As an associate editor at Skyword, I read all day. Some articles are more interesting than others, and there are some topics that seemingly leave no room for pizzazz.
I say seemingly, because, in my experience, expert storytelling techniques, extra brain power, and an exceptional writer can come together to make almost any article a story—and in some cases, a very moving story at that. (I specifically remember copy editing a piece so powerful that it made me tear up right there at my desk.)
The thing about content creation is this: brands are up against their audiences’ deep-rooted, highly acute senses of cynicism. That means telling an authentic story that moves an audience to take action in favor of your brand is increasingly difficult, especially for brands whose content strategies center around true storytelling. Swaying readers today takes mastery of the art of story form, respect, and delicacy in walking the fine line between a piece that compels a person to act, and a piece that brute-force demands they do (a fine line that, in many cases, is defined by the tactful use of a call to action [CTA]).
Today, let’s take a look at three powerful ways you can use story to motivate your readers to act, through the lenses of the brands who use them best.
Eukanuba, the well-known dog food company, has devoted a section of its site to real stories of pet parents and their canine companions. Once such story was “Eukanuba Effect: Partners in Crime—Dudley.”
This three-minute video features Lucas and his pup, Dudley. Lucas suffered from cancer, and Dudley was there every step of the way, acting as his unofficial therapy dog. When Lucas regained his health, he realized that Dudley’s had declined; he put on a few pounds and his energy levels dipped.
It was then that Lucas committed to keeping his pal on a diet of Eukanuba and a daily exercise regimen, so he could get back to his old self. Lucas mentions the Eukanuba product by name, which acts as the call to action.
It’s easy enough for a company’s stories to fall into a predictable pattern: you have a problem + you’re looking for a solution = buy this product. Following this formula, inexperienced content marketers can manufacture articles at incredible speeds. Manufacturing, though, is cold. To make readers engage, the writer and the brand as a whole need to make a commitment to thoughtful content creation through the incorporation of good storytelling techniques. When a story respects its readers and organically incorporates a CTA that serves more as a helpful option than as a demand, the resulting quality is practically palpable.
Patagonia’s blog The Cleanest Line acts as the antithesis of a blog with a standard CTA, in that it doesn’t have one. That’s because Patagonia crafts a lifestyle through its storytelling techniques. Bill Boland, an executive at Patagonia, said that the apparel company’s content creation approach steers clear of the “hard sell.”
For instance, even from the many (and stunning) photos in the article Power of Possible: Climbing with Polio in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it’s unclear if the subjects are even sporting Patagonia gear; there isn’t a logo in sight. Instead of tooting its own horn, The Cleanest Line tells true stories to drive action. After perusing just a few articles, even newbies to the outdoors may be inspired to visit Albania and bring a Patagonia fleece or backpack along for the journey.
The second equation a novice marketer can be sucked into is the boilerplate CTA that concludes a powerful story with something like this: “If this content is relevant to you, request a demo today!” Endings like these are basically interrupt advertisements—suddenly, it’s in the reader’s face that all along, they weren’t engaging in a story. Rather, they just spent six minutes of their lives reading a commercial.
Often, the first step readers take to engage with your content is when they discover it on social and subscribe, like, follow, pin, etc. From there, social media campaigns can take the hands of those who are interested, lead them to stories that speak to them, and inspire them to take action.
Tom’s may be equally known for its comfy shoes and for its endeavors to make the world a better place. One tradition that’s proven successful is its yearly #withoutshoes Instagram campaign. It’s simple: snap an Insta of your bare feet and share it with the hashtag #withoutshoes. Then, Tom’s will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for each tag. In May 2016, 27,435 children received new shoes, thanks to the campaign.
A campaign that simple clearly worked for Tom’s. Not only did it do good in the world, but it elevated brand awareness. Hashtags are interactive calls-to-action. Inspire your followers to engage in a cause larger than your company. In the process, fans may respect the business as a whole, feel connected to its mission and be thrilled to be a character in its story.
All in all, a story has more marketing value than a keyword-stuffed collection of buzzwords that pleases search engine bots. Readers aren’t robots. So it doesn’t do to appeal to them with content that could’ve been created by one.