Over the next few minutes, I’ll bring you through my emotional storytelling discovery process—and give you the tools you need to write better content. But first, back to Yahoo!
Sometimes when faced with difficult questions, instead of using available research channels, I turn to average people for answers. In marketing, we tend to get stuck in our industry bubbles, and a straightforward answer can be hard to come by. MRY’s Chief Marketing Officer David Berkowitz described a similar revelation in his HubSpot Inbound presentation.
Berkowitz laments, “I’m a storyteller at a storytelling company helping deeper-pocketed storytellers tell their stories, and then I go on the road and tell stories about all that while listening to others’ stories until it’s time to go to bed and do the whole thing over again. This is my existence.”
In the end, a story goes nowhere and offers no value unless a relationship with the reader is established, Berkowitz concludes. Similarly, the four responses I encountered on Yahoo! Answers suggested that characters are what make a story great. Relatable, interesting, complicated characters fuel curiosity.
These somewhat anonymous Yahoo! users are on to something—but what makes a good character great?
For the answer to this question, I turned to two completely unrelated sources:
(There’s a point here, I promise!)
In his 2012 TED Talk, Stanton explains,”Storytelling is joke telling. It’s knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.”
He further contends that characters play a vital role in emotional storytelling. A well-drawn character has a spine; something that drives his or her actions throughout the narrative. Stanton describes this as an itch that the character can’t scratch. That “itch” is so critical to any good story because no matter how fantastic a character is—no matter how futuristic the setting or scene—human traits are what connect readers and listeners to the stories they hear. Audiences need to relate to, believe in, and care about characters for any story to truly resonate.
At about the same time I was searching Yahoo! Answers and listening to Stanton’s TED Talk, social buzz was booming around a Craigslist ad created by two women in Manhattan. The words were funny, but the ad’s uncomfortable realism drove the Web nuts. From the justification as to why the authors need boyfriends to the requirements and activities they outline, the truth emerges that this ad is largely based on observations. The story is good because it’s funny; it’s great because it’s relatable.
Kurt Vonnegut once said that a great story has at least one character the reader can relate to. That’s easy in the entertainment industry, in Craigslist ads, and even in children’s movies like Finding Nemo. Is it just as easy in content marketing?
What makes a good story great for business? When the content marketer makes the customer the hero or heroine. Here are three businesses that do this exceptionally well:
By now, saying that General Electric is great at emotional storytelling borders on cliché—but the company merits a shout-out. In a recent Content Marketing World presentation by GE’s Katrina Craigwell, the idea of giving influencers and cultural icons the wheel when it comes to driving brand storytelling came to a head as she played the company’s “Drop Science – Matthew Dear + The Sounds of GE” campaign video (see below).
Craigwell and the team at GE put Matthew Dear, a well-known DJ, at the center of a new campaign that, at its core, is cool. While the surface of the story focuses on Dear’s music-making abilities, throughout the story line, GE adds compelling insight into the power of acoustics. For example, GE uses the technology to tell, far in advance, if there’s an underlying issue with any of its equipment.
Google For Work, formerly Google Enterprise, turns its Google Maps customers into champions of innovation and work efficiencies through its See Further campaign. Built to hold six installments, the See Further campaign profiles thought leaders within enterprise organizations and gives them a platform on which to amplify their Maps-related strategies—resulting in stories such as how Maps helped one nation prepare and respond to national disaster, or how an organization used Maps to inform stakeholders about product integrity. These beautifully crafted stories give authentic characters the spotlight and allow them to tell their stories to the masses, building loyalty and credibility among Google’s audience at once.
“Storytelling is at the heart of the Jack Daniel’s brand,” Client Brand Director Laura Petry tells Adweek. “Everyone loves a good bar story. I do. You do. Your mom probably does, too. It’s a shared experience and part of the reason we all go to bars in the first place. A great story is the trophy of a great night out. So it made sense to document and share these great stories with the world.”
And that’s exactly what Jack Daniel’s did in its Tales of Mischief, Revelry and Whiskey campaign, which features seven videos, 11 audio stories, and six written articles that aren’t scripted and feature real bar stories from around the United States.
Designed as an immersive content experience, Jack Daniel’s campaign not only pulls you in, but it makes you feel as if you’re at the bar with the storyteller. It makes you want to pour yourself a glass of whiskey—or two—before heading out with friends. See an example here:
I’ll ask it again: What makes a good story great? Whether you’re looking for an answer on Yahoo!, on Craigslist, or from household brands, it’s always the characters—often inspired by you. The average consumer makes stories emotional, funny, engaging, and ultimately transactional in the business world.