The subtle art of storytelling

How can a $1 horse be sold for a hundred bucks? Pretty easy, there are multiple ways to weave a narrative around your product or service which can set you apart from the crowd. Anh Nguyen, subscription marketing lead at YouTube APAC, shares her valuable insight into the secret to good storytelling for any product or brand. Storytelling is a crucial skill to master for any startup as it helps to inspire potential hires, customers and investors - to believe in your brand. The aim is to cut through the noise and communicate succinctly but effectively. Inspirational stories form the bedrock of effective communication, and they help to convey the sheer passion and drive behind incredible ideas. 

Less is always more

They say the mark of true understanding is the ability to translate any learning into its simplest form for the layman. A good marketer would then think of creative ways to elevate this storyline to pique the interest of an audience. A good exercise in adopting this practice is through summarising popular movie plots into simple sentences and offering unique perspectives.

For instance, a marketer could sell Snow White as a story of how "A guy kisses a dead girl in the woods while seven guys watch”. The objective is to illustrate how storytelling elevates ordinary ideas to extraordinary experiences. An idea when presented with its underlying motivations is so much more powerful.  

Identify your challenges

Once you can identify your immediate challenges, the steps needed to overcome them become clearer. Three common hurdles of storytelling include 1) the attention deficit of the audience, 2) the time and creativity needed to simplify your plot and, 3) the investment needed in refining all presentation and communication skills.

To start with, never underestimate the foundations of basic humanity. You’ll be surprised by how easily an intimate connection can be achieved when telling a story. Don’t forget a simple point that all individuals, despite their interests, upbringing and backgrounds, share the same set of core emotions. Appeal to your audience's senses and desires and create a story for your brand that resonates with who you are as a person, that calls the core of your brand. Personal anecdotes that everyone can relate to, lead to easy memory recall.

Why storytelling matters

Storytelling is the basic human way of passing on knowledge and communicating (before people could read and write). Stories help bridge the gap between our logos and pathos; when an audience becomes emotionally receptive to facts, chances increase that they will respond and act on the knowledge. Stories provoke shared emotion, which is the foundation of empathy and can be easily digested by the human brain, therefore, making these facts easier to retain.

The rule of thirds

When presenting these five elements, a very special triangulation framework will help shape the intent and flow of your storytelling to ensure you stay on point.

  1. Personal story: Why you do what you do. What is your story about, what challenges did you experience, the choices you made, lessons learnt, what are your values, what do you care for most?
  2. Group story: Create a shared sense of belonging and destiny with the people around you. What challenges are you solving for users, investors and clients? How does this relate back to your audience? Help each individual to understand both his or her unique contribution and the distinctive contribution of others. For e.g with Tesla (pictured below)
  3. Dream/Now story: Communicates a sense of urgency and a sense of hope. Spell out the choices your audiences have (risks and rewards). Lastly, provide a description of where things are going, and how you will get there.

Know your ending before the beginning of your story in order to not stray away from the topic. Always keep in mind the top three things you’d like your audience to take away and reiterate those points. Study your audience and know what they care about and appeal to that sentiment. And of course, practice makes perfect. Tell your story to as many people who will listen and tell it over and over until you refine it perfectly.

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