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How stories can make your content stand out from the crowd

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 15 Jul, 2014
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3 techniques to weave content marketing into your storytelling

In 1791 a Dublin theatre owner named Thomas Daly bet his friends that he could invent a word that didn’t mean anything in 24 hours. Thinking he was crazy, the friends took the bet. Thomas chose the word “quiz” which hadn’t ever been seen before, and he plastered the word all over walls and billboards in the city of Dublin.

24 hours later, the theatre audience was speaking of and using the word “quiz” in conversation, and Mr. Daly won a large sum of money from his counterparts.

There is a strong chance you’ll never forget this story. The next time the word “quiz” is brought up in conversation you’ll think of Thomas Daly. That’s the power of stories.
Stories have been around since the beginning of time and continue to enthrall us.

There’s something visceral about the plot, drama, and heroism in stories that we can’t get enough of. The modern content marketer must use stories in their efforts. Here are a handful of ways to weave stories into your content to create pieces that are irresistible.

First off, let’s look into what it is about stories that has us all so captivated. Here are the top three reasons why stories can hook us in.

1. We can relate. There’s a reason why so many stories feature regular people who do amazing things. It’s because we can all relate to being the normal person, and can see ourselves in the shoes of the hero.


We like things that remind us of the good parts of ourselves. When we hear a good story and can relate, it makes us feel good. Take, for example Spider Man. A normal kid who gets teased a bit in school. Unless you were one of those prom queen, head of everything types, you can probably relate to this. Then, all of a sudden duty calls and Peter Parker is thrust into heroism. We can all insert ourselves into this story line and subliminally feel as if we could be a hero – that’s a good feeling.

2. Stories actually stimulate our brains. The increased brain activity when we listen to stories is akin to being on drugs. That’s some serious power.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated” – New York Times

Simply, when we hear a story, our brain can’t tell the difference between reality and words on a page – it’s as if we are actually there in the story, almost like a dream.

3. We remember stories. Before books, all of history was passed on through stories. We as humans have a massive ability to remember stories and can often remember stories for our entire lives.

That’s because our brains are wired to remember stories - even when we collect information that isn’t a story, we organize it in narrative format. Think about when you recall events, you don’t simply put facts together to recount them, rather you put the events in story form and tell your friends that way. This is our brain’s natural “filing system” and the way that we are able to organize tons of random facts into something that makes sense.

Weaving stories into your content

Stories are awesome, but they are meaningless unless you can turn them into compelling content. The next step is to work stories into your content - here are the top three ways of accomplishing that.

1. Use quizzes to let people tell their own story. There is one thing that’s more powerful than telling people stories, and that’s letting them tell their own story. We very much enjoy talking about ourselves, and coupled with the increased brain activity from stories, people telling their own stories is like a powerful drug.

To let your web visitors tell a story, create a quiz for them. Let’s work through an example. Service Max is a company that makes software, and they want to let visitors tell their story. They create a quiz titled “How Would you Keep the World Running?” that asks questions about activities, preferences, age and gender among other things. The quiz taker gets to answer the questions, forming a story. At the end of the quiz, the taker is given a result which tells them how they would keep the world running.

service max

It’s a goofy exercise, but the quiz tells a personal story for every person who takes it, which helps cement the memory of Service Max in people’s minds. For a software company like them, or for any business that has heavy competition, building a quiz that people remember is a strong method for remaining at the top of prospects’ minds when it comes time to make a purchase.

2. Use stories to increase readership for blog posts. Blog posts that include stories receive a 500% increase in reading time, based on a study of over 1000 articles. To illustrate, here are two versions of the same point, one with a story and one without.

a. Would you like to hear a sad story? I built up a relationship with some people over at Korplex corporation, I contributed to their blog, we chatted on Twitter, we really bonded as marketers. They said they liked my business and gave me props. Suddenly, one day I woke up and they had signed up with our competitor without ever telling me, I was devastated.

b. My website isn’t converting very well. The design and copy are not great, it looks outdated and boring. It’s gotten to the point where potential customers are choosing competitors over us routinely, even when we have relationships with those customers.
The first option is relatable, it’s emotional, it’s memorable. The second option explains the same thing and gives a better explanation of what happened, but it’s not fun or memorable. Adding stories grips our heartstrings and vastly increases reading time.

3. Use videos to tell stories. When we see emotions displayed in a video we actually experience the same emotions ourselves. This is called the principle of coupling and is a neuroscientific phenomenon that occurs when a storyteller and story watcher interact.

When Non-profit Read global needed a way to increase conversions on their donations page, they turned to a video story. Picking Chuna, a Nepalese woman who broke the mold and became an entrepreneur in a culture that discriminates against women, they highlighted the kind of work their firm makes possible through a story. The result was a 50% increase in donations. Sometimes all it takes is the emotional connection a quiz makes possible.

video content

Next time you hear the word “quiz” you’ll think of Thomas Daly and his 1971 bet. Stories are powerful marketing tools that can be used to illicit strong emotions and drive people to take action. Using quizzes, text, and video, stories turn bland marketing into unforgettable pieces.

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