Friday, January 25

Storytelling: Where Communicators Get Miffed

Since scheduling pushed back one of my creative projects this month, I had this idea to recycle some fictional content as a holdover until I had time to finish up something freshly original. The initial thought seemed smart. The story hadn't appeared since it was part of a juried art exhibit years ago.

It took some time, but I found the story, polished it up, gave it another read, and then decided I hated it. But undeterred, I passed it over to an editor anyway. She wasn't keen on seeing it republished either, which was secretly the affirmation (or perhaps anti-affirmation) that I wanted. Weird, I know.

The story didn't fit with my most recent body of work, and I was very curious why that might be. She offered some suggestions, but none of them felt right until it hit me. The only feeling that lingered after the last sentence was somewhere between nothing and cynicism. Everything recent hits much harder.

Yeah, but what does this have to do with marketing and communication?

It has everything to do with it, which is why I'm starting to believe that everything most advertising, marketing, public relations, and communications teachers taught you was wrong. Almost all of them miss one of the most important ingredients in content, and it's the same one clients most often miss too.

It's not their fault. Rubrics have a stranglehold on education. In the communication field, one of the most popular is the ADIA model — Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action — or any of its variations (CAB, ADICA). It's a fine model, but it just isn't enough.

There is something else at work that writers have to pay attention to. It's the ability to move beyond the call to action and connect with an emotion, which is what creates the illusion that content is a fulfilling conversation. Think of it as an epilogue of sorts that creates an emotional connection (and I don't mean a like, follow, friend, or retweet) that people will later identify with the brand.

This is why tapping into people's imagination is so important. It's also why two perfectly structured advertisements that follow ADIA or some other format are not always equal. One might follow the structure, but it misses this mysterious ingredient. (Heineken's recent viral The Date spot misses it.)

The missing ingredient includes two parts. One is an emotion. The other is fulfillment. While the former can be anything, the latter needs to linger on a universal truth. Even if not everyone agrees, it feels right.

This feeling, that the author reinforced or opened our eyes to something new but patently obvious, is what makes some storytelling work so well. Mickey Gomez really gets it, even if she hasn't analyzed it. Geoff Livingston mostly gets it because it is innate in him. Jennifer Lawson gets it, even when her technical skill sometimes slips. I get it on good days. Most writers really don't get it.

Clients don't get it either, but for a different reason. Most of them are too focused on the experience they feel, and not the consumer. In other words, they look at the content and get excited because they think it represents them. But trust me on this: Consumers don't care how good an ad is supposed to make the brand look.

The one question you should always ask about your content. 

It's not always easy because, just like clients, writers sometimes become consumed by craft. They are either taken by the cleverness of it (as in advertising), the 'sales' pitch (as in public relations), or how pretty the prose is (as in authors). All of that might help, but none of it matters.

Storytellers and content creators have to look at this stuff objectively and then ask themselves what is the feeling a non-stakeholder will be left with at the end of the story. And then they have to consider whether or not that feeling aligns with the brand and creates a connection (ideally one associated with the brand). This is where content marketing and customer experience connect.

Ergo, content is an experience ... but only when it fits. It's the lingering emotion that really counts.
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