Storytelling – Why it’s Key to Powerful Content and How to Use It [Part II]
16 September

In Part I of this blog I looked at why stories are so central to branding and content.

Stories carry the emotional messages that:

  • Create and deepen relationships
  • Inform every decision we make (no matter how rational that decision may seem on the surface), and that
  • Drive a client’s decision to work with your firm versus another.

The power of stories is the reason Chicago law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein chose to use videos, but with a difference, to introduce their partners on the firm’s website. Each professional talked, not of their track record, experience and skill … y a w n … but of what they wanted to be when they were little or their most prized possession. Theirs were personal stories. The subtext? A law firm made up of flesh and blood human beings who, like you, feel and aspire; professionals who share with their clients the most essential quality of all, their humanness. Put simply, lawyers that clients can relate to.

What Makes a Great Story?

In her book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, Ann Handley lists the qualities of great brand stories as follows:

  • It’s true. Nothing turns the abstract of your value proposition into something compelling, credible and concrete like true stories. Be sure to fill your content editorial calendar with stories about real clients and real situations. Not all stories are suited to publication, of course. Client confidentiality is of paramount importance. But clients give permission more freely than you might think, and many are thrilled to celebrate a success. True stories resonate.
  • It’s human. Tell tales of hardship, struggle and triumph in the face of adversity. Our lives are brimming with the emotion of daily challenges. Nothing gives readers more comfort or inspiration, or both, than knowing how others coped in similar circumstances. In addition, says Handley, “When you are writing about people, this is a good rule: be specific enough to be believable, and universal enough to be relevant”.
  • It’s original. Make certain the story and language is original, of course, and, ideally, the graphics and photographs you’re using, as well. Original content ranks higher in Google and SEO. Also, ensure each story has your firm’s unique point of view. What is it that is fresh and interesting and important about what you have to share? The acid test (and a tough one for almost any of us to pass) is this: if your logo were covered, would readers know this was from your organization?
  • It serves the customer. Are your stories of value to readers/ prospects? This is the very best measure of content quality. Are you pointing the way? Are you alerting readers to the pitfall ahead should they, for example, fail to comply with a new accounting, regulatory or tax requirement or consider the hidden costs of a legacy system upgrade?In addition, make sure your clients are at the center of every story you relate. How many times have you found yourself reading website copy that’s all about the seller? Says Handley, “The best content has your customers in it, make sure your customer is the hero of your story.” And be sure to highlight, not just how they’re doing better, but how they’re feeling
  • It tells a bigger story that’s aligned with your long-term business strategy. Every post, article, blog or tweet has an immediate tactical objective, that of reminding your clients of, and letting your prospective ones know, the value of the services you provide.But you need to think and go even bigger. You need to look for every opportunity to link the stories you tell with a greater purpose. Apple has dedicated itself to, not just selling technology, but changing our relationship with it. Combining aesthetics with utility, their brand story has been about Apple products as creative extensions of us. As a professional services firm or management consultancy, you need to find your bigger brand story, whatever it is (if you haven’t already) and make every story you tell an expression of that. Handley adds, “… tell that bigger story relentlessly and unwaveringly.” Make sure, she says, that your content is steeped in your larger mission.

What Every Great Story Needs …

Every story you tell should have three acts: situation, conflict and resolution. Each of these is defined below by way of an example.

  • Situation [plus introduction of the hero] – ABC Enterprises is a third-generation family-owned widget manufacturer based in Winnipeg with sales of $26 million and 1,240 employees in six countries. Sharif Aswan stepped into the President’s role two years ago after his father’s retirement. He feels keenly the responsibility of inheriting this role and aspires to take ABC to the next level.
  • Conflict [the journey begins] – In 2019, the company was feeling greater competitive pressure as a result of several low-cost producers entering key markets. Measures aimed at reducing costs while maintaining or increasing customer value were helping, but weren’t enough to maintain profitability.
  • Resolution [the (usually) happy ending] – Help for ABC came in the form of Clear Insight LLP Partner James McGibbon. His transfer pricing strategy meant ABC could substantially lower its taxes in high tax jurisdictions, with savings falling directly to the company’s bottom line.

Why this Works So Well

We embrace this three-part approach because it moves satisfyingly from dissonance to harmony. A set of challenging circumstances is faced and overcome. Readers find evidence that you and your firm are making a difference. You haven’t just told them. You’ve showed them.

Next, using this framework, ensure your readers can see themselves in the stories you tell. Make sure that decision-makers and influencers specifically – those who choose or help choose the accounting firms and advisors their organization works with – can recognize themselves in the narrative. They may be C-suite executives who fear for their future, yearn for recognition, want the President’s job, or crave work-life balance. Speak to that side of them that longs for more safety and security, greater rewards, less hardship or all of the above.

Creating a customer avatar can be tremendously helpful in ensuring you meet the needs of your target audience. Consider assigning a name, hair colour and other attributes to this individual who, though fictitious, represents your typical client. That way, instead of addressing your content to everybody, you’re addressing one person in particular. You’re having a conversation and building a relationship.