- Call me Ishmael.
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
- Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
All those sentences launch great stories, but those aren’t the kind of stories I’m writing about today. I’m writing not about fine literature but about cold commerce. I’m writing about stories that sell.
Let’s go back to 1996 and this article by Bill Gates:
“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will,” Gates said. “They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.”
The article was headlined, “Content is King” and even the prescient Gates could not have guessed how that would be even more true 17 years later. Digital media offer almost unlimited opportunities for businesses to demonstrate their excellence, converse with their customers, answer questions and comment on their industry.
In my public relations practice, I generate content for many forms of media: Traditional newspapers, websites, blogs, social media, speeches, promotional literature, broadcast scripts. Each of those requires a different style and voice but, no matter what the platform, I am always telling stories. So what makes a good commercial story?
- It has an objective. I ask, “What do we want the reader to do as a result of reading this?” and write to make them do it.
- It has a human scale. Which would you rather look at: Mind-numbing pharmaceutical stats and graphs or a photo of a tiny child whose life was saved by those drugs?
- It is timely and relevant. This is especially important in traditional publicity placement. Editors and reporters screen possible stories through current events filters. I had success recently placing stories about a new church in Royal Oak saying that it was succeeding at the same time more and more Americans, especially young ones, were drifting away from traditional churches.
- It has emotional appeal. It allows the reader/listener/viewer to insert themselves into the story; to picture themselves being happy or successful by doing what we want them to do.
- It’s short
So when do you need to use story telling techniques? Well, always. But especially when
- You find yourself saying, “They don’t get it. Why don’t they get it?”
- You need to explain complex ideas to lay people.
- You struggle to differentiate yourself from your competitors
If you face any of those challenges, ask me how I can help you solve them!