Herman Melville could have used a more aggressive editor. While Moby Dick, his epic 135 chapter, 600+ page american classic is an icon of modern literature, there are likely more than a few readers who believe he could have reduced the page count and still retained the essence of the story. The CliffsNotes for Moby Dick may be longer than some modern novels.
Most marketing leaders have embraced their role as storytellers but haven’t invested the time to learn the craft of storytelling. Many of our marketing stories lack a compelling hook, are fragmented or windy, omit key chapters or fail to deliver a satisfying conclusion. We compound the problem by piling on content in the mistaken belief that additions improve the story, but in reality we are authoring our own Homeric epic.
How do we avoid crushing our audience with volume or missing important story elements?
Tell your complete story brilliantly once – Many marketing stories are incomplete. Maybe there’s a great hook and a few riveting chapters at the beginning, but as the story evolves key pieces of the narrative get lost. There may be duplicate chapters that seemingly tell the same part of the story but in a slightly different way, further adding to the confusion.
Marketers should know the complete narrative arc, the story associated with your customer experience, and build content to support every piece of that story. Many marketers fall into the trap of continuing to create and recreate variations of a juicy first chapter, but then leave other critical parts of the story untold. Focus on telling the complete, comprehensive story once and well before turning to creating variations.
Adapt your story – Once you have your strong core narrative and the supporting content, explore how to adjust your story to each audience’s unique needs. Retain a complete story, making only those changes that customize the tale for your most important audiences. This may mean just adapting certain pieces or potentially creating a parallel story, but selectively integrate more targeted content where possible.
Less is more – Pulitzer prize winners excepted, conventional writing wisdom is clear: use the fewest words possible. Be concise, cogent and compelling.
All great writers have their own unique creation process, sources of inspiration or methods of constructing stories. The common thread across those variations is that the magic of a powerful story is in the cohesive whole, not in any individual piece. Story is much more than the sum of the parts. The marketer as storyteller meme is far from new, but we still have a long way to go to become masters of the craft. Think story, not, sentence, paragraph or chapter, as you assemble your organization’s epic tale