many thousands of people, invariably eliciting the same head/heart response that inspired action and got great fiscal results for WSJ.

Put another way good story takes the complexities of life and presents them in logical, cohesive, usually linear form that resonates with the wide range of complex human emotions.

Google: sexing up 'search' through storytelling

Brands that have a grasp of telling a good story have a better chance of positively influencing consumer decisions. Squeezing the essence from what sits at the heart of your brand, then synthesizing it through the lens of clear thinking into a compelling narrative, is an invaluable skill.

Google’s ‘Parisian Love’ is a perfect example of storytelling that takes something as apparently mundane as a search engine and gives it a romantic twist. Other innovative marketing campaigns by Google focus on how searches can become stories. Google’s use of the human stories to personalize its brand have helped give meaning to the meaningless. Google has hung a trinket in its window, to remind the viewer that the window is there. Transparency, after all, is one thing, ignorance of a brand is another. Once in a while it pays to remind the world that your brand is there by using a little sleight of hand.

Find out more on this topic in next week’s installment of content and the art of brand storytelling: a three-part series

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