This is why we can’t have nice things

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Content marketing is storytelling. Brands use content every day to engage with their audience. If you don’t think good content sells, just consider the fact that author James Patterson earned $95 million in 2016.

Let’s just think about that for a second. Patterson is paid richly to produce content. His audience actually gives him money for it. Content that is pure fiction.

This is evidence that people are willing to pay money for great content. There’s no secret that bestselling authors are keeping from us. The simple fact is that storytelling is ingrained in our DNA and this is why brand narratives still impact consumers today.

It’s one thing to talk about storytelling but what do we really know about the practice. For starters, without storytelling, we would know very little about human history. In fact, it could be argued that storytelling is a pillar of civilized society.

Stories convey meaning and purpose. But understanding that is not enough.

The human race is programmed to share stories from person to person and generation to generation. But there’s a disconnect. Because even though storytelling is in our DNA, telling the kind of stories people want to hear isn’t.

That’s how content marketers such as myself are able to make a living. By crafting stories people actually want to hear, we can attract a larger audience, increase our influence and, best of all, grow our profits.

So how is it done? Here’s a sneak peek at my secret sauce.

Storytelling: It’s all in the structure

A good story is broken into three parts. The beginning, the middle, and the end. This is basic. It’s no secret. But just because your story has a beginning, middle, and end doesn’t mean it will draw the reader (or viewer/listener) in.

So to fully understand this age-old structure, let’s quickly dissect it.

The Beginning

The reason most content fails to convert starts at the beginning. Believe it or not, most content marketers fail from the very first sentence. Without a compelling intro that drags the reader/viewer into the content, people flee … and fast.

A few things to establish in the beginning:

  • Character
  • Purpose
  • Meaning
  • Environment

With a work of fiction, such as what James Patterson is known for, readers expect certain things in the beginning. There are a few firsts that must be established, such as the way things are, which sets the foundation for change. But more important is establishing characters, what they want and what they need, which are two completely different things, by the way.

Consumers don’t necessarily want your product, but they need it to get what they want Click To Tweet

The same is true for your customers. You need to know the difference between what they want and what they need. Consumers don’t necessarily want your product, but they need it to get what they want. You shouldn’t waste time trying to make customers want your product. Instead, show them why they need it. This should all happen in the beginning, by showing them how their life is now and how it could be different with your product or service. So, is it the beginning that is the secret sauce? Not quite.

The Middle

Many marketers tend to lose their way in the middle. More so if they have a weak beginning. While your story may not have a solid beginning, at least it starts somewhere, right? Unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold true for the middle. Many stories just skip the middle all together and head right for the end.

In fiction writing, readers expect a few things to happen in the middle:

  • A plan is developed
  • An execution of said plan is attempted
  • The process is repeated until successful

This formula has proven successful time and again. The middle is an essential part of the story that illustrates how a character attempts to get what they want without having everything they need. This same principle can hold true for your customers.

Flush out problems that your product or service solves with storytelling Click To Tweet

If you skimp on the strong middle, your audience won’t know what it needs in order to get what it wants. Are you following me? A weak middle is mostly due to a weak problem. By flushing out the problem that your product or service solves, the story will present itself easily. So, is the middle the secret sauce? Nope.

The End

We all know that the end is the most exciting part of any story. When it comes to storytelling, people always want to know how it ends. Likewise, marketers tend to enjoy the end so much that they jump right to it and skip over the beginning and the middle. Afterall, they have a product to sell, right?

No matter how strong your ending may be, it is no doubt weakened by a lack of beginning and middle.

With fiction writing, the end, or the denouement, is what ties everything together. Here’s what readers expect from the end:

  • It’s do or die; the problem is so great that the main character has one last chance
  • Barriers to entry are overcome
  • Characters understand what they need vs. what they want
  • Change occurs

Of course, good storytelling doesn’t have to keep the need a secret. Sometimes the audience knows the need the entire time and gets pleasure out of watching the character struggle to figure it out. This is more common in tragedies.

In content marketing, that feat is harder to accomplish. Marketers understand the need to overcome barriers and demonstrate problem-solving techniques. A good ending should focus on urgency. Now, by urgency, I don’t mean some limited time offer. The “act now, or else” ending has run its course. What I am talking about is making the problem so significant that the customer needs your product or services.

Also, the end should illustrate how your product or service has the changed the way the customer thinks or functions. This is helped out by the beginning which sets the tone for change. The end should tie to the beginning but offer a sharp contrast to how the story originated.

So, that’s it. It may sound hard, but that’s the essence of storytelling.

Oh, but what about that secret sauce?

Ready or not, the secret to storytelling is suspense. Without suspense, the reader/customer won’t stay engaged. They won’t continue to wonder what happens next and they may be lost … forever.

Until marketers and business leaders realize this, we’ll never be able to have nice things.

If you need help with your brand’s story, let us know. We can help your craft an engaging story that sure to illustrate why your customers can’t live without you. For more information, contact us today.

    Jeramy Gordon is the founder and Chief Content Officer at the Lorem Ipsum Company. He has been creating successful content strategies for almost two decades and believes in the power of high-quality content. He lives in Orange County, California, with his wife and two children.

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