When you take the time to build your story,
everything that follows is more powerful,
more persuasive, more memorable, and more compelling.
Let’s shift our thinking as marketers. Let’s stop thinking about ourselves as a service organization and start thinking about ourselves as an organizational powerhouse that builds sustainable revenue through content experiences. Marketers go way beyond filling the top of the funnel. We seek deeper connections to the problems we solve day in and day out. We look to provide the proper context to build credibility and value. We ask questions and believe listening is a sacred skill.
And what, pray tell, holds it all together? The trendy, hip, buzzword of the century: STORIES. Yep, stories again. But move over Storytelling. It’s time to talk about story building. First the difference. Storytelling is the act of just that — telling your external story. Thinking through, from your audience’s perspective, how the elements of a good story come together to resonate with them and compel them (hopefully) to think, feel or do something with your organization. Bam. Powerful stuff.
We know stories work, are backed by science and aren’t going away any time soon. (Not ready to leave the storytelling band wagon? Grab a coffee and read on. This post from Wordstream is a fantastic overview).
Story building is the part where you take a step back and make sure that the story you are telling is built on a sustainable, consistent, aligned organization. If you believe storytelling is powerful, then hold onto your hat, because story building will up your game tenfold.
Think of story building as the system behind storytelling that enables the consistent creation of relevant stories. Story building aims at connecting the WHO you are trying to reach with the WHY they should care about your business — from the inside out. Story building will not give you the tangible external content we all are so eager to produce. And we’re not promising that the stories you produce will be well-written (that’s storytelling).
Story building will give you the know-how and infrastructure to inform, create and amplify your stories. That’s where the magic happens.
This is not as easy as the following principles make it sound, but it will lay the groundwork. In order to enable stories to thrive in an organization, you must establish these principles:
1. Distinguish between internal and external stories and build both–using all of the resources available to you.
An organization has two types of stories:
1) The internal stories it tells itself about itself, its vision, its customers, and its markets
2) The external stories it tells the marketplace, customers, and prospects
This distinction is important because your internal story is not the same as your external story.
Effective storytelling captures the hearts and minds of the audience in a way that contextualizes the content around that audience’s needs and interests. The audience for your internal story is the company and its employees. The audience for your external story is whatever market/buyer/persona you are targeting. Customers don’t care about your internal story–they care about their own stories. Misplaced storytelling like this is often where external messaging falls flat.
It’s vital to consciously build both story-sets. The internal story is crucial, though it often goes neglected. It’s the heart and soul of why the organization exists and what it wants to achieve. It’s a story about how the organization serves the market. And it’s the various stories about the buyers and prospects you seek to serve.
This vision should feed the external stories, but in a way that interprets and translates it appropriately for external audiences. The external stories are the various external forays you make across the multitude of channels available today out in the marketplace. To be relevant for consumers, they have to be built around those consumers’ needs, fears, and desires.
And on this last point, here’s an important functional note about story building: the building part requires the skills and expertise of both marketers and communicators. Marketers distil, gather, and inform internal and external targets, content, assets and conversations. Think marketing plans, engagement strategies, messaging documents, persona research, marketing priorities, creative briefs. Communicators, including writers, designers, videographers, and other creatives, have the specific skill set required to craft stories, evoke emotion, compel action, and so on.
These functions–marketing and communication–are interdependent, and they’re interdependent from an earlier point in the story building process than many marketers think. For some, this means changing the way you see the writing and design part of a project. It’s not what you do “last” after all of the messaging and marketing plans have been finalized. If you’re not involving creatives in the formative or ‘strategic’ stages of content-building, you’re not getting the most out of these resources. Communicators can help inject narrative depth, consistency, color and more into the story you’re building, enriching it from the outset and saving you from mistakes and wasted time down the line. We’ll explore this point in more detail in our next post.
2. Have a strategy.
By strategy we don’t mean marketing plan. We mean what’s your strategy to leverage your organization’s WHY. Do you truly understand why your company exists? How do you do what you do differently than the next person? Why buyers care about you? Why they should? Is this information distilled consistently? Does everyone know it? Believe it? Live it? If the answer to any of the above is no, then you have work to do. If you need a starting point, Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle is a good place to start. If the answer is yes, fantastic. You can use the chart below as a starting point to build a strategy around how you will leverage all that organizational goodness in order to inform the external stories and content you create.
3. Acknowledge that it takes time to go from strategy to execution.
The pressure to rush into action is real. We get it. We know that time is a luxury in most organizations. The best advice here is to find a way to satisfy the short-term while you work on the long-term. If the above strategy is going to take you more than a month to put into practice, then perhaps start with something more bite-sized?
The below chart is a way to help you start to think through story building from the outside in. This is a guide for what to consider when you create content. The goal is that you will create well-rounded content that represents and communicates the full value (emotional, rationale and pragmatic) of the story you are trying to tell. (We call this whole-person marketing, but that’s another conversation). Keep the below points in mind when building out your next campaign strategy or creative brief and you’ll be chipping away at how to build and set up a story building infrastructure on the inside.
4. Alignment and collaboration are key.
We’ve talked about this before. The most important nugget is expressed in the following diagram:
And here’s the breakdown:
- Agreement + Understanding – Alignment = Duplicated Resources
- Agreement + Alignment – Understanding = Ineffective Content
- Alignment + Understanding – Agreement = Wasted Time
As you digest all of this, know this is a fluid, flexible process. And it can look different in various organizations. The first step is thinking through the above principles and defining what they look like and where your gaps are within your organization. Remember this is a process. And like most things, gets better with practice.
We care about story building because, as stated at the start, marketers should be interested in building a sustainable, powerful organization that moves beyond the “how may I help you today?” mentality.
Like what you’ve read? Have something to add? Let’s chat below.
|Shannon Ross is a professional researcher and writer with more than twenty years of experience designing content strategy and creating compelling text. She has worked with nearly all media and formats across numerous sectors. Shannon also teaches business writing skills to professionals and undergraduates at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.|