Storytelling without value is just that, the telling of stories.
My grandma tells wonderful stories. Do you think she’s gaining leads and making deals from this ability?
Perhaps your business is telling great stories, too.
While it’s wonderful to talk about yourself, your story about customer service, or your family story about overcoming odds, what you really have to ask yourself when it comes to effective storytelling is what your audience is also asking:
“What’s in it for me?”
Allow me to give you some scenarios to show you what I mean, and at the end, I hope you’ll have an ah-ha moment about your content being a conversation (or not).
Content Is A ConversationEffective storytelling means including a narrative with the solution(s) you're offering.Click To Tweet
Storytelling isn’t useful to your prospects until you make it so.
What that means is your storytelling shouldn’t be the main character in your plot, but a supporting role that helps you align with your reader.
People are hitting your website or your blog to find something of value, and telling them a narrative about your experiences is the perfect way to cozy up to them, but only if the crux of your content is helping them solve a problem.
The lines between storytelling and content marketing are very blurred, but with an eye on the audience, you’ll do a better job at creating conversations that convert.
Here are some helpful scenarios to show you what’s working and what’s not …
Scenario One: Think Of Your Audience As A Tourist
If you’re lucky, you’ve got your Alpha Audience, as Mark Schaefer calls it, returning to your blog or content hub weekly to consume to your new content.
If you look at your stats on Google Analytics, you can see how many users are returning and how many are new:
[Click for a larger view]
If you have excellent eyesight, you can see that green is my returning visitors and blue represents new visitors.
A whopping 72.6% of my audience is new, while 27.4% are returning visitors for this snapshot.
My new visitors are probably looking for something — and this is why I urge you to think of them as tourists.
Would a tourist ask you for something of value, say directions, and stick around with a smile and a nod as you told your heartfelt story about your tourist experiences?
That’s not valuable to them and it’s not helping them achieve their goal.
Directions are valuable in this scenario.
So giving your tourist what they need (a solution to their problem), with a little narrative (“and it’s right across the street from the BEST ice cream parlor in the city — seriously, they’re mango-strawberry sorbet is to die for”) could be just what the doctor ordered.
Straight, to the point, but friendly.
And if they like ice cream, you’ve given them a little something extra in the way of value.
Scenario Two: Think Of Your Audience As Someone WAY Cooler Than You
Remember how fun the chase was when you were dating? Maybe you’re single and enjoying that now.
It’s always fun to be chased, but since your content is trying to capture the user’s heart, you’re the one doing the chasing.
Unfortunately, in my single days, I went on more than a few dates where the guy was trying so prove just HOW AWESOME he was.
I promptly “lost” those numbers.
Telling your audience how awesome sauce you are may not have the desired outcome you were expecting.
Take this #HumbleBrag example I used to gauge the reaction of my Facebook friends:
Yes, that was actually written in a newsletter I receive.
And as you’re probably guessing, the friends who left those 30+ comments on my post were not impressed.
I’m guessing the audience — especially the newer subscribers — of this company weren’t either.
Some of the reactions I got:
- “A total unsubscribe for me!”
- “That is amateur hour right there. UGH.”
- “Let me celebrate your wins but make it a teaching moment as well. WE > ME.”
- “Yuck – turn off. Reframe of the right #humblebrag would be something like, ‘We are in immense gratitude for our success that has come as a result of the support of our tribe.'”
I think the last two comments really sum it up.
Or as my friend Greg added, “It’s cool if you mention, ‘We’re so excited to announce that XYZ is our 100th customer’ then move on to something that I care about …”
See the difference?
That narrative was not about the customer. It was not about helping.
Heck, it wasn’t even about selling unless you like to buy your products and services from the “I’m SO awesome” sales-y types!
Scenario Three: Conjure Up Count Von Count
I was a HUGE Sesame Street fan, and I especially love Count Von Count.
Also, he’s a vampire and we’re talking about sucky storytelling … see what I did there??
Numbers matter most here — I’ll explain why in a second.
Go through your piece of content, whether it’s a newsletter, blog post, or post for social using this checklist as a guide:
I know you’re smart enough to include actionable, valuable advice.
You’re also savvy enough to add a small narrative or story to be more relatable to the reader.
SEO? Pft! You’ve got this!
Now, go back and COUNT the number of times you use I or me in your content.
The newsletter I referred to in the Facebook post above sent out a piece last week with these counts (this is only from the main message, not the entire newsletter):
I = 31
Me/My = 9
You = 12
We = 1
And this was a post about leadership!
To be fair, I tested our entire, including the main message, April Social Swag newsletter and I came up with these results:
I = 7
Me/My = 4
You = 10
We = 1
While we can certainly do a better job of shifting focus to our readers, we don’t have quite as far to go as my not-so-stellar example.
Does Your Storytelling Suck?
If you’re pretty certain you’re all that and a bag of chips, you might just have sucky storytelling syndrome.
While you can’t make something go viral, or force a connection with your audience, you can certainly do a better job of ensuring your content first fulfills a need or solves a problem.
Once you’re sure it’s doing that, THEN go ahead and add a narrative or story.
How are you using storytelling to connect and focus on WE versus ME? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media management & advertising agency. She's also the Co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer, where they discuss jaw-dropping marketing trends. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout!
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