Once upon a time, a Southerly editor went to a half-day YCN workshop. This session, hosted by the marvellous Anna Kiernan, was devised to give a group of bright-eyed marketing and advertising professionals an improved understanding of the value of storytelling, and the knacks necessary to weave tantalising tales into the very fabric of their marketing material.

Just like the various stories that will no doubt emerge as a result of the course’s teachings, the workshop’s true merit lay in its ability to appeal to the right audience by providing necessary, and entirely beneficial, information. It was well-structured, full of useful content, and had a distinct beginning, middle and end. It was a course that not only analysed, but altogether embraced, the power of storytelling.

Of course, my waxing lyrical about the workshop’s virtues is not good storytelling etiquette. Such gushing praise is, while entirely justified, not particularly useful for those of you reading this piece. You want to know – I’m sure – why it was so good, and what exactly was gleaned.

I’ll do my best to address those points, and any others that you might have, in this blog. But first, let’s go back to the beginning; that is, after all, where most decent stories start.

Storytelling at Southerly

As a content agency, we are adamant that storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to engage with consumers – and it should be at the core of your content strategy. Since day one, we’ve built our reputation on our ability to communicate messages in a way that is appealing, interesting, and achieves results, and that’s largely because we like to spin a yarn.

We are also very aware that every client – and its audience – is different. While some people engage well with audio or video, others prefer to digest long-form articles or infographics. Because of this, we’ve made it our mission to be adept at producing numerous types of content.

However, being able to create a lovely blog post or captivating video can only do so much; without a good story supporting it to grab people’s attention and make them feel something, such content will ultimately lack substance.

I’ve been telling stories throughout my working career, and while I’ve been able to do this (with relative success) across multiple campaigns and for various clients, I recently realised that perhaps I could do with being a bit more aware of how to structure a story, and what elements are required to really bring a piece of content to life.

Laying the foundations

Foundations always come first. Rushing ahead with an idea without having first planned and prepared is a recipe for disaster. This is a message that was repeated throughout the YCN session, and it’s one that is always going to be useful for marketers.

When it comes to campaign storytelling, one of the main things you’re looking to do is get people involved. You want them to associate with your brand, develop a positive opinion of it, and then subsequently commit to a purchase (or whatever your particular marketing aim is).

Deciding to tell stories is all well and good, but you need to understand who you want to reach, and how best to reach them. This is the key to engagement. Not every story works for every individual, and acknowledging the needs of the audience is as important as the content itself.

We develop personas as a means of doing this. We make assumptions, utilise research and anecdotal evidence, and create an image of the type of person we want to reach. By doing this, you are closer to being able to nail down how to get people emotionally invested in what you are trying to say, and how you can get them to keep coming back to your brand.

Sort this out, and you can move on to the story itself.

Beginning, middle and end

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. This means – in general – an introduction to the tale’s general themes, some kind of issue or problem that needs to be solved, and a conclusion that wraps everything up nicely. And, while those stages are valid, when it comes to marketing storytelling, the following structure – as identified by workshop leader Anna – is a far better way of helping you to figure out what content is required to get your message out there.

  • Setback
    This is where you address the consumer’s issue. This isn’t always something they’re consciously aware of, but your aim is to show them what problem you can help them solve.
  • Conflict
    The next step is to address the consumer’s conflict. You’ve helped them to establish that there’s an area that could benefit from improvement, but how do you get them to accept that your solution is worth splashing out on? Here, you must establish trust and confidence in both your product and your brand.
  • Compromise
    This is where you really go hard for the sell. Tell the consumer why they need what you’re offering, and hit them with benefits they won’t be able to resist, and entirely justifies the cost.
  • Success
    The end of any marketing campaign should reveal why your offering makes lives better. Wrap up everything you’ve already mentioned within your story, and top it off with a lovely salesy ribbon.

People like being able to connected with brands on an emotional level. As a species, we quite likely putting ourselves into boxes and giving ourselves labels. Even if you think you don’t, you actually do. We are, inherently, pack animals, and it makes sense that we want to find ways of making connections and building networks. Stories have the capacity to make you feel part of something bigger than yourself; a story is a shared experience, and is therefore a powerful means of imparting a message.

Cutting a long story short

To tell a story effectively – especially in marketing and advertising – trimming the fat is essential. You’ve already got your structure sorted, so the next step is deciding what content to wrap around it, and that means deciding what is necessary, and what can be culled.

As an editor, this is something I’ve been doing throughout my career; the piece of content that ends up being sent to the client is the result of modification and refinement, and is rarely – if ever – something that emerges perfectly formed at the first time of asking.

Being able to discern what information is necessary, and what isn’t playing an integral role, is crucial, and this is something that was stressed throughout the workshop. Being comfortable with the idea of discarding your own work so as to make a piece stronger can be difficult, but it’s entirely necessary.

Be yourself

Establishing brand credibility is incredibly important, and should be the underlying objective of any marketing efforts. Authenticity can be established by being original, being distinctive, producing content of high quality consistently, and by providing a superior product or service. Good storytelling can help with all of these.

The best way to stand out from the competition is by being better over and over again in every possible aspect. This takes time, and requires a unified approach across numerous channels and campaigns. You want everything you do to not only work as an individual project or campaign, but to reflect the qualities of the wider business.

Need more convincing?

Hopefully the above makes sense, and merely cements a marketing method that you’ve already bought into, but if you’re still in doubt about the value of storytelling, here are some statistics that should bring you round.

Still have some lingering doubts? Feel free to get in touch with us. We’re always happy to discuss things we’re passionate about, and storytelling certainly fits into that category. If you fancy a chat, you can reach us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Or, if you prefer old school email, click here.

Also, if you want to learn more about YCN and the courses they offer, visit the website. There’s plenty going on, and there’s bound to be something there that tickles your fancy.

So, until we speak again, go forth and live happily ever after.

The end.