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Thoughts

Why does narrative matter to content?

By Chris Worthington / September 18th 2019

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Once upon a time, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in a hole in the ground, there lived a copywriter. 

The whole purpose of content is to grab attention, from ensuring visitors to a website get the information they want, to writing a product description that inspires someone to buy.

When you’re trying to write something for your website, whether that’s a blog, news piece, product description or other piece of copy, how do you ensure it’s engaging?

This might sound like a strange question to ask, but, a lot of the time the assumption tends to be that, if the information is valid and useful, that’s enough.

It isn’t.

You need to think about the story you’re telling. 

 

Why stories work

Think about it, information and guidance has been handed down for generations via stories. 

Every fairy tale has a nugget of wisdom and a moral to it – from the proper ways to check for identity fraud in wolves, to nine reasons why you shouldn’t break into a bear’s house.  

Stories frame information in a way that makes them easier to digest and remember. They help people to recall thoughts, feelings, information. They are a fantastic way to tap into sentimental feelings, or to frame information to give it more impact and weight.

How many times have you seen recipes, or food marketed in a way that plays on nostalgia? Childhood memories, Christmas dinners, etc. These all trigger memories in a reader. You drop your product in the middle of that memory and you help potential customers to envisage its use. 

This is so much more effective than simply saying: “My product is brilliant, please buy it!” Instead, you approach a topic or a desired call to action using an emotional connection, some resonance with a memory or feeling that your product can add to.

Stories do this by providing examples and context you can refer back to. However, you can’t just go straight into taking a narrative approach without any thought towards structure.

 

How stories are structured

A typical story is split into three key parts. These often get referred to in different ways, but it all boils down to a beginning, middle and end. 

There are theories which go into how stories are paced and break down. Sometimes, these are valuable – if you’re producing a video or writing an animation, for example. But for the sake of your on-page written content, you need to think about the three distinct parts of your ‘story’.

Beginning

The start of your story. This is your opportunity to set the scene. Most stories introduce a situation or premise. For instance, there’s a problem that emerges and needs to be solved to restore a status quo or fix a situation for the better.

No one (I’d like to think) ever carried on reading a story with a crap beginning. So your introduction needs to be presented in a way that grabs attention. This could be assertive, mysterious, funny – there are loads of angle to take. Understanding what works for your brand and tone of voice can steer you in the right direction. 

Middle

This is main crux of your story, where the majority of the plot unfolds. This is where the journey to solving the problem, posed in the beginning of your tale, takes place. This could be finding a specific item, accomplishing a goal, training to overcome an obstacle, finding a mentor – the list goes on.

For online content, this is where you provide the majority of your information – answering questions and moving towards your conclusion. Try not to drift from the point you’re trying to make or the topic you’re talking about. Think about any TV show with a subplot you didn’t care about. It distracts from what you’re there to see. 

End

Your conclusion. This shows what happens when your problem or issue is resolved. This is usually (at least in the event of a happy ending) a return to normal or a change for the better.

The end of your content normally has some sort of call to action. Call to actions can be jarring, horrible things – if not done well. They sit apart from the content you’ve written. But it is possible to integrate a CTA into your content by leading into it and providing a reason for it to exist. Think of this a little bit like setting up for a sequel. But properly – not just sticking a scene at the end of the film credits and hoping people will sit around to watch it. 

Keep in mind that some stories mess around with structure and form. While you can’t reveal that your marketing was all a dream, or it was a ghost this whole time, you can approach a topic in a way that is a little bit out of the ordinary. Playing with the story you’re telling can often make it much more impactful and memorable.

 

Why does this matter to a business?

Understanding how a story is put together is all well and good. But when you think about talking about your products, services or business, you might not necessarily have some epic yarn in mind.

That doesn’t matter. 

Even the most basic narrative structure helps you to organise information in a way that makes much more sense to an audience. 

Beginning – A customer has a problem. They are searching for an answer to a question, possibly even a question you’ve posed as a title to a blog post. Perhaps, they are looking for an item – an important gift for a loved one. There’s a need for a solution.

Middle – The customer learns about the solution they need. They have their questions answered and get a steer in the right direction.

End – The customer has the answers they want and the direction they need. You then talk about your brand at this point, introducing it as somewhere a reader can get the solution they’ve just read about.

You paint a picture of a situation that can be made better in some way. You then introduce your brand as the means to reach this goal. Your brand, product or service becomes the hero in the story.

 

Happy endings

A story-driven approach to getting information across doesn’t mean a need for characters, drama and action. It means understanding what your audience respond well to and framing information in a way that maximises the potential impact it can have.

We love to spin a yarn and can help explore how our content marketing services could help your brand get the attention it deserves. To arrange a brief telephone conversation with one of our team, call 0845 485 7170 or get in touch to find out more.