The resurgence of storytelling
Do you remember looking forward to bedtime stories? Even today do you have a favourite drama that you go out of your way not to miss an episode? This is the power of storytelling. It draws you in and makes you hunger for the next instalment.
Of course, storytelling isn’t a new idea when it comes to being persuasive. Ancient Greeks, notably Aristotle, understood the role of pathos and ethos — the modes of persuasion appealing to an audience’s emotions and their perception of the speaker’s moral character — in establishing a connection with the audience. In more recent times, it’s been proven that long copy, that’s written to influence the cognitive and affective attitudes of an audience, can outsell short copy. But, as with many things, there are trends when it comes to copywriting.
Not so very long ago white papers would be lofty, often lengthy, essays; and case studies would be a rigorous business analysis. In the time-poor economy these were overtaken by quick tips and articles that did little more than summarise the challenges, solutions and results that a customer might achieve.
I’m not arguing against brevity but in the pursuit of ‘concise’ the bombardment of messages, one fact after another, can sometimes be relentless and very tiring for the reader. There’s no pleasure in the assimilation of information. It feels like a chore rather than a welcome diversion to read the document in front of them.
The swing towards a more engaging approach, where the reader derives enjoyment from reading your material has to be the answer. The CIM report on the shape of digital to come is interesting reading generally but it quotes the fact that people now see something like 625 messages every day. A staggering number. It goes on to suggest that an answer to this is to absorb the message into the kind of content that customers want to see — ‘marketing that doesn’t seem like marketing’. Perhaps the answer is marketing that seems more like entertainment.
Sometimes we have to work at convincing a client of the value of using this powerful medium to engage with their prospects. Just this week I was pipped to the post and the new customer I was visiting explained how they wanted to get more of a narrative into their case studies and opinion pieces.
This shift isn’t isolated to print. Today, even on the web (and probably because scrolling can be easier than clicking) long copy can outsell short copy: Marketing Experiments presents some compelling findings on website conversion rates. Long keyword-rich copy not only performs well in search engines, it gives visitors more options — some may just skim the contents while others, who are more interested in specific details, can find all the information they need. But be aware, the long vs. short debate often overlooks the most important factor when it comes to website copy — quality.
So whether you’re looking to create online or printed copy, the approach remains the same: engaging and thought provoking copy, that involves the reader — whether presented in a hundred words or a thousand — will be far more successful than reels of facts and figures.
There are many ways to make your message more engaging. We are certainly getting involved in more video and flash animations. But the biggest change that we are seeing at the moment is a return to good old-fashioned storytelling where the art of the storyteller is crucial to getting the message across. One example of this is that case studies are taking a far more narrative, human angle, drawing the reader in and showing the personal gain as much as the business benefits that result. This is great to see, not least because it’s a proven way of creating an environment to sell in. But also because it’s just as much fun to write as it is to read.