How Do You Tell Stories In Digital? – Forbes

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In the digital world, marketing messages are tested, measured and optimized. High-performing messages survive, and underperformers die. Users vote with their clicks – and they don’t vote for long-winded copy very often.

This world has real advantages for marketers: the ability to spend small, targeted amounts and receive immediate feedback on what potential customers care about. But it’s not a world conducive to storytelling.

Stories connect one thing with another, but making those connections takes time. In mass media, a 30-second television spot is enough time to tell a mini-story (in a format roughly similar to an actual television show). But online, even 30 seconds can be a lot to ask.

This state of affairs is a challenge for marketing for two reasons: First, without a story to tell, a business’s relationships with customers will remain transactional, not emotional – and in a brutally competitive world, purely transactional relationships are risky.

Second, the people working for a business are not motivated by a bullet-pointed list of benefits. They want to change the world in some way. A transactional mindset isn’t motivating or meaningful to them, either.

Being able to tell a story in digital is tricky, but it can be done. Sometimes it’s a question of adjusting the way you think about your copy. But it’s also a matter of adjusting how you think about what a business or brand’s story is, and who tells it.

The Power Of Plots

The novelist E.M. Forster said that “‘The king died, and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” (In reality, the queen was probably assassinated because she was the real power behind the throne.)

The difference between story and plot is the introduction of cause and effect. This insight helped wedding registry startup Zola run a very effective New York City subway campaign, using the copy structure: “Love makes you do crazy things” / “Love makes us do crazy things, too.”

This formula contains a very short story: Motivated by love, Zola set out to make it easier for people to get married. The introduction of cause and effect turns what could have been a vanilla campaign into something quite different.

The Value Of Villains

Bumper-sticker wisdom says that hate is easy, but love takes courage. Why not take the easy way out?

You’ve no doubt noticed that people are very willing to vent their frustrations and hatred online – there’s even a dating app premised on that insight. Overcoming an obstacle or defeating a villain is part of most stories, and it’s an easy way to give your copy the shape of a story.

You don’t have to go so far as to create a Hamburglar-style costumed villain for your business to defeat (but don’t rule it out!). A villain can be a state of affairs, an inferior experience, a feeling, or even (if you’re a delivery startup) the obligation to get off your couch for any reason whatsoever.

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