Creating Cutting Edge Content
HOW TO TELL YOUR BRAND STORY
torytelling is an art that takes planning, research, and skill; the best storytellers make decisions along the way that drive their stories forward, engage their audience, and impart information vital to the telling of their story. The best content agencies understand this craft and can produce timely stories about a brand, product, or company. By following these five rules, you too can tell an interesting, captivating story that will enchant your audience, share important information, and engage from beginning to end.
WHY SHOULD YOU ENGAGE YOUR READERS IN STORIES?
Everyone loves stories. They’re alive filled with extraordinary characters, vivid scenes and brisk action that take readers briefly into another world. —Kelli Law
Founder of Entwine
The five rules
UNDERSTAND YOUR BRAND AND AUDIENCE; SPEAK IN AN AUTHENTIC VOICE
GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT. USE THE 5 Ws
THE POWER OF SPECIFICS, DETAILS,AND IMAGERY
SHOW, DON’T TELL
KNOW THE END AT THE BEGINNING
UNDERSTAND YOUR BRAND & YOUR AUDIENCE; SPEAK IN AN AUTHENTIC VOICE
his one’s about tone and character. Writing a story from the voice of the brand necessitates understanding the voice and personality of the brand. A brand’s personality is the set of human traits we attribute to that brand that brings it to life for consumers. Old Spice is full of bravado, exemplifying an overblown masculine confidence. Weight Watchers is empowering, like a supportive sister. Lexus is unabashedly luxurious and fine. Here’s an example. If you’re writing a story for an older audience from an established, dignified brand, a life insurance or financial services company, you would never use phrases like “LOL”, or “OMG.” That’s obvious, you say, of course you wouldn’t. But you might use those terms if you were writing about a newer, internet-based bank targeting an audience that speaks that way. There can also be more subtle differences. You may need to write a story intended for athletic women from the voice of an empowering and still feminine brand. That voice will not sound the same as one intended for the competitive female athlete who’s focused on performance, not looking pretty. Voice is a balancing act of knowing who you are and who you’re speaking to.
FINDING YOUR VOICE A well-defined brand should have a distinct voice and character, just like every person you know. Do your homework and learn about the brand, the history, what it means, and how it sounds. Then let that tone come through in your story.
GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT. USE THE 5 Ws
he five Ws of journalism lay a solid foundation to build a story. You can add detail, character, and interesting tidbits to this foundation, you can flesh out the skeleton to bring it to life, but these five questions help you define the shape and structure of your story. They’ve helped journalists since the dawn of the industry, and they can help you create compelling content and tell great stories.
WHAT ABOUT “HOW?” Some advocate the addition of the H: “How did it happen?” at the end of your five Ws. You’ll find the answer to that question often comes in bits and pieces from the first five, so you may not need it, but it’s worth considering. Don’t be slavishly devoted to this list and end up with phrases like “our story takes place on a dark and stormy sea on March 2, 1987.” Rather, use this understanding to reveal this information as you go and answer questions you may ask yourself as you tell your story.
The five Ws
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
WHO IS YOUR STORY ABOUT? Know your characters and your subject. Is your story about the brand, or about someone using the product? Is your story a history of a company or a history of the company founder? It makes a difference.
WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR STORY? This one seems obvious, but if you’re going to describe action and tell a story, you should understand what’s going to happen. More on plot and story structure later.
WHEN DOES YOUR STORY TAKE PLACE? Is it set in the present, the future or the past? This will dictate verb tense, point of view, and who knows what and when.
WHERE DOES YOUR STORY TAKE PLACE? Can you see the setting in your head? Are you telling an intercontinental tale or one that happens in a subway station in the Bronx? A sense of place helps your audience put actions in context, juggling in a circus tent seems normal; juggling in a chemistry lab does not.
WHY DID YOUR STORY HAPPEN? What were the motivating factors, and what set your story in motion? If man drowned on the Great Barrier Reef, why was he there? What motivated him to take up diving? Why didn’t anyone save him?
