And yet, more and more, we (marketers) are focused on metrics. We rack our brains trying to figure out how to move prospective customers logically through the sales funnel. We create content based on algorithms and probabilities.
And while doing this, we wish and pray that we can have a monstrous breakthrough success, the kind of overnight sensation that Malcolm Gladwell or Jonah Berger might write about some day.
Well, it ain’t gonna happen if your nose is down in a spreadsheet. Because emotion, not numbers, is the gasoline that fuels marketing awesomeness. Yes, it’s true that you can’t ignore the numbers, but you also can’t be a slave to them. There are a lot of marketers out there who are slaves to the numbers. And I think it’s because they’re afraid to trust their emotions; it’s safer to hide behind the numbers.
When I was a kid, one of my heroes was basketball Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan, able to jump from the foul line and dunk. He was cool. He had style. You’d think it was always easy for him because of his awesome athletic talent. But Erving once told an interviewer that the key to his success was that he “dared to be great.” Think about it: How do you know if you can dunk from the foul line if you’re afraid to ever try? How do you become great without the courage to risk failure?
And yet, a lot of corporate content is decidedly not courageous. A courageous content strategy needs to focus on developing emotional stories. Yup, it’s story time.
There’s plenty of evidence that emotion-driven stories work, helping brands connect to customers. Our brains are wired for stories; we’ve been telling them to each other for thousands of years. They spark the brain. Really. Researchers have found that stories have the power to fire neurons, get us excited, and get us to feel emotion. When our emotions are engaged, we’re far more likely to be spurred into action (like buying), and we’re far more likely to remember the story and to retell it.
Of course, to make that happen, you need to be compelling. This is easy if you’re talking about energy drinks, less so if you’re selling ERP software. But it’s not impossible. The key is to find the emotion.
Hint: It’s not on your spreadsheets, and it’s not on those text-filled, bullet-point-riddled PowerPoints. Even with something as dry as ERP software, there is a human element to be found: Was the warehouse still able to deliver the product because the cloud-based ERP kept business flowing smoothly despite the massive power outage? Did the fact that it was up and running enable heroic action on the part of the warehouse workers? Now you’re telling a story people will remember. Now you’re firing their emotions.
Utilizing a story structure enables you to embed facts within the narrative, which makes those facts much stickier. The story gets the neurons firing, and the facts become memorable because they’re attached to a great story.
Creating a great story isn’t easy. Stories, even corporate stories, require drama. And most executives don’t like drama. They prefer a nice, smooth ride -- a rosy picture that doesn’t provide any ammunition for naysayers and competitors. That makes a certain amount of sense. It’s safe. But it’s boring, and ultimately it limits your success.
To create great content, you need to dare to be great.
That’s how you win.
Editor's Note: This post was previously published last year.
Unusual post. As a 20+ year denizen of ad agencies, I absolutely disagree that "We rack our brains trying to figure out how to move prospective customers logically through the sales funnel". Anyone thinking of a sales funnel is the exception rather than the rule.
And I'm even more torn on this post. I love the idea of pondering what it takes to drive action. But then it wanders off into the erroneous idea that stories drive action.
Having worked with stories and attempts at action for a very long time, generally stories don't drive action well. They might be a sweet way to develop smart brand connections or nurture future actions...someday. But stories are about as ineffective an approach to driving action as I can imagine.
That said, I also don't think we should focus entirely on either logic or emotion. Anytime we lose half of a human being our advertising is less effective.
Thanks for the comment Doug. Agree to disagree. I would argue that most buying decisions are emotional... even B2B purchases. If you're saying that stories don't *immediately* create action, you may be right... but the buyer's journey has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, and now the buyer is in control. So they need to be nurtured, romanced and eventually they'll make the decision they make. Stories are a huge component of this journey.
I have also found that emotional feelings drive decisions more than intellectual thought. Stories are the way the history of man has been told. Our cultures and daily news are filled with compelling stories.
As a marketing guy who became a CEO and now coach CEOs on business and communications, including pitching to investors and other stakeholders, I help them find and polish authentic stories to connect and engage people to influence desired outcomes.
Many people have been encouraged to create brand stories that tell who you wish to be, rather than express your being. As a result, they contrive insincere and even phoney stories that may attract yet will not stand up over time. Think of politicians or other leaders who disappointed by not being who they appeared.
My point - tell a great true-to-you story to help people better connect with you and your business or cause's authentic value. Avoid stories based on a creative (marketing) branding concept. You might attract people in the short run, at great risk when your brand can't stand.