A key to making an idea sticky is to tell it as a story. Stories encourage a kind of mental simulation or reenactment on the part of the listener that burns the idea into the mind. For example, a flight simulator is much more effective than flash cards in training a pilot. The hard part about using a story is creating it. The best way to use a story is to always be on the lookout for them. Most good stories are collected and discovered, rather than produced..."
That quote actually came from a science guy named Bill Hammack, summarizing a chapter of the book, Made to Stick, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.
We don't always equate storytelling with marketing and selling—because of the brevity that writing often requires—but in this age of short attention spans, we should. Stories grab us in a way other styles can't. Bud Collins, the great tennis writer and commentator who recently passed away, was a master storyteller, with an unmatched knowledge of tennis history.
Collins was once asked about his initial foray into writing about tennis. "I went and found a great game, but a very stuffy game," he said. "I wanted to have fun, so I covered tennis the same way I covered other sports. And I used the same approach when I began to broadcast tennis." Meaning he told stories about the past and present.
Thinking yesterday who I could talk to about this I contacted Eleanor Jones, director of strategic marketing for Business Management Daily. She is a published author of short mystery stories—her latest, Killing Kippers, will be published in a new anthology titled Murder Most Conventional. Yes, every story involves a mystery—and probably a dead body—at a convention. For Jones, that harked her back to a clown convention she once happened on.
"In both marketing and short story writing, you do take information and put it into a real succinct form," she said. "It has definitely helped make me a better short story writer. We just put up copy about management training. 'I'm perplexed. Someone yelled at me at work this morning and I don't know what to do.' Mequoda has always done a great job telling stories in their copy."
Jones made another comparison. Writing stories, you have to always think about what comes next. In marketing, you have to do the same. "What else can I help you with?" she asked, repeating a favorite line. This makes me think of what Elizabeth Petersen of BLR told us recently: "Always have something next for your customers—even at [a] top level. Know what you're going to offer them next year."
We actually came up with one more similarity between writing marketing copy and stories. Look for the spinoff. Jones said that one of their new publications, Records Management Today, is a spinoff for their HR audience. "There are so many laws around that—what you should keep, what you can keep, should it be electronic or paper?"
And here's one of their leads in that area: "'I have been a part of many information governance/records management horror stories,' says Braden Perry, litigation, regulatory and government investigations attorney with Kennyhertz Perry, LLC." He has stories—he's someone I want to learn from.
Of course, when authors create good characters in their stories, they may want to spin them off into new stories. Characters like Huckleberry Finn, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and, in present times, Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad fame. We will probably see more of that in marketing as videos continue to ascend.
I'll finish with a quote from one of my favorite storytellers, the great novelist Pat Conroy, who also, sadly, just passed away. I can honestly say that his book, The Water Is Wide—later made into the excellent film Conrack with Jon Voight—changed my life. "The most powerful words in English," Conroy said, "are, 'Tell me a story.'"