How To Tell Exciting Stories

Even if your Product is Boring

Swiffer cleaning products offer an alternative to the dirty, backbreaking chore of house cleaning. But inherently, they have a few marketing challenges:
  1. Nobody wants a broom. While people certainly want clean homes, nobody really gets excited about the equipment that will accomplish this outcome.
  2. A broom is a broom. Cleaning products are pretty low tech. It’s tough to convince someone to pay a premium for one tool when multiple cheaper alternatives are available.

Swiffer’s answer to these challenges is a series of commercials centered around everyday families. These commercials not only raise awareness about an innovative solution to a domestic hassle. They do it in a way that justifies the premium price and helps you remember which brand to purchase.

You’ve probably seen the commercial featuring the Saunder family who recently transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. The constantly rainy weather means their kids frequently track mud into the house. The doorbell rings, and the mom finds a box of Swiffer products to solve her domestic woes. The spot ends optimistically with mom saying, “Sunshine is overrated. Now we can get messy.” A cheerful tune whistles the commercial to a close.

Get in Your Audience’s Heads with Storytelling

While a few of the Swiffer commercials have been notable for their inclusiveness (ex: multi-racial family with an amputee father), the real mastery lies in the storytelling.

Each 30-second commercial has a textbook storytelling arc:
  • introduce the characters/family (exposition)
  • explain the dirty, strenuous problem (rising action)
  • deliver the Swiffer (climax)
  • show the family trying the products (falling action)
  • reveal how life is a little bit better as a result (denouement)

These commercials are inherently effective because they follow a time-tested format for engaging audiences. Hearing a story makes our brains feel as though we’re experiencing these events ourselves. What’s more, Swiffer chose scenarios that many of us actually have experienced ourselves—muddy footprints, too much pet hair, dusty ceiling fans. Storytelling allows us to become emotionally attached to the characters and the brand.

Be Authentic

Another remarkable aspect of the Swiffer stories is their authenticity. They feature real families sharing their experiences in the home. You’ll notice a mix of ages, body types, and ethnicities—no cookie cutter models here. There’s plenty of dirt, too. Swiffer doesn’t try to make cleaning glamorous. There are no big promises, just simple solutions to help everyday people enjoy their homes and families a little more.

Show, Don’t Tell

The commercials aren’t overly promotional. Viewers simply see the benefits of the products for themselves through the eyes of the real people using them. Any “selling” that happens is spoken by one of the family members as a kind of testimonial to the products’ functionality, ease of use, and effectiveness. The parting shot shows Swiffer’s logo and signature green color to remind you which brand to buy when you head to the store.

Just because you’re not selling a “fun” consumer product doesn’t mean you can’t have stellar, exciting marketing. There’s really nothing exciting about sweeping dirt off your floor. These commercials are a superb example of how you can build a story around your brand by focusing on the value you bring to your audience.

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Drive Attendance at your Next Event with a Visually Compelling Fact Sheet

1. Data is intimidating.

Data alone won’t fill seats at your event. You need to create a story around your data so members can easily grasp it and act upon it.

2. Most people are visual learners.

Research suggests that color visuals increase willingness to read by 80%. Visuals also boost retention and are more persuasive than words alone.

3. Simple is better than complex.

Engage your audience instantly by breaking complex facts and figures into bite-sized nuggets of information. Members can always ask for additional details if they want to learn more.

4. Time is limited.

Not only do people have the approximate attention span of a goldfish, but they’re constantly bombarded with marketing messages. You need to get your point across quickly, before your audience moves on to something else.

5. Your brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.

Continuing the conversation on neuroscience marketing, it’s wise to at least consider how the brain processes stories vs. information, visuals vs. text, etc. Adding a compelling visual piece to your marketing mix might be just what you need to get and hold the attention of your members.

6. People are looking for infographics.

Between 2010 and 2012, search volume for “infographic” increased 800% on Google. The format has gained so much popularity in recent years, you’ll find dozens of infographics about the effectiveness of infographics.

7. Increase traffic.

Visuals are inherently more shareable than reports, brochures, or direct mail pieces. Produce a great infographic and your members won’t be able to resist sharing it with friends and colleagues.

An infographic is a lovely compromise that delivers hard facts in a user-friendly visual format. Data is a good start when it comes to assembling an infographic for your event. Attendance numbers, retention rates, and numbers from feedback surveys can make for good infographics. But adding quirky details, like how many gallons of coffee were consumed at your event, can add a human element that resonates with your membership.

