Human beings are wired for stories. Experts believe that the way that we evolved predisposes us to be drawn in by storytelling. In fact, it’s been found that in cases of oral storytelling, engaged listeners’ brains synchronize with the brain of the storyteller, making it easier to convince or inform the listener.
Communications professionals are realizing the value of storytelling for public relations and marketing efforts. You can use stories for ads, advertorials, testimonials, newspaper or magazine articles, case studies, newsletters (electronic or print), blogs, television or radio shows, podcasts, landing pages and sales letters.
Four elements are essential no matter what the format of your tale:
Protagonists are not necessarily heroes, but they are the principal characters in the story. Depending on the story, the protagonist, or main character, may be the organization or a representative, a past customer or a person or persona that represents your targeted audience.
Organizations may make themselves the protagonist when showing readers how the organization or product came to be or sharing a success story (professional or personal) in order to inspire readers’ confidence or empathy. Past customers will be the protagonist when they’re telling their story in order to illustrate the value of the product, service, organization or issue.
You may also use a fictional or real-life protagonist who is similar to your targeted audience or has a problem to which they can relate. One of my favorite sale letter examples was one for expedition vacations that began with a story about a famous explorer discovering an ancient Egyptian tomb. He gazes through a hole that his team has made in the wall and when a colleague asks him what he sees, he replies,“Wonders.” Then the letter launched into its pitch, inviting readers to retrace that explorer’s footsteps.
The book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything cites examples of stories in foreign broadcast media that showed fictional protagonists and other story characters facing and resolving social problems, from illiteracy to domestic abuse, thereby inspiring audiences to take action in the same ways that those characters did.
Obstacles and Conflict
In business-related stories, the outcome of the protagonist’s efforts usually won’t be life or death, but it should represent high stakes for that person. Give your protagonist one major objective and then create conflict and, therefore, dramatic tension, by showing what obstacles block his or her progress.
Obstacles can be the result of the situation (e.g., lack of resources or poorly performing tools) or actual adversaries (e.g., cynical superiors, suspicious coworkers or cunning competitors). Note: adversaries don’t have to be portrayed as evil; both fictional and factual stories tend to be better when one can appreciate the adversary’s point of view even somewhat.
Every story needs a satisfying resolution. That doesn’t mean that the ending has to be a happy one, but it should answer the story’s question. Did the main character fail or achieve his or her objective? Did he/she change or learn something over the course of the story? Were secrets revealed? Whatever the case may be, it’s important that the audience not feel cheated. It’s even better when you can let readers can insert their own meaning or make their own discoveries instead of making the ending blatantly obvious.
One more thing to remember about storytelling is that the more specific your material is, the more the reader will be“pulled” into the story. Conversely, the more abstract the copy, the more emotional distance a reader will have. Also, specific information will help your audience to draw their own conclusions. So, include relevant facts and whenever possible, appeal to two or more of the five senses by detailing scents, sounds, tastes, touch, colors and other visual details.
Although human beings have come a long way from huddling around cave fires, one thing that has not changed is that stories are the way in which we make sense of the world around us. So, take advantage of this age-old inclination and start looking for stories about your product, service or organization.