THE POWER OF SPECIFICS, DETAILS, AND IMAGERY
here’s an unmistakable power to facts and details. They provide an anchor for our attention, a seed for our imagination, and a proof point to your claims. Like a magician, a skilled storyteller will direct an audience’s attention to something important and away from the insignificant. Describing a specific trait or quality of a character can take them from flat to fascinating, and the inclusion of specific facts can change a vague generalization to a confident assertion. What is an anchor for an audience’s attention? Start with the senses. We perceive the world through more than our eyes and ears; we smell, we touch, and we taste. Describe the slick smoothness of a well-used plastic seat on a bus and your audience can feel it on their skin. Mention the sharp smell of chlorine that hangs over the city pool and your audience will hear the splashing of children in the water. Put them in that place and provide them a point of reference; the imagination will do the rest.
DON’T SPOIL IT Bob Seger once sang about “what to leave in, what to leave out.” Telling an interesting story requires making decisions about both. Ask yourself what matters in your story and don’t waste your time on the things that don’t.
Finally, use sources and expertise to substantiate an assertion. Don’t just quote any blog on the internet; the validity of your assertion is proportionate to the expertise of your expert. Telling a story about one man’s quest to lose 200 lbs. on a diet of fast food sub sandwiches? Including specifics from a doctor, fitness guru, or personal trainer can shed light on your story. Citing the reflections of someone who watched the commercials featuring our hero won’t add much.
WHY BACK UP YOUR CLAIM? Anyone can make an unsubstantiated claim, and there are hordes of people doing just that. When you can show proof and demonstrate the logic and reasoning for your claim, you elevate your voice above the clamor. —Brad Preslar
Sr. Copywriter at Entwine
SHOW, DON’T TELL
his is about exposition, creating interest, and avoiding information dumps. The difference between telling a story and recounting facts lies in the style of the telling. Your protagonist might be afraid of cats. Which is more interesting, stating that “Bob is afraid of cats,” or recounting why he’s afraid of cats? You might recall an instance when his fear of cats caused him a problem. That’s the heart of telling a story. It’s the difference in stating a fact and painting a picture. Let the audience realize something on their own, and not only will they stay interested, but they’ll be more likely to believe it. You didn’t tell them, they figured it out. That goes to the second benefit of the “show, don’t tell” philosophy. Dumping the back-story on an audience before you get to the interesting stuff is a sure-fire way to lose your audience. Pick out the information you can’t live without and discard the rest. This goes back to the Ws mentioned above. If you know what your story is about, you can separate the things that matter from the things that don’t. In a world filled with content, you’re always fighting for attention, and your focus on the interesting part of your story is the only way to keep an audience engaged.
The difference between telling a story and recounting facts lies in the style of the telling.
KNOW THE END AT THE BEGINNING
n an ideal world, you’d start your story with an outline, a framework of plot points intended to move your story from A to Z, perhaps with some detours and misdirection, but still always moving forward. Sometimes, you don’t know the end when you start, but when you finish you must revisit the beginning to ensure you started your audience in the right direction. The alternative is a meandering mess, a story without purpose that lags in the middle and wanders its way to a sluggish end. It’s easy to get lost in your own descriptions and forget what needs to happen when; plot points and outlines keep you focused. Although, some storytellers loathe outlining a story, preferring it evolve organically. That method means revisiting your openings to foreshadow key action points and provide misdirection or actual direction. Whether you start knowing your end, or discover it when you get there, the beginning of a story should hook your audience as soon as possible. Pointing to the end, obviously or not, is one way to get it done. Telling a great story isn’t easy, but when it’s done right it feels like magic. Follow the 5 rules outlined above and let your stories take on a magic of their own.
DONâ€™T LOSE YOUR AUDIENCE Whether you start knowing your end, or discover it when you get there, the beginning of a story should hook your audience as soon as possible. Pointing to the end, obviously or not, is one way to get it done.
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