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If Your Audience Isn't Engaged, It's Your Fault

Storytelling is big buzzword in marketing these days, but as recent research is proving, it’s no passing fad. Storytelling is a powerful tool for engaging your audience’s brains on multiple levels. It enhances their interaction with you as well as their perception of your brand. It also aids in retention of the information you present.

A recent article by Scott Schwertly of SlideShare offers a simple yet adept explanation (have a look at Schwertly’s fantastic infographic for full details):

  • When you tell your audience FACTS, they use just two parts of the brain to either agree or disagree with you.
  • When you tell a STORY, audiences use seven parts of the brain. Rather than simple agreement or disagreement, your audience’s brains literally participate in the story you’re telling.

Sensory Perception

The seven regions of the brain illuminated by storytelling correlate to specific senses. Movement in a story triggers your motor cortex, for example. Touch triggers the sensory cortex and cerebellum. By contrast, information is processed only as language. Aside from sensory responses, stories trigger emotional responses as well. Emotions, not logic, drive decision-making and action.

Everyday Language

The language you use matters, too. Rich, descriptive storytelling in everyday language is more effective than vague clichés or complex, technical wording. Don’t forget that humans relate to other humans, so you’ll need to be authentic and relatable as well.

Engagement Depends on You

What does all this brain science mean for your organization? Essentially, you get to choose whether or not your audience will be engaged. From the onset of any marketing piece, speech, event, or campaign, you can choose an approach that has an inherently higher ability to engage your members. Or you can choose to present facts and figures that by their very nature—and by humans’ very nature—are less likely to be interesting, engaging, or memorable.

If members aren’t engaged, they’re not going to be compelled to connect with your organization, renew membership dues, or attend your events. They’re not going to become brand ambassadors who participate in storymaking and deliver essential third party credibility.

All this adds up to a pretty compelling case for storytelling.

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Who Will You Be?
Dick’s Sporting Goods Takes Storytelling and Storymaking to a New Level with a Recent Series of Commercials Featuring the Tagline, “Who Will You Be?”

The full length commercial runs for about a minute and speaks to the audience with direct, almost prodding questions and statements:

Who will you be…when the choices you make make all the difference…The true tests, they don’t come easy. And they won’t last long. But that’s why you’re here, for these very moments…because there’s nothing that tests you like sports…

Engage the Senses

The images are close shots of athletes playing softball or hockey, running a football in the rain, lifting weights, or icing muscles. You can see the exertion and intensity on their faces, the grime on their jerseys. The visuals alone would tell a powerful story even if there were no narration at all.

The music adds to the emotional effect of the piece. It gradually builds before dropping off instantly to end the commercial in a moment of silence. The parting image is a young boy gazing at a trophy case. The question returns: Who will you be?

Inspire Your Audience to Action

This combination of storytelling, compelling visuals, and emotionally gripping music—all crammed into a one-minute spot—would make for a respectable commercial on its own. But the fact that the central message of the piece evokes audience emotion and kindles the imagination puts it over the top. This commercial literally has infinite possibilities because every audience member can make up his or her own story to answer the question: Who will you be? This promotion makes people believe they could be Olympians, professional athletes, the strongest in their class, the fastest at the marathon. Anything.

It’s Not About You

There isn’t one occurrence of the word “we” (as in Dick’s) in the entire commercial. The company’s logo appears at the end for one fleeting second. But the ideas and inspiration set forth in the commercial are more than enough to send us all running to the nearest sporting goods store (Dick’s hopes we’ll run to their stores).

The larger campaign includes eight additional commercials about 15 seconds each featuring specific sports. These mini moments don’t allow for the same storytelling arc and emotional ride as the longer piece, but they do pique interest and they’ll likely be useful for Dick’s to target specific markets by sport.

Hats off to Dick’s for a masterful storytelling effort. This approach caught our attention, and it must have struck a chord with audiences, too. #whowillyoube was trending on Twitter the day the commercial was released.

How might you prompt members to imagine amazing possibilities with the help of your organization?

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How to Build Brand Attachment

And Why You Can’t Afford Not To

Brand loyalty is great. It makes your members renew year after year and sign up for your annual events without fail. Brand loyalty means members choose to spend their valuable time and resources on your organization instead of a competing alternative—whether it’s another organization or simply staying home to run their businesses. You need brand loyalty. But you need brand attachment more.

According to emerging research, people can form emotional connections with brands the same way they do with people. Emotional brand attachment is the single most influential factor in driving sales—even more than overall satisfaction.

Why You Need Brand Attachment

Members with brand attachment not only come back year after year to attend your events, purchase your products, and renew membership dues. They become brand ambassadors who are highly likely to recommend your organization to others. Emotionally attached members promote your brand for you with invaluable third party credibility. They bring friends and teammates to your events and encourage colleagues to join your organization instead of competing alternatives. Investing in brand attachment has endless possibilities for ROI.

