7 Quick Tips for Honest Storytelling. And cats.

June 16, 2023
7 min read
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"It felt right. It felt like the truth. Or "a truth", anyway. Do you think it will happen?”

— The Sandman: A Dream Of A Thousand Cats

TL; 42

Once upon a time, there was an audacious, albeit dangerous tribe whose leaders would give what their predecessors had discovered earlier a sloppy spin, and proceed to claim they had invented it themselves: The Marketeers.

Today we bring you: Storytelling vs Bull.

My cat says "Top 7" articles perform better.

Many business and marketing legends have spent the past two decades sowing the idea that a good story is and should be the absolute essence of marketing. Problematic, to say the least. Putting stories above everything else can very easily lead to convincing nonsense (drinking canned water will never be counterculture), bold technophile Ponzi schemes (hi Crypto!), and really successful failures (WeWork-ed). All these are examples of fantastic storytelling concealing empty and purposeless endeavors.

Putting the truth (or a truth, an honest attempt at truthfirst is harder, but it stands the test of time. First the walk, then the talk.

Stories are mighty. But we can do even better.

What you tell, and how you tell it, is just one more item in a long checklist. Stories in marketing and business are tied to culture, purpose, product, quality, pricing, design (how it looks, how it works, what it solves), scale, economics, idiosyncrasy, and zeitgeist. And if you run an honest business at the core, the truth will effortlessly show itself as a combination of all of those elements.

That's how stories are undeniably powerful. They design the very essence of what human means. 

And of course, stories can drive sales too. Finding clues as to how this works is the humble focus of this issue. Exploring how to write more, better, design better brands, and achieve goals through the endless magic of storytelling. Without the bull.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Let's get to it.


— Santi

Tips for purr-fect storytelling

1️⃣ Find the right frame

“Framing” refers to the way information is presented to the audience, how it’s expressed. It’s a way to pre-set a cognitive bias.(Rational Choice and the Framing of Decisions. Kahneman, Tversky, 1986).

The same idea presented in one way or its opposite (think glass half full or half empty) can drastically change the way your brand is perceived, and whether or not your customers will choose you over your competitors.

Avis had a humble second place in its industry, unable to match Hertz domination. They reframed customer perception from “we’re not enough” to “we try harder”. Their legendary campaign was an instant hit.

Think hard about how you can turn your constraints, quirks, and less-known talents around and into clear and catchy ideas that stick and persuade.

2️⃣ Find your voice

Voice and tone consistency will remain one of the biggest challenges for generative AI (at least if you aim at originality). Whether you’re relying on a brilliant team of humans or cutting-edge technology, you need to communicate in a way that resonates with your audience.

If you read your stories out loud to a customer, do they get it? Does it sound like you get it? Does it reflect your team, purpose, experiences, and personality?

Consistency will make it easy for you and your team to create an entire body of content. Find some time to write a simple document setting basic guidelines:

  • Who is it for
  • Your tone (formal, informal, humorous, technical, creative, extravagant) 
  • The red lines for any topic important to you (legality, ethics, politics, inclusion, etc.)
  • Examples and ground rules

Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide is a great place to start if you want to see a working example. More good stuff here

3️⃣ Stand out and fight the big dogs 

Take the road less traveled. Try different approaches and see what makes people smile, feel surprised, and relate your brand to a good experience.

Lev Tanju’s minimal, irreverent, and unexpected copy skills make Palace Skateboards products instant memes.

More cool ideas here.

4️⃣ Can you pack a relatable lifestyle around your brand?

Choose the proper combination of promise, rhythm, images, headlines, influencers, punchlines, and excitement to create an engaging lifestyle narrative.

Stellar examples include Dollar Shave Club ads, J Peterman’s flamboyant product descriptions, and the landing pages from our clients at Shimoda or YETI.

(Sidenote: The excellent storytelling on storytelling by Peterman himself).

5️⃣ Try your story on real people

Test-drive things. Sit down with your customers and understand how they perceive your brand. Try out new styles of storytelling with them and see how they react. In this data-driven era, we sometimes forget the unpredictable human factor and how easy it is to see if an idea will stick.

This short presentation by Clayton Christensen is a perfect example.

6️⃣ Tell your honest truth, and tell it out loud

Persuasive copywriting, neuromarketing, and deceiving disruption are very powerful and tempting tools. These can make a brand grow, but the only way to stand the test of time is through honest ideas and a real intent to benefit your customers. Tell the truth and make sure it sounds believable. It’s a tragedy to be honest and have no one noticing it, right?

Smarter people saying this better:

  • Steinbeck’s tips for writing. Love #6: “If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.”
  • Sir John Hegarty’s communication triangle. “I suppose I look at it in the round and I try and remind people that the most powerful strategy any advertiser can employ is the truth.”
  • The Ronseal ad, one of the biggest ads in TV history. It does what it says on the tin.

7️⃣ That's it. Or is it?

Cliffhangers are not just for movies, you know?

Writing for a brand means finding ways to keep your customers happy, and coming back. Use smart, playful, delightful calls to action. Invite your readers to comment and interact (there's a comment box at the end of this, btw) and invite them to keep dancing with your brand.

We have seven more storytelling tips in the works 😏.

Will you miss what's coming? Or will you subscribe to read it first?

Paws and explore these additional notes 🐾

Lovely stuff we researched that didn't fit the main article:

  • Not all marketing is storytelling and we totally agree with this.
  • Stories start at the end. Check this piece on Andrew Stanton's advice.
  • Your brain does weird things when stories are good enough. Science!
  • Storytelling or bull we asked. Well, this is not storytelling.
  • John Cleese and Rory Sutherland's relaxed chat on creativity. 'Nuff said.
  • If you have fifteen minutes, enjoy Kurt Vonnegut's "Shape of stories". It's simple, brilliant, and fulfilling. ❤️

If this isn't nice, we don't know what is.

You got to be kitten me... 🎺

Time for some shameless autobombo, agency, and partner news.

Cat-egorically YES!

Wait, what? Of course we can help you shape your brand's story! Our marketing sprints can get your narrative up and running in 90 days. Contact us and let's chat. It's free.

Feline the numbers

Assorted stats for your catmusing. Most of them are not fake.

  • 23% of marketers wanted to leverage short-form video during 2023. Is it working for you?
  • Stories has the sadz. Individuals ages 15 to 44 read for leisure only 10 minutes or less per day. (Hard to believe? Here's the source). Also, unconfirmed sources say most politicians read even less than that.
  • The average feline spends an enviable 70% of its lifetime sleeping. No bedtime stories needed. And Leo 🦁 is the world's favorite zodiac sign and the most searched online, to no one's surprise.
  • Some say Jerome Bruner said people are 22 times more likely to remember facts that are part of a story. He never did, and it’s actually 12 times, not 22. Still a lot, though.
  • There are three kinds of people. Those who can count, and those who can't.

Thank you, next

Stories are better if they're well-written. We'll be back in a month to talk all things #copywriting. Using words, tools, tricks, and frameworks to create content that stands out and doesn't look like the AI subpar crap everyone's spamming us with.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

💟, 🍵4️⃣2️⃣

Got questions? Suggestions? Opinions? Cats? (We love all of those).

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