Have You Heard the One About… ?

September 11, 2014

Storytelling is as old as the hills.

By Mimi Bell

You’re just hearing about it a lot more these days because marketers have come to realize what generations of people, from all cultures, have always known: People are moved by stories. Moved to take action. Moved to make a charitable donation. Moved to make a buying decision.

The pen remains mighty

Stories are a powerful influencer. When you hear a good story, you connect with another person. You don’t just read it and forget it. You do something.

If the story is about a child going to bed hungry at night, you feel compelled to give something to the soup kitchen—money or a basket of food—to fill that empty tummy. If the story tells of an injustice, you’ll sign your name to a petition, speak up, or maybe even join in a protest. If the story tells about a new invention, perhaps a product that can make your life easier or help you run your business more cost-effectively, you have your purchasing department cut a PO. It’s the story’s ability to compel us to take action—to do, give, or buy—that makes it so powerful.

But just telling a story—even one with a good plot or intriguing characters—isn’t enough. The power of storytelling is wielded by the storyteller. And not everyone can tell a good story (even though everyone thinks they can and boasts that they can). The analogy here is to telling a joke.

Have you ever heard a really great joke, the kind when expertly delivered has you doubled over in guffaws? Have you ever heard that very same hysterically funny joke—with the same punch line—delivered by my cousin Bob, who thinks he’s a comedian but whose timing is off, who doesn’t emphasize the right words, and who scrambles the punch line? Yep, that’s where the expression “went over like a lead balloon” comes in.

Not one or the other, but both

Storytelling is not only an art, which is how it is often, and accurately, described, but a science, too. The science part involves understanding how a human eye reads words on a page. And how those words on a page—not too many and not too few—should be divided between headlines, decks, feature articles, sidebars, text boxes, and photo captions. It’s also not just about the words, but how visuals should go hand in hand with the words. And how those visual components—photographs, infographics, typeface, font size, space between lines, colors on the page, or the absence of visuals and text on the page (white space)—are equally crucial to the science of storytelling. When the art of storytelling and the science of storytelling come together—poof!—it’s a chemistry experiment gone right.

Storytelling: not for the faint of heart

But let’s not get complacent about storytelling. It’s best left to the true experts, the article writers, editors, art directors, and editorial photographers of an experienced custom publishing house, folks who are dedicated solely to telling great stories.

Why? Because telling a pitch-perfect story is heavy lifting, and it shouldn’t be left to advertising agencies, PR firms, or your niece who writes for her school newspaper. While just about everyone says they can do the storytelling job for you, writing a compelling story is art and science. And it’s very different from writing snappy copy for your marketing brochure, warranty card, or sales sheet. Doubt me? Then my cousin Bob’s got a great joke he wants to tell you.