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What Marketers Can Learn About Storytelling From The Moth

By Annie ZelmOct 8, 2015

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A young man dreams of an iron roof for his family.

A young woman recounts the difficulty of being a Mormon in New York City.

A pastry chef for the White House talks about landing the job of a lifetime.

An author becomes spellbound by her pen pal in prison. 

I look forward to hearing true stories like these each week on The Moth Podcast, where ordinary people tell them in front of a live audience.

Some are hilarious, some are heartbreaking and others are heartwarming, but all are well done. They've made my workouts a lot more interesting, but they've also given me a new appreciation for marketing storytelling. 

As content marketers, we all strive to tell great stories.

They give us a way to humanize our brand, engage with our audience and educate them.

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Of course, it seems much easier to tell a great story when you're talking about a pivotal moment in your life rather than your product, but the same principles apply. You just have to dig a little deeper to find the hook and the details that make it compelling.

The Moth coaches its storytellers on how to make a strong story even more powerful. Here are five storytelling tips it offers and how you can apply them to your own storytelling as a marketer. 

Have Some Stakes


Every great story has something at stake. For someone telling a story onstage, the stakes are high and extremely personal. As a marketer, the stakes revolve around your buyers, the buyer's journey and their pain points. Put yourself in their shoes. What do they stand to gain or lose from what you have to offer? 

Logistics company Penske did a fantastic job of showing what's at stake for its customers with “Stories that Move Us,” a series of mini documentaries about the people who work behind the scenes to keep our shelves stocked and our cupboards full. They stock our hospitals, showrooms and grocery stores. The videos earned it a 2015 Internet Advertising Competition award.

By highlighting customer stories and showing us a glimpse of what life is like for each one, Penske demonstrates the importance of logistics without explicitly talking about it themselves. 


Start In the Action


Every story needs a great intro that sets the scene and shows the stakes from the beginning. 

BambooHR gets right to it in a recent blog about the impact of stress on employee health. Author Kelsie Davis wastes no time jumping into the serious ailments employees have reported from high-stress jobs.

Daily headaches.

Gaining 50 pounds and developing a thyroid disorder. 

Hair loss.

Bell's palsy. 

Yikes! If you're an HR professional (or anyone with a heart), she has your attention. Now you're likely to keep reading to find out how to prevent your employees from ending up in the hospital because of a bad work environment.

Know Your Story Well Enough to Have Fun

This tip is meant for someone telling their story to a live audience, but it's just as relevant when you're talking about complicated topics loaded with industry jargon. If you can't explain the value of your product or service to a 6-year-old, you don't understand it well enough. And you won't enjoy talking about it, whether you're giving a sales presentation or writing copy for a website. 

If the story you're trying to tell is getting mired in technical terms or complicated descriptions of features, it's time to take a step back. Follow The Moth's recommendations and imagine you're telling it at a dinner party, not a deposition. Think about what your company is accomplishing on a larger scale and why it's so important. Ask yourself:

  • What's most inspiring or exciting about what we do? 
  • How is it changing the way people live their lives or do business? 
  • What have our best customers said about us lately? 
  • What are they doing that hasn't been done before, or what are they doing better than anyone else?

As you think about these things, your story will start to take shape. Make an outline, and look for ways to make it fun when you can. 

Hootsuite volunteered to be the punchline of its own joke when it created a "Mean Tweets" video to announce that its often-bashed dashboard was getting a makeover. It was a memorable announcement that drew more than 95,000 views and showed the company isn't afraid to laugh at itself. 

 

Steer Clear of Meandering Endings


Just as a good storyteller should know his last line before he starts telling the tale, marketers need to have a clear goal in mind before they start writing the next blog, eBook, video script or even the next email.

The call to action should be clear in your head before you start.

It needs to be unique, strongly worded and clever. It also needs to give your readers a sense of urgency and make it easy for them to take the next step.

Whether you're planning a single blog or a multi-channel marketing campaign, make sure you're moving them closer to the final destination at every stop along the way. 

Deloitte's infographic on today's healthcare consumer gives a lot of useful information, and there are several opportunities for readers to take action as they scroll. It ends with a link to read more in the full survey. 

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Connect With Your Audience


There's a big difference between an ending and a dead end. It's essential to have a strong conclusion that compels readers to act, but it's also important to find ways to keep the conversation going afterward. 

You can do this by asking questions on social media, hosting a contest that invites readers to submit something or starting an online forum that allows them to interact with others in their industry. 

The Direct Marketing Association recently hosted a contest awarding a $100,000 prize to the marketer who could put his or her promotional skills to work and persuade 20 others to attend the &THEN conference. 

Naturally, this generated tons of buzz while boosting attendance for the conference. 

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The Moral of the Story

We've been connecting with others through stories since the dawn of humanity, even before the existence of written languages. We were all born to do it—just think about the stories you told to scare your friends around the campfire or the tales you made up on the spot to get out of trouble. 

Sometimes we forget what really makes a good story. We lose confidence in our ability to tell it well, or we pick up bad habits along the way. 

Great marketing comes down to telling great stories, and we should never stop perfecting the craft. 

For more tips on how to entice customers with great stories, check out our updated marketing storytelling guide. 

Additional Topics: Content and Design
The Author

Annie Zelm

As the content manager, Annie manages a team of brand journalists and is the driving force behind the content strategy for companies in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology and professional services. Relying on interviewing skills she developed in her seven years as a journalist, she uncovers insights about what motivates buyers in these industries and uses that knowledge to shape client websites and editorial calendars.
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