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Your Storytelling Sucks!

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?

Nope.

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).

your-storytelling-sucks

Content Is A Conversation

Effective 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:

google-analytics-returning-vs-new-users

[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?

No.

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:

newsletter-humble-brag

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??

I digress.

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:

Storytelling Checklist

[Image of Count Von Count courtesy of  Barry Stock on Flickr]

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, advertising, and customer care 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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Category: "Ways Your Marketing Sucks" Series, Content Marketing, Conversations, Marketing
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9 Comments. Leave new

  • Great article Brooke! I see so many companies (and other social media pros) who use their blogs as the “look at me and how awesome I am show.” Those provide NO value whatsoever. I used to follow and associate with one of the larger names in social media and when I did this person would also post stuff like “Look at what we did for Client A” or “We are excited about the results we got”, etc. Rarely was any of it of value other than to pimp themselves out as the star.

    I love your idea of counting the number of times you use I, me or we. That will give the person real perspective on just how much of an ego-trip they are (even if it’s unintended).

    This is defintely a bookmarked post 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you, Mandy! It was timely that your blog post was hinting at a similar message — just had to link it here. 😉

      I love to celebrate people, but not when it feels like they aren’t showing me a win to teach me something. Make it a teaching moment. Help me understand how it can make me a better person or business owner. Without that, you’re probably alienating a lot of your audience. Sure, some of your Alpha Audience may be friends and be excited for a #HumbleBrag, but for the majority of your list, it just comes off as tacky. Treat your list like a business. Friendly, but useful and helpful come first!

      I like counting, too. I’m going to try to use that more to ensure I’m not being too ME focused! Thanks again …

      Reply
  • […] 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 toeffective 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)….  […]

    Reply
  • […] 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)….  […]

    Reply
  • […] Your storytelling probably sucks if you don't understand the difference between telling me, Me, ME stories and using effective narratives to solve problems.  […]

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Josh St. Aubin
    April 24, 2015 7:14 AM

    This should be the contract everyone has to read and sign before getting their own blog. I consistently remind our team that our customers don’t care who we are or what we do, they’re too busy focusing on their problems and needs to care about us. Unless you’re writing your autobiography, you need to focus on their needs, not your need to feed your ego.

    Reply
    • Josh, I LOVE this: “Focus on their needs, not the need to feed your ago.” I don’t know which is worse, the Google, Facebook, and tech beast that we are constantly having to feed, or the beast that is our ego. I think most of us have that nagging pull saying that we need attention, need to tell our story, or need to be the victim so that we can then turn around and be the hero … it’s a true struggle. But you’re right. If we remember that EVERYONE has that struggle AND the business struggle they’re trying to solve, we can shine by putting our own needs aside and focusing on others. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here today!!

      Reply
  • […] we confuse adding a personalized story of ours to a piece of content as a form of personalized storytelling, but that’s not what personalization is at […]

    Reply
  • […] we versus me can certainly boost your conversion rate! And it helps combat sucky storytelling, […]

    Reply

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