How to Be a Good Storyteller: 3 Things Content Marketers Can Learn from Professional Wrestling
Marketing Content Strategy

How to Be a Good Storyteller: 3 Things Content Marketers Can Learn from Professional Wrestling

Great storytelling should be a priority for any brand that invests in content marketing. After a marketer reviews the data, identifies themes, and defines the audience, the story becomes the vehicle through which all that information is filtered, structured, and delivered. But what elements make a story successful? I could turn to my background in book publishing to walk you through it, but instead, let’s investigate how to be a good storyteller using something more fun: professional wrestling.

Hulk HoganWrestling is a theatrical world, and stories are “the propane that fuels intrigue and enhances ratings, pay-per-view buy rates, and in turn the overall product itself,” writes Alfred Konuwa for Bleacher Report. Unfortunately, he continues, “Writer burnout and a lack of fresh ideas have given way to some pretty ridiculous story lines. However, when all the pieces are in the right places, a wrestling story line can truly be a thing of beauty, intensifying the ultimate athletic showdown while adding quality to the pro wrestling spectacle itself.”

But what are “all the pieces”? Learning how to be a good storyteller means mastering three distinct elements: the protagonist, the challenge, and the payoff. To determine what that means for content marketing, let’s travel back to 1987. I’ll break it down using the story of Hulk Hogan defending his World Heavyweight Championship title against challenger André the Giant at WrestleMania III.

1. The Hero Creates a Connection

Whether you follow the WWE or not, you know Hulk Hogan. His hair and physique are immediately recognizable, and the “Hulkamania” he inspires is legendary. He’s also one of the most well-known heroes—known as “faces” in story lines, while the villains are “heels”—to grace sports entertainment, credited by Den of Geek! with taking “professional wrestling from a niche form of entertainment to an empire-building phenomenon.”

Your content needs a hero like Hogan. When he entered the ring to face André the Giant, the record 93,173 fans cheering him on gave him power. If you can “create a character that the members of your audience understand, aspire to be, or would love to meet,” writes Michelle Manafy for Inc., then it will lend similar power to your brand. That character can be a person, but it doesn’t have to be: When the eSight Corporation loaned a blind woman a pair of special glasses so she could see her newborn baby, the company certainly was not a 6′ 7″ Super Destroyer—but it was the hero of the day.

2. The Conflict Hooks Your Audience

André the GiantAndré the Giant wasn’t ever supposed to be a bad guy. Heck, later in 1987, he debuted as the beloved giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride. But in a Piper’s Pit interview segment during which André was presented a trophy for being the only wrestler who had never been pinned or forced to submit, Hogan stole his thunder—and a conflict was born.

The stakes in wrestling are for entertainment only—the fights are scripted and outcomes generally predetermined—but the audience bought into this rivalry. While Hogan entered the ring to applause and cheers, André was booed and pelted with trash.

Positioning your product or service as the solution to your audience’s problem puts you in Hogan’s corner. There’s no need to throw garbage at your competitors, but you can and should use content to ensure the audience knows you’re the best at what you do. In this blog post, application security provider Veracode positions its cloud-based solution as “darn near magical,” saying it resolves “an issue that’s caused many a decision maker to lose sleep over the years.” What CISO with a hacker problem—that is, a conflict—wouldn’t at least click through to see whether Veracode could be his hero?

3. The Ending Shows Value

One juicy legend surrounding WrestleMania III goes like this: Some people say that no one, not even WWF owner Vince McMahon, knew who was going to win this title championship. Instead, it was determined that if Hogan could slam André, he would win. If he couldn’t, André would be the victor. Though Hogan had slammed André seven years prior, the latter had been lighter and more athletic (he was 50 pounds heavier by 1987, and his health had begun to deteriorate—he even wore a back brace beneath his wrestling singlet).

In actuality, André had agreed to lose the match and allow Hogan to slam him, but the audience had no idea. When Hogan clotheslined André, scoop-slammed him, and then won the match with a leg-drop finisher, the crowd got the payoff they had been waiting for: their hero had beaten a giant! This moment, which ended André’s reign as the only “undefeated” wrestler, went on to be known as “the slam heard ’round the world.”

In content marketing storytelling, you need your own earth-shattering slam—a satisfying ending that demonstrates your brand’s value. Take, for example, this Doritos “Cowboy Kid” commercial:

Talk about a come-from-behind victory! Much like Hogan—who, believe it or not, was an underdog against the 520-pound André—the younger brother in this ad “Hulks up” and delivers an ending that gives the audience something to cheer about.

Now that you know how to be a good storyteller, look at your intended audience, their potential problems, and the solutions your product or service presents. Once you identify how these three elements fit your story, go tell it. I’ll be here, ready to read.

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