How Can You Build Brand Attachment?

Leading this exciting research is JoAnn Sciarrino, researcher and the Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Sciarrino suggests there are three key elements to brand attachment: affection, connection, and passion.

Here are three ways you can use these key elements to emotionally engage your membership:

1. Know your audience.

Find out what your members’ affections, connections, and passions are. What keeps them up at night? What problems are they solving? Which important causes matter to them? The more you know your membership on a deep, meaningful level, the more you can focus your marketing efforts to forge emotional connections.

2. Craft your story.

Once you know your audience, craft your story in a way that resonates with them. What does your organization offer that will solve audience problems? Who are the unique individuals they can expect to see at your events? How is your organization changing lives? Highlight specific members whenever possible. Be authentic, but always keep your audience in mind when crafting your story.

3. Raise awareness.

A great brand story isn’t worth much if nobody knows about it. Optimize your story for your website. Tailor content for social media platforms, marketing collateral, and direct mail promotions. Craft compelling videos. Gather vivid, illustrative images. Tell stories. Promote your events beforehand to drive attendance, and broadcast your successes afterwards to drive brand attachment.

Building brand loyalty by providing value to your membership is a great start. Take your organization to the next level by forging emotional connections that create lasting brand attachment.

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Why You Need Video

And Why It’s Easier Than You Think

Forbes says 2015 is the “Year of Video Content Marketing.”

So just how powerful is video? Consider these stats: YouTube has more than 1 billion users. Facebook reports that videos are shared 12 times more than links and text posts COMBINED. Twitter users share more than 700 videos EACH MINUTE. Recent research suggests videos—not images—get viewed more often on Facebook business pages.

The challenge for many organizations is to find new, engaging ways to reach audiences while satisfying increasingly complex social media and search engine algorithms. Video seems to be the solution.

What does all this mean for your organization? Is it time to rent a news van or schedule time in a recording studio? Thankfully, adding video to your marketing mix can be fairly simple and affordable. In fact, you don’t even need actual footage.

Try one of these simple strategies to set your brand (and your membership) in motion:

Animation and Motion Graphics

Got a great brand story but no video footage? No problem. A compelling script can be the start of a great, affordable animated video. Photographs can be transformed into engaging motion graphics. Take a look at these examples for inspiration:

Smart Phones

A recent episode of the sitcom Modern Family was filmed entirely on iPads and iPhones. If cell phone footage is good enough for primetime TV, surely your organization can put it to use as well. Here are a few examples of top-notch videos filmed on smart phones:

Best Practices

All the rules of good marketing apply to your videos. Be concise (and often brief). Less than three minutes is a good rule of thumb. Some great vines are only 6 seconds long. Be authentic: Video is just another piece of your brand story. Be engaging: If you don’t move people in the first few seconds, they will move on. Possibly forever. Be informative: You’ll rarely see marketing videos go for the hard sell. Offer interesting, informative content to keep your audience interested and encourage them to share. Don’t forget your contact info and a call to action at the end.

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All about that BRAIN

How to Engage all the Senses to Reach Audiences Emotionally

“Ignore neuroscience at your 2015 marketing campaign’s peril,” says a recent article from The article cites work by researcher Colleen Backstrom, CEO of neuro-marketing agency Kaleidoscope, who suggests you’ll need more than just words to reach your audience.

Get Emotional

We know 90% of decision-making comes from the emotional center of the brain. And we know that storytelling emotionally engages the brain better than language alone. Backstrom suggests that in order to build trust with our audiences, we need to go beyond words and even beyond stories. We need to engage all the senses.

Get Visual

First, she says, you need compelling visuals to make your brand “sticky” in the minds of your audience members. It turns out our brains process visual information better than text. Backstrom cites the infographic as an especially powerful format given that the average attention span of an individual is around eight seconds (roughly the same as that of a goldfish, in case you were curious).

Get Scented?

You can incorporate other senses as well. The music you choose in your videos, at your events, and on the web affects customers on a brain-deep level. Consider fast vs. slow music, classical vs. dance tunes, and whether you want your audience to feel energized, relaxed, rebellious, solemn, or something else.

Some companies are even incorporating smell into the mix by infusing spaces with subliminal scents. Sounds crazy? Think about how the scent of fresh-baked cookies makes you FEEL. Textures, too, are important. Consider your business card and the impression heavy card stock makes vs. flimsy paper, smooth vs. textured finish, traditional rectangle vs. die-cut shape.

