“Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” — Virginia Woolf
The idea of using storytelling to influence customer conversion rates is nothing new to marketing. People have shared stories as a way to record memories and make sense of the world since before written history, and marketing is, if anything, rather late to the party. So, rather than rehashing the whys and hows of story marketing, here are some thoughts on how embroidering your facts with fictions can help you bring home your campaign goals — without having to sell your soul.
Observation 1: Our perception of reality is, itself, a function of fiction, so work it!
Much like fiction finds meaning through its relationship to fact, our experience of life is also attached to fiction at all four corners. There is no way to escape this link, and, in ethical marketing, there doesn’t have to be. Our experience of reality is a combination of the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, the stories we tell others about ourselves and the stories they tell us about who we are. Being aware of this process is what sets us apart as storytellers and marketers — positioning us to take an active role in creating the stories that define our collective perception. While becoming aware of the influence of story turns on an ethical obligation to “do right by it”, that doesn’t mean you can’t spin things to suit your aims — we do this on a daily basis in our domestic lives as well in countless, harmless ways. Each habit, quirk and choice tells the world a story about you. It’s a bit like the old showman’s trick: change the lighting on an object and watch its character change completely.
In copywriting, for example, there’s less freedom to play with the poetics of spelling and grammar than in fiction, but the freedom to work with narrative remains the same. Plus we’re backed by strategy and analytics, which makes every word we write pack quite a punch. While in no way advocating false advertising, it seems silly to engage in the business of convincing people to make a change — e.g. to a new product, service or brand — without remembering that a) people buy from people and b) people are driven by feelings more easily than facts.
As ethical marketers, it becomes our responsibility to connect facts and feelings — spinning the webs that bind fiction to life, and life to fiction. As copywriters and content producers in this chain, we spin this web, so that readers and users perceive it in a particular shape. Or, to return to the analogy of the showman’s lighting: our clients provide the object, the strategy team uses data to inform a lighting plan to display the object in the most attractive light, and creatives use their respective crafts to put this plan into action. Just the act of illuminating the object by choice, not chance, is an act of mediation that influences how a viewer perceives this object. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this: it is a fundamental basis for the collective creation of consensus reality.
Whether these strategic uses of lighting are ethical is down to the intentions that inform these actions. And there is nothing intrinsically wrong about offering your wares in a marketplace either, or brokering the wares of another. This is essentially what we do as marketers. It’s who we represent, what we sell and how we sell it that makes the difference.
Observation 2: At some point, you need facts to anchor the threads of fiction.
Your marketing campaign won’t be effective if you exclusively communicate only facts, or only fictions. They come into existence together — even the wildest science fiction space operas have their roots in their author’s experience of the present day. Yes, what constitutes “fact” versus “fiction” is a slippery — and often relative — notion, but we tend to ascribe “factness” to something more easily the more concrete the experience is. But a concrete experience is not necessarily an easily digestible one, and this is where the fictions play their role. In marketing, it’s the “storification” of facts that lead to conversions. After all, the appeal of stories is so hardwired that people train specifically to see through their allure — learning logic and critical reasoning to better manage the intrinsic human bias towards swallowing a story whole.
A world without shades of fiction would leave us unable to tell ourselves the stories of who we are, where we belong and how we got there. For an ethical marketing practice, this means we need to fictionalise our facts to be understood in a personable way. And that’s why ethical engagement is important: to balance fact and fiction in such a way that makes the customer experience palatable, without exploiting our increased awareness into what makes people tick.
Observation 3: People speak to people, and stories make your brand personable.
Stories put people first, because of the way the human brain works. People who feel they’ve been put first when engaging with your company are more inclined to trust your brand, defaulting to it over competitors. This is not so much because you employed some hot remarketing pixel and seduced them with killer ad copy for a product you pushed, but because they feel that, when coming to you, their needs will be front and centre of the exchange. Storifying your brand (and I don’t mean the app), is what puts flesh on the bones of your customer experience strategy, and helps you build a human connection.
Observation 4: It’s your job to tell them you’re out there, so tell them with story.
Your job involves sharing with strangers what it is you’re offering, because consumers can’t award sales to brands or products they’re unaware of. And story is one of the (more powerful) tools that helps you get noticed, and remembered.
The typical arc involves an exposition, followed by rising action, climax and denouement (similar to the exposition, except the characters of the story are fundamentally changed in some way through the course of the action).
SOME PRACTICAL TIPS
Keep it in perspective.
The trick for an effective and ethical strategy is to make it a part, but not the sum total, of your content strategy. Make the connection with your customers through story, and then revert to facts that confirm your claims. In other words, storify your facts, but leave your dreams of being a sci-fi writer for after-hours.
Make sure it’s sustainable.
Story marketing can commit you to a long journey of brand building, so only make promises you can keep — and work with a momentum that won’t leave you gasping for good content at the end of the first epic.
Storytelling in marketing is about changing the lighting to unearth new information. Use your storytelling to convey what your brand can do for others, and to make it personable — because features and spec lists rarely sell products, but stories build connections that last beyond individual products.
Call on the help of your friends.
It pays to outsource. That way you can pick up the pace and ensure great content — comprehensively built and strategically conceived — every step of the way, while you and your in-house team remain focused on your core offering. You create the marvellous object, but outsource to professionals to figure out the ideal lighting.
Looking for a team that understands this fine balance of crafting strategic content that keeps readers engaged with just enough fiction to drive home the facts? Huble Digital’s creative team works to flesh out the skeleton of strategy to boost your results with conversions. We help you shine the best light on your offering so it’s seen by those that matter. Speak to us about our content marketing service — we’d be happy to help transform your brand with story.
“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” — Terry Pratchett
Virtual ideas to keep your team connected during COVID-19