24 Aug

You’re Wasting Your Story, Part 1

The key to great branding and marketing? Tell a great story. But you’re wasting it.

How? Well, for one, you’re telling your story the way you want to hear it.

My preferred reading falls into two categories: treatises on group and personal behavior…and Regency-era romance novels. It’s veryhard to get me to pick up a book that doesn’t fall into one of those two categories.

But we all have our bias. History, biography, sci-fi…whatever the subject, each of us likes to read and hear stories told in certain ways.

Take the Civil War, for instance. You can take a chronological approach to telling the story. Or focus on a key character. You can tell the story of the unsung. Or find the romance in it. Or use it to help define a new genre. However the story of the Civil War is told, the basic elements are always the same. The readers of each version of the story come away with some knowledge of those elements. Because those elements are framed in a way the readers enjoy, they are more likely to remember and understand them—the goal of effective brand storytelling, organizational or otherwise.

When we tell stories, we also have a bias: we tell the stories we want to hear, which is kind of a problem when you’re trying to market to (or get support from) different types of people, all of whom have their own preferences. People want to hear the stories they want to hear.

If you tell your story as a biography, then biography buffs are the ones most likely to enjoy it. But if you can tell that same story in multiple ways—suspense, self-help, adventure—then each new telling brings a new chance at connection.

To do this, you need to know your bias. Look on your nightstand, both literally and figuratively. (Yes, those books are, in fact, the ones currently by my bed. You’ll see they all fall into my two categories: treatise and trash.) From a literal standpoint, looking at what you read most often can tell you a lot about the kinds of stories you like, and like to tell. Based on my nightstand reading (and the stories I’ve told in past posts here), you’ll see I have a very strong bias towards explaining things—with passion.

The organizational nightstand is figurative, but the same exercise applies: Do your case studies sound the same, regardless of their subject? Do the stories you tell tend to fall into a standard format or plotline?

If they do, you’re likely wasting your story, simply by not telling it in multiple ways. Don’t worry about repeating yourself—most people can recognize their type of story by the cover, and don’t ever pick up ones that don’t suit. We make our decision to read and attend to stories based on visual and verbal cues. That’s why titles, keywords, and design are so important. They help us evaluate, at a glance, whether or not to “read” further.

So go back to your stories. Do some rewrites. If you tell a lot of people-focused stories, try explaining your methods, too. If you’ve talked about your tools and how they work, try talking about their impact. If you’re having trouble seeing beyond your own bias, ask for help—from someone who likes different types of stories than you do (or an outside consultant or firm).

At the end of the day, the question isn’t, “What’s my story?”
It’s: “How many ways can I tell it?”

Tomorrow: the other way you’re wasting your story.

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Round the Square as “The first way you’re wasting your story.”