Get Noticed

All these sensory details provide cues about your brand to your audience’s brains. Of course in an increasingly digital word, it can be tough to incorporate tactile, sensory elements in your marketing mix. So use them when you can. Consider the sounds and music in your videos or the paper and printing techniques in your direct mail pieces. Incorporate deliberate sights, sounds, and even smells in your event spaces. These sensory details have the potential to reach your audience where it matters—in the emotional center of the brain.

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How New Facebook Changes Affect Your Business

In an effort to make its pages more engaging to users, Facebook might not be showing your business page postings as much as it used to. A recent blog post from the social media giant says the change is part of an ongoing effort to make the site’s news feed better—including reducing the amount of purely promotional posts.

Even if you’ve been posting meaningful content, it’s likely you’ve seen a drop in the number of people who see your posts this year. While the Facebook announcement does acknowledge the importance of business pages as consumer resources, you will likely need to adjust your strategy if you want to continue to reach your base.

Not to worry. There are some simple steps you can take to get noticed, reach people, and continue to build your brand on social media.

Ask for an email.

Use your social media to encourage members to sign up for your mailing list. Getting audience emails and/or mailing addresses allows you to control who gets to hear from you and how often with no restrictions on content.

Play by the rules.

Follow Facebook’s Page Posting Tips and Best Practices for maximum exposure and generally sound ways to communicate with your base on the platform. Tips include posting consistently, targeting based on demographics, being timely, and saving promotional content for ads.

Add video.

While the Tips and Best Practices suggest including high-quality images with your posts, a recent investigation by analytics company SocialBaker reveals that posting a photo might actually hurt your chances of getting seen. According to the report, videos will get you more eyeballs.

Pay to play.

Facebook offers two ways you can pay to increase your visibility. You can “boost” an existing post by paying a fee, or you can purchase ads. Both of these services allow you to target a specific audience based on age, geography, interests, and lots of other criteria using a pre-set budget you determine.

Rather than feeling punished, use these changing algorithms as motivation to up your marketing game. If you’re constantly hitting up your membership with promotional offers on Facebook, maybe it’s time to purchase some ads or develop informative content instead. All good marketing should truly engage your audience with compelling content, thoughtful conversations, dynamic visuals, and meaningful interactions—on social media and off.

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3 Ways to Get Great Member Stories

I hope by now I’ve convinced you just how important storytelling is for your organization. But getting started with a robust storytelling marketing program probably seems a little daunting. Sure, you’re familiar with the history of your organization. You might even know some great stories about your coworkers. But how do you uncover those really juicy member stories…the ones that illustrate the life-changing work you’re doing…the ones that offer invaluable third party credibility to your organization?

Here are three strategies for snagging truly compelling member stories. Try one out at your next event.

1. Solicit stories after conferences or events.

You might already have a feedback survey in place to follow up with members after events. But if you don’t ask for a story, you won’t get a story. Simply stating, “Tell us a story about your experience at our event” won’t likely get you any usable material either. People need a little coaching. Consider a thought-provoking prompt to get them talking. For example:

Tell us about a member you met at the event who gave you an idea you can use in your business. Do you plan to stay in touch? How?
What session had the best information? Why? Did you connect with someone new during this session? Tell us about your experience.
What advice would you give someone who is considering attending the event next year? What is the “must see” attraction at this event? Why?

2. Solicit stories during conferences or events.

Deploy teams of roving reporters with thought-provoking questions to get members talking. Ask for a video statement whenever possible. Sometimes these off-the-cuff, in-the-moment stories are the best ones you’ll get all year. And members will appreciate the direct interaction with your staff. Try these questions to get members talking:

  • Why did you decide to attend this year?
  • Can you share a big idea you’ve picked up at the conference already?
  • Have you made any connections with other members that will help you do business?
  • What is everyone talking about this year? How do you think it will affect the way you operate?

3. Get creative.

The University of Alabama decided to capture campus experience using a photo-booth style device called “The Box.” Part marketing tool, part historical record, The Box provided the space for storytelling (and storymaking) to happen. The results were infinitely more authentic and telling than any responses the university would have gotten on a multiple choice survey. Consider setting up a testimonial booth at your next event, or imagine a more creative strategy to capture stories while delighting your members.

The stories are out there, and most of the time members are dying to share them. When you get a good story, don’t keep it a secret. Share it in your marketing pieces, on your website, and via social media. The members you feature will feel flattered, and others will be encouraged to share with you, too. If you don’t get anything good, up the ante. Offer an incentive, such as entry in a $100 gift card drawing, to encourage participation.

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