October 8, 2020
The Power of Words and Feelings
“DING!”—the notification of a new email hitting my inbox before 9:00 a.m. always seems more shrill than usual. What could it be? Shameless self-promotion from a New York photographer I’ve never met? Stranger danger. A marketing solicitor telling me as the “business owner” that I could really use their services? Hah! Check your sources and guess again. Another meeting invite? Please, anything but that. Curiosity gets the best of me and I click to my email, wondering what today’s correspondence holds.
It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for—a new campaign has landed on my desk, and as a copywriter with a passion for storytelling, I feel as though I’ve received the upper echelon of projects. Print? Check! Radio? Check! Video? Check! A brief yet palpable sense of Imposter Syndrome? Check! The gang’s all here, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get down to business.
Today’s message from the agency copywriter’s desk is about storytelling. You may be thinking, “I just want to sell this can of beans! Why do I need to tell a story?” and I get it. I’m a legume-lover and I bet they’re some great beans (or whatever it is you’re wanting to sell). But allow me to explain why storytelling matters, particularly in terms of a few commonly used advertising mediums:
In print, you have a short opportunity to catch your audience’s attention with your visual and headline. Every word counts to create an emotional connection, so don’t waste them stroking your brand’s ego. That may have been painful to read, but it needed to be said. Anyone who already knows your brand knows it’s great, and anyone who doesn’t isn’t going to slow their page flip for a headline touting how much everyone already loves you. Make it about your audience, not yourself. What story can you tell briefly that will create an emotional connection to make readers actually care about what you’re selling?
Whether it’s the lyrics or the beat, people like music because it makes them feel something. But then one of those pesky radio commercials comes on and destroys the emotional connection music created. That’s when most people start flipping through stations to find more tunes.
When you buy air time you’re interrupting something someone loves. If all you have to say is that your store’s having a mega sale you’re going to lose your audience before you ever get to the payoff of your message. Some people think you can solve this problem by leading with the punchline of your message. But think about it—once you know the punchline, why bother to stick around? Although you might hook a few people who are already interested in what you’re selling, the reality is people don’t really want to be sold to, and you’re not going to reach anyone new. Most of your audience may catch the message, but it’s not going to stay with them because your story didn’t connect in a memorable or meaningful way. So what’s the solution? DON’T abrasively interrupt someone’s experience to force your message on them. DO meet them where they are. Give them something that will evoke just as much of a delightful emotional response as the song they just finished enjoying. It’s a lot more effective to make someone be receptive to your sales pitch when you do it in a way that continues—rather than disrupts—their entertainment experience.
Whether it’s for TV or pre-roll, video’s a lot like radio. What I outlined about continuing the entertainment still applies. Although video provides more ways to tap into your audience’s senses and captivate their attention (sound, movement, facial expressions, etc.), don’t be lulled into lazy storytelling. We’ve all seen those ads starring the celebrity flavor of the week blatantly promoting a product without really telling a story. They’re lacking in emotion and substance—and as a result, impact. The audience may have stopped what they were doing to watch their favorite actor, but do they remember what he was selling? More importantly, do they feel emotionally compelled to go buy it? Doubtful. That’s not to say celebrities (or cute kids, dogs, and other typical go-to “attention grabbers”) shouldn’t be used for commercials—just don’t lose sight of the real goal when you cast that lead role.
Now that I’ve established the importance of storytelling, let’s take a look at 3 guiding forces in crafting an engaging story:
#1 Follow the feelings
There’s a reason I shared my reactions to emails and a sense of imposter syndrome with you at the beginning of this article; for many, it’s relatable, which creates connection. Empathy is the most important driver of storytelling. Your story needs to be empathetically-inspired by your audience and the type of reaction you want to stir in them. If you want them to associate your beverage with fun and joy, you’d better be telling a story that makes their hearts feel lighter.
You should also consider what’s happening in the world and how it affects your audience. Empathy isn’t just important because it helps you evoke a desired emotional response with your story. Even if you’re not taking a stand with your message, you still need to empathize with people to understand their struggle or pain, and avoid tone-deaf stories that add to their suffering.
#2 Check-in with the goal
While I’d love to get paid to wax poetic about the virtues of opossums, that probably has nothing to do with what you need to sell (but if it does, please make my day and contact us immediately). As you come up with concepts or review them from your agency, step back and make sure you love them for the right reasons. Does it sell the product effortlessly, or is it like trying to shove a square peg through a round hole? You shouldn’t let your ego or an atypical affinity for North America’s only marsupial cloud your judgement. Although storytelling can go anywhere and everywhere, it still needs to be relevant. If the story doesn’t dovetail into what you’re selling, it’s time to rethink it.
#3 Get weird with it
Stefan Mumwa said it best—creativity is solving problems with relevance and novelty. #2 in this list takes care of relevance. Truth be told, most brands have no problem making sure relevance stays in the picture. But what’s usually lacking is the novelty factor. Novelty lets you sit with your head in the clouds and ponder how something as absurd as an opossum could be used to sell Coca-Cola (spoiler: it probably can’t, but a woman can dream).
When you’re thinking of the story you want to tell, consider everything that evokes the emotional response you want from your audience. If you’re selling the experience of cooking with a premium product, would putting yourself in a world of oversized food create that same sense of excitement? Would it tell the delightful story of getting lost in the cooking experience? Now, what if there was a tiger (don’t worry, relevance will take care of the tiger notion and put this idea back on track). Don’t limit yourself in the early stages of developing the story. Get all the good, weird, bad, and boring ideas out of your head and see what comes of them. You never know what trail of thought will inspire a great story.
If you appreciate engaging stories but struggle when it comes to telling your own, get in touch with us. We’d love to help your audience connect with your brand.