Bard-ass emails: why story and marketing make excellent bedfellowsI am going to break one of the first rules of content writing.  I am going to make this paragraph about me.  Yes me. Myself. I.  I am going to begin discussing why story and marketing make excellent bedfellows by letting you in on a little inside knowledge.   Very few people know that I am a published writer.  Under a pseudonym I have a books published with an American publishing company.  I am pretty sure that is the reason I ended up falling into marketing, no matter how much I try to convince myself that it was a conscious choice.  Marketing is one of the best places for someone whose intelligence is predominantly driven by their imagination.

Grandiose claim to make maybe; but there it is.

There is no denying the appeal of a good story.  We are all yarn junkies at heart.  Just look at our social media accounts and you can see it.  We love that bit of drama.  We covet it, take it for our own and click to retell it.  It is that cat filmed staring at a phone video of his deceased owner, and that cathartic moment when the cat lies down on the handset.

Oh that ball in my throat – that something in my eye.

And we share it.  And so does someone else.

It is absolutely no surprise to me that many of the authors, poets and other creative writers I know have become marketers. Story and marketing, after all make excellent bedfellows.  No surprise whatsoever!

Once upon a time – there was some science.

It isn’t often, when writing about email marketing, that we get to cite a bit of science.  But, taking a leaf from Kristen Dunleavy‘s blog How to Use Storytelling to Write Better Emails, let’s “take a brief foray into neuroscience”.  There is a lot of interesting things that happen when the human brain receives a story.  The brain’s activity begins to match that of the storyteller.  This is called: mirroring.  In essence, our brains try to live the story.  This is a biochemical illustration of our brains coveting the experience, and try to live vicariously through it.  Dopamine is created, and the cortex comes alive – the story has lit a fire in the brain.

Rachel Gillett spends a good portion of energy pointing out Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling In MarketingDrawing upon the Nielsen Study, Gillett arrives at the assertion that “studies over the years have proven that our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than the cold, hard facts.”  This is not to suggest that there isn’t a place for data and statistics.  It is simply that the graphs, the mad equations and the percentages aren’t half as sexy, or memorable, as the emotive narrative found in story and marketing.

The folkloric element of story and marketing.

As you can imagine, for a literature MA graduate, the scientific backing is little more than a bit of supporting evidence.  Those synapses and neurons clicking is all very interesting, and it gives the argument credibility.  But, that is not what we are thinking when we remember a story.  We are not thinking of what is going on in the brain.  What is firing? What isn’t?  There is an egocentric part of us that just gets involved with the narrative, the characters and the emotions.  Despite the science, we humans are a very self-indulgent creature.  We are pre-programmed to remember what makes us happy.

I am reminded of a blog I had written for the University of Northampton on the subject of the Limerick and Folklore.  Although, in academic terms, we don’t consider the limerick as folklore, they tend to stick in our memories for us to pass to our children.  Very similar to nursery rhymes, fables and fairy tales.  This is often due to a mix of a “quirky and childlike rhyme pattern” and the humourous story embedded within the delivery.  Similarly, I often find that I remember television adverts for similar reasons.  The story, the delivery, and the humour.  In fact, the advertising campaigns that I can recall from memory all tend to use the same literary techniques as stories or poetry.  Story and marketing creates emotional memory.

Take a look at these examples from:

So what’s your point Mr Story Man?

Just like those television adverts, the email marketer has numerous creative possibilities.  Moreover, just like those memorable TV commercials, the email marketer has limited time in which to do it.  Creating what might about to flash fiction, might lead to creating an ad campaign that people will remember and discuss.  Memorability seems to be a key component for both marketers and storytellers.  Neither the company, or the author, can buy the words from the public’s mouths, or their personal social media accounts.  It is the content that will have people discussing your advert.

Certain industries are better at creating narratives than others.  For instance, Charities have a decent share of the emotional monopoly.  Their job is to try to intervene and alleviate dire situations for specific demographics of endangered people.  With that in mind, they can share tear-tugging anecdotes to attempt to garner your financial support.  Other industries, such as those who perhaps sell printed labels, may struggle to put an emotional or humourous spin upon their product.  More difficult here to blend story and marketing.

So how can we create the framework for storytelling in email marketing?

The Hero’s Journey

Think Star Wars.  Bring The Hunger Games to mind.  What can the underdog heroic fantasy tales bring to our email marketing?  In short the structure.  Important for both story and marketing.

I don’t mean that you should create sprawling epics complete with complex and flourishing world-building.  What I mean to say is, a simplified version of these structures is an excellent starting point for those of you who want to write stories to sell your products.  Essentially you can whittle these down to three major steps that the Hero must take.

  • The world before
  • Creating conflict
  • The resolution

Putting this into practice shouldn’t be difficult: let’s use a telephone as an example.

  • The world before: People are writing letters to each other to place orders.  Actually writing (that archaic act of using a pen to scrawl shapes on paper), and not typing.
  • Creating conflict: The ‘Hero’ has an emergency order to make that must be delivered by this afternoon.  If it isn’t, Janet (the attractive businesswoman) will have a miserable birthday.
  • The resolution: The mobile phone comes to save the day, the Hero fulfils the order, the birthday cake is delivered, and the Hero and Janet ride off on a Harley.

OK, it is a little contrived.  But you can see how this basic structure presents the opportunity to create an emotional response in a recipient.  There is the panic of “oh no what are we to do?”, and the catharsis as the Hero manages to save the day.  There is also the chance for a little humour with the clichéd ending.

The Origin Story

Every superhero has a backstory.  The origin story sets the subject on a journey, and the events that unfold inevitably shape the future.  The subject’s morals.  Their ethos.  As Thomas Wayne is shot by a desperate mugger, or Uncle Ben is killed by an escaped felon, the reason for the superhero unfurls like a rolled up rug.  Perhaps your brand has one of these stories.

Why did you create this product?

What happened to make you think that your particular service was missing from the market?

When did you realise that it was up to you to create it?

Providing your story to a list of subscribers will help them emotionally invest in your brand.  You have given them a story to follow, and every email after that is automatically a continuation of that story.  They will feel complicit in the growth of this company, they will take some responsibility for what happens next.  It is a powerful trope to use.

The end/To be continued/Wrapping up

Yes, Storytelling and Email Marketing are the match made in heaven.  They are Bonnie and Clyde, Sherlock and Watson: they are Katniss and Peeta.  Both stories and Marketing share one massive thing in common.  They are intending to reach people, to provoke a reaction within them.  Often both seek to make a point.  Far too often, this is forgotten.  I receive daily emails that amount to simply a page from their catalogue.  These fail to stick in the memory.

For the most part I am trying to reach out to the writers in marketing departments and urging them to have a little courage.  As such, I am urging the writers to invest their imagination to their marketing cause.  Use those linguistic skills to inject an emotional response to your marketing.  Be it controversial, funny, or a proper tear-jerker, these are the emails that are going to be remembered.