In April the local chapter of the American Marketing Association monthly lunch meeting featured a speaker whose talk was called, “Improve Your Marketing with Storytelling.”
I signed up because I can always learn something from somebody.
It was held in a posh country club dining room. More than 200 busy marketers, mostly from local corporations, non-profits and education organizations (I learned from the networking part) took time out of their busy schedules to come to learn, too.
The speaker, a short lady, lively, grey-haired and obviously experienced—in both speaking and her field, communications engineering—began to talk.
And talk. And talk.
She started with a story I don’t remember.
And she ended with a very long one about a marketer who was trapped on a desert island and found a treasure chest by stubbing his toe on it. At some point, after breaking into it, he lobbed the increasingly more valuable contents, one by one, into the ocean.
It did not evolve into the story about Acres of Diamonds, where the hero finds diamonds right in his own back yard. (If you don’t know it, google it. It’s good.)
It really didn’t show us anything other than a professional storyteller weaving a tale.
She did a good job of that.
But she left 200 busy people gobsmacked.
Lots of them had dazed looks on their faces by the end. Some had been looking at their watches before she finished. Some had been looking around their tables for reassurance from others sitting near them that they weren’t truly missing something.
This lady’s credentials as a storyteller were stellar—she’d appeared at storytelling festivals all over.
Her business credentials were stellar, too. The first female engineer in the state for the regional telephone company, she’d travelled far and wide and had met heads of big corporations. She listened to what people at those corporations were (story)telling to her about why they liked their company or their CEO.
But she did not do a good job, however, of telling the audience how to find their own business stories or how to use them.
She didn’t even do a bad job at that. Because she really never attempted that.
She was so wrapped up in being a storyteller.
So what constitutes Story Marketing?
Bottom line here:
This lady did not tell the marketers what they needed.
She told them some good stories.
But she left them wondering what the heck they had just sat through.
This is what story marketing is not:
-It is not a “once upon a time” mystical story like the Odyssey.
-It does not necessarily have a hero.
-It does not necessarily have even a 4-stage traditional story arc.
-It is not long.
-It is not inaccessible, wandering or wordy.
Here is what story marketing is:
It explains, through a truth, something about a business:
-It may be a story about the founder (He was a WWII war hero).
-It may be a story about the locale (This vet’s office used to be a farm).
-It may be a story about customer service (When the ATM in your hotel was broken, the manager called the shuttle driver over and he took you to an ATM and back in 7 minutes, just in time for you to make your Saturday morning meeting).
-It may be a story about the history of your product (Pepsi was made in 1903 by druggist Caleb Bradham, in New Bern, NC, the 2nd oldest town in NC and that state’s colonial capital).
-It may be about an airline breaking your guitar or about a non-social woman in Scotland winning the British Idol much to everyone’s surprise.
These are all true stories I’ve either encountered or experienced myself.
What’s a great example of Story Marketing?
The “STORY” here can be as short as a couple sentences. For example for a veterinarian’s office:
Our office originally was the farmhouse for the Standler homestead. It was a working farm from 1907-1935. And even though this property now sits squarely within the city limits, you can still see the towering Pin Oak that shades the original home place to this day. We’re glad we can still be a homeplace—bringing animals back to this house-turned-office. Come see us. And bring your pets!
This is not a “story” with a hero, a story arc or a resolved ending.
It’s a Little Story. Perfect for story marketing.
What it does is make the reader remember what a farm might have been like. It gets the reader engaged making up his or her own story. It creates a nostalgia bond.
Who hates farms? Well, maybe someone who grew up on one and hated that! But that’s not most people these days.
Who hates pets? Some do. But that’s not who this is speaking to.
This is speaking directly to its market and it does it well. It creates a bond. A relationship. It is welcoming and approachable. It acknowledges history, place and community—all things people are craving these days.
So from a few sentences, a relationship is made.
That is story marketing.
So, please . . .
Don’t be fooled by the the buzzwords “story marketing.”
It’s like the difference when I used to tell people “I’m a folklorist” and they would say” Oh! Do you tell stories? Do you play banjo?” And I’d say, “No, I study the people who do that.” They were “fooled” by the word “folklorist.”
Storytelling is a craft, an art, done by storytellers. Storytelling is about performance.
It is best left to the storytellers.
Story Marketing, on the other hand, is about using story, bits of story, and elements of story in a very directed and purposeful way to produce measurable results in your marketing efforts.
To learn how to do this, download this free eBook:
You’ve heard of Greenwashing, in which companies are jumping on the “green” bandwagon so people will think they are doing green, when in fact, they often aren’t.
Have you noticed any Story Marketing-washing? Where companies talk about “story marketing” but really aren’t using it in a business way? I’d love to hear your comments below!