Five Top Tips To Turbo-Charge Brand Storytelling

storytelling

• By Sam Knowles •

 

Humans are hardwired to pay attention to and respond to stories. Stories about people who triumph over adversity. Stories told in the classic three-act story structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories where Act I is the set-up, Act II the confrontation, and Act III is the resolution.

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As it is in books, TV, and film, so it is in the always-on world of brand dialogue. The medium may be different, but the impactful message is very much the same, where brands with impact genuinely engage their vocal supporters and advocates through social media and shared digital platforms.

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In brand storytelling, one of the biggest foes a brand needs to overcome – whatever their storyline – is information overload. Every minute, 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube, there are 2.4m Google searches, and more than 200m emails are sent. This sets up Continuous Partial Attention as the default audience mode, with potential customers and advocates flipping and flicking between channels and devices. Recent Microsoft research suggests average human attention span plunged from 15 seconds in 2000 to less than eight seconds in 2015. That gives us a whole second’s less attentional capacity than that most forgetful of creatures … the goldfish.

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Following the three-act story structure is a good starting point for brands looking to tell stories that cut through this clutter. But there are other tricks of the storytelling trade that can help your corporate and brand stories stand out. Here are five.

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1. Keep it simple

It’s amazing how writing shorter sentences that contain fewer long words can get people listening. The easier a sentence is to understand – the more straightforward it is to “parse”, as linguists say – the quicker it registers. And the readier the audience is for the next sentence. The next paragraph. The next chapter.

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2. Avoid jargon

Jargon is the enemy of good communication. It’s a smokescreen thrown up by the insecure to keep outsiders away. And it’s toxic in terms of winning new friends and new business. Every organisation area has its own technicalities and its own language. But even your closest associates and strongest supporters don’t want to be bamboozled by your jargon. Cut it out and you’re well on the way to keeping it simple.

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3. Beware the Curse of Knowledge

When you know something – for example, how your widget or service works – it’s incredibly hard to unlearn that knowledge. And when you’re explaining it to others, it’s really hard not to convey everything you know to even a lay audience. Psychologists call this the Curse of Knowledge, and those who suffer from it often lapse into jargon. So, when you’re telling your brand story, put yourself in your audience’s shoes and explain what makes your business so great as if to someone from another culture. Or planet. That’ll keep the story simple and straightforward, driving interest and engagement.

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4. Use data and statistics – but sparingly

In their book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die …, brothers Chip and Dan Heath quote this most memorable of statistics: “After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.” Businesses today are surrounded – and often overwhelmed – by facts and data and statistical analysis. But in storytelling, data and statistics should be only the foundation and the rationale underlying the corporate tale, not the story itself. Use them sparingly to justify your position. Make sure you don’t show your workings out.

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5. Observe the Cocktail Party Rule

The Cocktail Party Rule states: “If you want to be boring, talk about yourself. If you want to be interesting, talk about the issues that matter to those you want to attract and influence.” This is just as relevant in brand storytelling. The explosion in digital media and platforms means that everyone with an opinion can share it with the world – on blogs, on forums, on Twitter. But just because everyone can be a journalist doesn’t mean that everyone follows strong journalistic principles and writes in a way that is genuinely engaging and not all about themselves. Content marketing can be incredibly powerful, but only if it’s issue- and not product- or company-led.

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Follow these simple rules, and your corporate and brand storytelling will be insightful. It will be authentic. And it will be impactful. It will also be human and help businesses sound like people and not weird, abstract entities. TED Talker and business strategist Bryan Kramer even goes so far as to say that we should ditch the terms B2B and B2C – business to business and consumer – and talk instead of H2H: human to human.

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Guest author: Sam Knowles

Sam Knowles is MD of storytelling consultancy, Insight Agents, which he founded in 2013. He combines long and varied PR agency experience with a planner’s facility for turning relevant data into campaign narratives that deliver. For a one-time PR man – with more than 25 years in corporate and consumer communications for global clients – he has unusually rich analytics and strategic planning experience.

Sam holds a doctorate in Experimental Psychology, a source of both his understanding of human motivation and behaviour and his love of telling stories with data. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a member of the Public Relations & Communications Association, and a Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. He is currently writing a book titled How to Tell Stories with Data and Statistics.

Find out more at www.insightagents.co.uk, and on Twitter @samknowles and @insightagents.

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