An interesting column about Harrison Ford in the Guardian last week spoke of his numerous near-death scrapes over the years. Having narrowly avoided crashing the small plane Ford was, appropriately, flying solo, the column likened the Star Wars actor’s life to that of Dick Van Dyke. The comparison was made because of the latter’s numerous lucky escapes and recalled a time when an elderly Van Dyke fell asleep on his surfboard and drifted out to sea. In an incident as bizarre as it was compelling, the Mary Poppins star was saved when a pod of porpoises nudged him back to safety.
Speaking of porpoises, did you know sightings of these marine mammals in Irish waters has risen by 11% in the last few years.
Of both pieces of information above, which are you more likely to remember, and to share with others? The death-defying porpoise-pushed Mary Poppins star, or the number of the mammals sighted off our shores? I’d wager it’s the story about Dick Van Dyke.
Why is this? Well, as Matthew Luhn, storyteller with Pixar, stated at the Dublin Tech Summit last week: People remember stories, not statistics. That’s a very useful piece of advice for all digital marketers trying to increase consumer engagement through their online content.
In fact, stories have proven to gain 22 times more engagement than raw facts, according to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner. Stories, or at least good stories, impact on our emotions and cause us to release both happy and sad chemicals. As humans, we react to stimuli such as stories about others because we can empathise and relate.
What’s the story?
Telling a great story through your online content has many benefits for brands who successfully manage this. As this Forbes article points out, it conveys your brand’s personality, whether that’s through in-house content or content produced by visitors to your website, advocates or customers. But it also hits that emotional sweet spot in consumers, speaking to them in a way they can relate to, and encourages them to come back for more, to find out what the next chapter in the story is, and that right there means repeat website visits from people looking for more content that will hopefully end up generating leads.
Of course, you need to know who your buyer personas are, in order to know what type of content they will relate to, so this should be the first step you take when creating content that will tell a great story. Just as there’s little point in reading Finnegan’s Wake to a group of 4-year-olds, or 3 Blind Mice to a boardroom full of executives, you need to know your audience, who you want to appeal to, and provide great content accordingly. If you know the buyer personas you want to appeal to, you will be better able to give the right organic content to the right people at the right time, enhancing your chances of generating leads for your business.
Good storytelling, Luhn says, should bring you on a rollercoaster of emotions, bringing you up and down so that you feel personally connected to it. It’s why we feel sorry for the grumpy old man in Up, or fear for Nemo’s safety. It is also why good content attracts lots of website traffic, and bad content does not.
Sharpening Your Hook
There needs to be a challenge, struggle, need or problem established early on, because you need to get your hook in quickly.
The nature of online consumer behaviour today means you have on average 8 seconds to catch the attention of your audience, and show them that what you have to say is worth taking notice of.
Very importantly though, that story must be honest. Luring people into your content with an eye-catching image, video or headline only to find that your story is fake or simply not true, is clickbait, and clickbait is very, very bad.
Play It Again, Sam
Video is becoming the most effective form of digital marketing content out there. As this blog from the Digital Marketing Institute outlines, 85% of brands using a good video content strategy are successful because as outlined by marketwired.com, Forrester Research has found that one video is worth 1.8 million words. Video promotes brand awareness by placing your brand front and centre in a story, has great potential for reach and shareability (and the chance to go viral), and is far more accessible and entertaining than the written word.
It also encourages more engagement with your audience, particularly if you avail of customer reviews and testimonials that present a real-life scenario of a person’s struggle, and how it was overcome. Not only do they reach people on an emotional level (how unfortunate for them, but how great it is that they found an answer – maybe it will work for me too), but they also tell your brand’s story without your having to push the brand message out there).
To be eye-catching, your content needs to be unusual, unexpected and contain some sort of conflict, should entice the audience to find out how it will change them for the better, because great stories are about transformation.
Just as characters within a good story change, so too does the audience, in terms of their outlook, their opinions, and their future actions. A great story in your digital marketing content could play a major role in influencing consumers to choose your brand or business over another, simply because they could relate to it.
Of course, as with any digital marketing strategy, your content needs to be fully integrated across multiple platforms, so you need to promote it through social media, and this involves considerations regarding how it will display, how user-friendly it is, and how easy it is to share for maximum reach and impact.
Luhn’s message is not to try to be too clever in the content you produce, the stories you tell. Instead, you need to properly engage by acknowledging that we all have needs, and honestly describe what those are. And remember that a good story is all about showing, not telling. Show how consumers feel in real-life-experience videos that place them in an identifiable, relatable situation, and show how they can overcome those challenges they face, positioning your brand in the centre of the story so that the solution is immediately and easily connected to the product or service you provide.
Just as a good movie won’t simply say ‘the hero faced great dangers but overcame them’ but instead shows us the perils and derring-do they faced and how they won out in the end, your content should present the scenario and the solutions available, rather than simply stating fact.
For Matthew Luhn, the hero’s journey is comprised of a set-up, building of story, and finally the pay-off, and your digital marketing should follow the same path. Set up the situation, the challenge or need of your potential customer with great content that is helpful and relevant to them, then build on this story by offering further great content they can use to find out more about the solutions to those challenges, then give the pay-off, proving how you can provide those solutions.
That’s where your Call To Action comes in, right at the end of the story. Having shown the audience the challenges faced by like-minded people, and how those challenges were overcome, you now offer them the opportunity to enjoy the same experience, and bring them on their first steps into their own buyer’s journey, their own story.
If you do this properly, you’ll find the number of website visitors turning into qualified leads on the Up.
Want to learn more about creating great content that increases traffic to your website, attracts online visitors and generates leads? Download our Lead Generation Survival Kit.