Marketers: Think Like Storytellers

The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870. A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea Read more:

The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870.
A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea

Writing is a craft. Be it in fiction or in a business context, words are your raw material.

A story, fiction or otherwise is shaped by plot and characters. It seems a simple enough process. So why does the finished story so often lack the vision you started with? Why don’t the words flow together on the page to create the scenes and the characters that were so vivid in your mind just a short while ago?

It could be that you are so focused on the writing that you’ve forgotten to let the storyteller speak.

Think about a time before writing, when stories were told by the light of evening fires. Imagine what it feels like, having an audience right in front of you as you put your words together to create a story.

The first thing you need to do is capture the attention of your audience. Draw them in to your story as quickly as you can. Make them care about the characters you create. Make them curious about the plot. Once you have their attention, you have to keep it. Imagine building up the suspense until your listeners are totally engrossed, literally sitting on the edge of their seats.

The key is emotional involvement, and this is the element that is sometimes lacking in a story, often because the words, your raw materials, become more important than the finished creation; the story itself.

Of course, it is important to think about correct use of language and grammar, but in a first draft, let your emotion, your passion for storytelling, carry you along. In this way, you will engage with your characters, they will become more real and will guide your hand through the process of writing their story. You can correct language and grammar in the revision process.

Hear the words before you write them, especially where dialogue is concerned. Try speaking the words you’ve put in your characters’ mouths. Do the words flow easily, or do they sound stilted and unnatural? If the dialogue doesn’t sound like something a real person would say, your readers won’t believe it, and they won’t believe in the character speaking the words.

Good storytellers know their audience. They can judge, just by looking at the assembled faces, what the mood is in the room, and can pitch their story accordingly.

Business writing, if you want to see your stories published is a similar process. Know your audience. Study any publication you want to write for. Look at published stories, features and advertisements. They will give you a fairly accurate picture of the average reader. If you’re in the finance field, it is pointless submitting such a story to a publication that only covers fitness. Different audiences want different things from a story.

Brand storytelling is gaining in popularity again, with a growing number of workshops and events. As a writer, you can gain an insight into the needs of an audience by attending such events. Workshops are especially useful in teaching you how use basic storytelling techniques to hold an audience in the palm of your hand and make them care about your words and your brand. What more does a marketer want?

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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