3 Elements of a Good Story

blog4_journalpenWith a business name of StoryPath Communications, it’s no surprise that we frequently talk about stories and how powerful they can be in marketing. Why? Because stories stick with people. They create an emotional connection. They give your audience a place to see themselves.

Think about this: how many times have you heard a speaker at a large conference or a pastor at a small church start with a story of some kind? Maybe it’s a personal story about how, as a young child, they always insisted on having pen and paper in hand, whether it was to write the family grocery list or copy an older sibling’s cursive homework. Or, maybe it’s a short anecdote about a vacation the preacher once took that relates to his favorite story from scripture. Those stories, as brief as they may be, open the door and invite people to come on a journey with the speaker.

The same is true for stories in marketing. When people can see themselves or someone they know in the story you tell, they’re connected and want to hear more. But what makes a good story? Do you need deep character development and a dramatic conclusion? Perhaps for a novel, but not for a short story to use in marketing. We recommend three things for a marketing story.

1. Keep it short, but have a beginning, middle, and end.
When you tell a story, you’re asking your reader to come on a mental journey with you. When you consider the crazy number of marketing messages bombarding the average person today, you don’t have much time to capture — and keep — their attention. So keep it short, but also give it structure. Picture your story as a hill, either a short rolling one or an extreme mountain peak. Tell your reader what happens at the bottom of the hill, what climax or turning point occurs at the top, and how it resolves on the other side.

2. Get personal and specific.  
You want people to relate to your story, and people simply can’t relate as well to an nameless and faceless story. Don’t tell a story about how your organization helped an anonymous 23-year-old with nowhere to live. Tell a story about how Sherry quit her job to care for an ill family member and then ended up unable to pay her bills and living out of her car. Whenever possible, use her name, her photo, and enough details to support the beginning, middle, and end of her story. There will of course be situations where details can’t be shared, either due to safety concerns or privacy regulations. If that’s the case, use a substitute name and acknowledge that you changed the name and some details to protect the person’s identity.

3. Tell the truth, but always with permission.
While fiction certainly counts as storytelling, it’s not the type of story you want to tell for marketing purposes. Fact check all of your stories, and then fact check them again. Also make sure you have signed release forms on file to use the person’s name, photo, and story for marketing purposes.

How have you used stories to help people understand your organization’s impact? Let us know in the comments!

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