From "Once upon a time" to "it was a dark and stormy night" we are used to seeing, hearing and loving stories.
Snippets of personal stories in the lead paragraphs of news/magazine articles draw us in and get us to read further.
Stories in emails are so powerful that some people, like my Mom, even print them out. After she passed away I found a whole stack of emailed stories. Stories she valued so much she wanted to keep them in hardcopy form (not just virtually in her inbox).
- Note: That was a story (yikes!).
Since the earliest times...to now
This feeling or need to experience stories has been ingrained and embedded in us since the earliest times of human existence. From the first time a fish was caught there must have been a "fish story" which went with it relating the fisher's experience back to family, friends, and community. Not to mention "the fish that got away."
From oral to written...to digital
Beginning with oral traditions of passing stories along via storytellers to the written word in newspapers, magazines, poetry and novels and now via everything online from 140-character Twitter tweets to 1-2 minute YouTube-type videos to long meandering blog posts, ebooks (written & audio), Hulu-type videos/programs/movies, etc. (even run-on sentences like this one!).
A story of Olympic proportions - the Olympics!
As mentioned in Bob Knorpp's The Beancast: Episode 92: Telling Olympic Stories:
The Olympics were front and center on our topic list. The apparent success of the games for advertisers seemed in stark contrast to the vitriol being handed out to NBC for aggregating content into prime time. It made for a very interesting discussion.
When did the Olympics end? - I don't know. Why? Because we time-shifted the Olympics by recording them on our DVR. In any case, I watched the sports-part of the Olympics in super-fast-forward as my wife blazed through them to get to (you guessed it!) the personal stories of the athletes as told in short profile pieces and interviews interspersed throughout the programming.
Oh, and we watched the figure skating at normal speed as well. Why? Probably because of the romantically-told tales of the skaters backgrounds and stories in getting to their level of achievement and the games.
Why stories? - We remember them...and retell them
My Grandfather told me this story and I always remembered it (not verbatim, but the essence of it - that we need to get our message out):
The Codfish and the Hen
The codfish lays a million eggs,
While the helpful hen lays one;
But the codfish does not cackle
To inform us what she's done.
And so we scorn the codfish coy,
While the helpful hen we prize;
Which indicates to thoughtful minds
That it pays to advertise.
- Anonymous american rhyme.
CASS CITY CHRONICLE, Cass City, Michigan, January 5, 1923
Now that you've read the little story above, you'll probably remember it. At some point in the future you'll probably end-up telling it to someone else to make a point or amuse them. And the story continues...
Retelling stories make them viral...
As mentioned recently in Eric Tsai's 5 Tips to Engage Social and Mobile Customers on TheCustomerCollective.com:
5. Tell a story, create passion – Reporters loves a great story because they know readers love them too. Often times a great story can get viral because well, it’s a great story! The increasingly social web has vastly increased the fragmentation of media. Leverage sequential advertising to tell a story and lead your prospects down a path of related messages with continuity of the call-to-action. Each engagement touch point should evoke a compelling response with fresh information and unique impression.
This is like what Napoleon Hill said in "Think and Grow Rich":
The subconscious mind is more susceptible to influence by impulses of thought mixed with `feeling' or emotion, than by those originating solely in the reasoning portion of the mind. In fact, there is much evidence to support the theory, that ONLY emotionalized thoughts have any ACTION influence upon the subconscious mind.
So the formula for (a story) going viral is:
thought + emotion = Action
Story + passion = Viral, where "going viral" is the action
You could also say that this is "The Secret" of viral stories (videos, etc.).
Details of Stories can change, but you still get the point
Note that the stories can change a little but you still get the point. The story of the Codfish and the Hen (above) is also related in Thoughts on the Business of Life (Forbes, 1999) but with the codfish laying ten thousand (10,000) eggs.
10,000 vs. 1,000,000 eggs is a big difference, but the point's the same: a lot of eggs...versus one.
It's actually part of the power of stories that they can be told differently, or mistold, and yet still effectively make the same point.
How to use Stories in Internet Marketing
- Building social movements
- As Joe Green, the founder of Causes, a Facebook application that encourages people to give time and money to their favorite causes did: Spreading the spirit of giving, LA Times, February 28, 2010.
At Harvard, he studied with Marshall Ganz, who has helped spark a resurgence in grass-roots organizing in Democratic campaigns, including Obama's historic presidential run. From Ganz, Green learned the importance of sharing personal narratives in building social movements.
- Use stories in articles, emails, eZines, sales letters, web pages, etc. to make and drive home points. See Social Proof & Testimonials below.
- Email marketing
- Using personal stories in broadcast emails helps personalize you and the information being given.
- It's all personal stories, isn't it?
- Status updates are (or can be) short stories.
- What not to do: While you can tell your personal narrative within your LinkedIn profile, don't make it a fictional resume - stick with the truth and the facts.
- Social Proof
- As Robert Cialdini said: People will do things that they see other people are doing.
- Anecdotes and examples can help make points (see Copywriting above).
- Personal stories told by the individuals themselves, either in text or videos (even better!) which can be used on web pages, sales letters, etc. See Copywriting above.
- Just remember to follow the recent FTC guidelines on Testimonials: FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials.
- A tweet can be a very short story.
- Or a series of tweets can tell a story.
- Hint: If you use hashtags, then people can see the whole story when they search on the hashtag.
What's a story?
It's a narrative describing some event or sequence of events. Basically a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Depending on how you're using the story you may also want it to have a point. Toastmasters are usually master story tellers and you can get more information here: Leading by a Tale: How to put storytelling to work in your organization by Caren S. Neile.
So what's your story?
Have a story or a comment you'd like to share? - Just let me know below...