How To Tell Better Stories

By Madison Taylor
December 10, 2019
small red boat on waves of woven material

Here’s some information that won’t surprise you: there is a lot of content on the internet. There are 474,000 tweets, 300 hours of video on YouTube, and 69,000 Instagram posts are uploaded every minute of every day. Videos, photos, and written content combine to create a practically infinite jumble of noise, and it’s hard for web users to pay attention to any one thing for more than a few minutes.

So how do you cut through the clutter? With content that stands out from the rest of the noise using the one thing that the rest of them don’t have — a human connection.

The best way to build a connection with a stranger is by telling a story. A narrative puts the information you’re trying to convey in a broader context that connects the various pieces of your content, and it shows your customers that you don’t just want to make money — you want to solve problems.

With that in mind, here are some tips to telling a better story — one that your audience wants to hear.

Your Stories are About Them, Not You

Your stories are not about bragging — at least, they shouldn’t be. It’s all too easy to write stories about your successes and how great your product or business is, focusing only on yourself and what’s interesting to you. But we’ve all met that guy at a dinner party who can only talk about himself, and no one likes that guy.

If you only focus on yourself, your storytelling will come off as self-promotion, and instead of building a connection with your audience, you’ll drive them away. Yes, you should tell stories about yourself, but remember: any success story you have is driven by the people who made you successful — your customers.

Remember The Buyer’s Journey

We’ve spoken about the buyer’s journey before, but it’s important enough that it bears repeating.

The buyer’s journey, simply put, is a series of steps that a potential customer goes through in order to make a purchase. This is true of every purchase, whether it’s for a tube of toothpaste or a new car — the process just manifests a little differently. The content you create will vary, depending on which stage of the buyer’s journey you’re hoping to reach people in.

The awareness stage is where you use your storytelling to turn strangers into visitors. In essence, it’s about letting them know you exist at all. People at this stage in the process aren’t ready to make a purchase, nor are they even shopping around — in fact, they might not even know that they have a problem that needs to be solved.

The stories you’re telling in the awareness stage should be short and entertaining, depicting a problem or opportunity that will grab their attention. Audiences don’t know you, so they don’t have any inclination to spend their attention on you yet — keep it light.

In the second stage, the consideration stage, your audience is aware of what you do and what problem you solve, and they may have even identified that problem in their own lives. But that doesn’t mean they’re going straight to you to fix it — why should they choose you?

Your job in this stage is to turn visitors into leads — potential customers know you, now you have to get them to like you. This is where the best of your content creation abilities come into play. Show your audience you care about providing valuable content and solving problems, not just re-hashing the same information over and over again. Put a human face on your company — its victories, failures, beauty, and flaws.

The final stage is the decision stage. Audiences know what their problem is, and they know you can solve it. They even like your style — the way your business conducts itself and presents itself to the outside world. But they’re not sure you’re worth the investment yet.

In this final stage, your goal is to make consumers trust you. Trust that your product is worth the money, that you’ll offer support if they need it, that you’re not going to gouge them for more money once you have them on board.

This is the stage where you need to show your expertise. Talk about past successes and case studies from past clients, remembering to focus on the clients, not yourself. Your audience will put themselves in the shoes of someone who had a similar problem and realize that they can succeed, too — with your help.

A brief aside: this journey looks very different depending on the type of product you’re selling, and the speed at which customers move through the journey varies too. It might sound overdramatic to talk about storytelling and emotional connection when you sell toothpaste — customers are only going to research toothpaste for as long as it takes to read a few labels in the grocery store aisle.

That doesn’t make the journey any less important. Tom’s of Maine doesn’t put any less effort into the packaging and copy on their toothpaste boxes just because the lifetime value of a customer is only a few hundred dollars. In fact, the lighter the decision for the consumer, the more important it is to connect with them. You may only have five minutes to grab their attention — you’d better make them count.

Use Visuals In Your Storytelling

Images are processed faster by the brain and have a more lasting effect than either text or the written word. They break up long chunks of text and can keep people reading and engaged. They can also communicate emotions and ideas in subtle ways that words aren’t good at — a high-quality image at the top of a page can set the mood for the rest of the post.

That doesn’t mean you need to break the bank on photography or video equipment to create useful and compelling visuals. Screenshots with annotations and charts or graphs of data make your point easier to visualize. Even putting a quote over an image instead of inline will call attention to it, create an emotional resonance, and make it stand out more than simple text does.

The Bottom Line

Storytelling can have a big impact on your content marketing, both the engagement and the effectiveness. You don’t have to come off as perfect and flawless — your customers aren’t, and they know it. They’ll relish the authenticity and be more likely to feel a connection with your brand and your story.