You've Struggled With Effective Storytelling Because The Secret Is Rarely Told -- Until Now

Remembering we are all human sounds simple, but it's one of those elementary steps that is so easy to forget when copy deadlines are looming, Excel sheets need interpreting and you are under pressure to sell more product. The key, however, is to remember that all email and all marketing has a basis in storytelling. 

A subject line flogging winter coats isn't just offering warm fashion accessories. If that's the extent of your vision, your campaigns are likely to fall flat. If, however, you're offering a way to throw out that old coat and stay warm this winter, while looking at hot as you feel, then you just might stand a great chance of success. Now, you may think that the previous example is held up by me as being better than a plain offer on coats because it tape in to emotion. You'd be half right. The real reason that I chose those words was because they tell a story.

Here's another great example from a blog out this week on storytelling. "Tap. Ride. Celebrate." It was an Uber email promotion to encourage revelers to rely on Uber to let them celebrate the new year being ushered in without having to worry about driving. Again, you might well think that this works because it's to the point. Again, you'd be half right.

Now, I have to be up front and tell you that my email marketing knowhow is rarely used in the wild, so this advice doesn't come from an Excel spreadsheet proving the value of one set of words over another. However, I do know a fair bit about this writing business and the one thing that you need to know is the importance of tense. if you were forced to forget everything you know about writing, apart from one fact, it should be this. Storytelling relies on the three tenses -- the past, present and future. A beginning, a middle bit and an ending. It really is that simple.

Any good book can be summed up in a sentence encapsulating all three tenses. How about Jack and The Beanstalk, for example.  "Jack was poor, so he sells the family cow for magic beans which take him on an adventure with a frightening giant, but it all works out for the best. He brings back gold and his family becomes rich." OK --  that was more than one sentence, but you get the point?

All good stories have a beginning and an end and a load of stuff that happens in between. Just think about it. The movies or books you have been most disappointed with generally usually fail because they don't set the story up properly -- or, more often than not, they don't have an ending that makes sense and brings closure. That's why, off the top of my head, I went for winter coats. The past tense, the beginning of the story, is that the old coat is a past its best, the present is buying a new coat, the future or ending is looking good on the walk from the tube station to the office. 

So, the Internet is full of advice on humanising your customers through storytelling. What you may not see so often, however, is the actual mechanics of how you do this. Rather than just spin a yarn, always make sure you have the past, present and future in the message. "Finished that case of wine over Christmas? Here's some deals to keep the good times rolling." Or the opposite. "If last year's resolution fell flat, follow our 5 point plan to feel less bloated in 5 weeks." 

Find the old issue that means your produce or service might be needed and offer the solution as your product and you have covered the tenses that will hopefully make your storytelling far more human -- because the pitch is a proper story. It begins and ends with a bit of action in the middle. 

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