What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘storytelling’?
Time to level up the game.
Today's guest doesn’t just tell stories to build brands and strengthen communications; she is a beautiful story in herself.
Like a skilled storyteller, you’ll find the elements of storytelling in everything she does - even a sentence she writes or speaks.
This week, I invited Vanshika Mehta to share her insights and tips on storytelling.
And while a lot of articles tell you the benefits of storytelling in strengthening brand communications, I persuaded Vanshika to share the technical side of it - the real process involved in building a compelling story.
So, if you’re looking to gain knowledge around any of the following aspects, you’ll love this interview to the last word.
Ready, Steady, Go!
In one word - Fascinating. In 2016, I graduated in BSc., Marketing and Management from Northeastern University, Boston, and thereafter worked for 3-4 years. Then, in January 2020, I became a full-time freelancer and began consulting emerging and high-growth startups.
I’m a brand storyteller and communication specialist. I help startups and brands tell their authentic story, with a strategy, alongside appropriate content, for their audience.
It sounds like a cliche, but storytelling just came to me. I never knew I’d become a storyteller. I enjoyed writing and always used to think of new and better ways to describe anything. That’s when I came across storytelling.
I started reading about it, learning the techniques, and putting them into practice. It breathed fresh life into my content. Previously, I would throw words, but now sentences were making more sense. Eventually, storytelling became my closest companion, and today, I use the techniques I know to tell better stories.
Fundamentals and frameworks, techniques, and theory of storytelling are easily available online. But what makes a story captivating is the person writing it.
So, I’d suggest: start thinking creatively. Go beyond the traditional techniques. Read stories to learn how to create a narrative, and apply those learnings to make that kind of narrative yours.
Storytelling isn’t a one-and-done rule. You have to lean down on each deliverable. See how somebody narrates a story on a website versus LinkedIn or elsewhere. Observe the change in style and pattern on each platform, and learn.
Also, I’d strongly recommend: talk to people who brand themselves as storytellers because they’ve researched a lot about it. These people have been doing it for years and can guide you about each platform and the style of storytelling.
Emotions, flow, and presentation are key elements differentiating a story from text written on a page.
Emotions: If your story doesn’t bring out an emotion or illustrate an action, it isn’t a story. Ask yourself the following questions:
When you find answers to them, your writing shows emotions. That’s where magic happens.
Flow: Stories have narrative arcs which make them beautiful and captivating. You can take a blog post and convert it into three different versions by including storytelling and narrative arcs.
Flow within a story sets the tone and pace, whereas, in an article, both these things slip through as you churn out sentences after sentences.
Presentation: While writing a story, you’re cognizant of the nitty-gritties like sentence and paragraph length, gap between two lines, and other technicalities. You write in a format which can be easily processed. If it can’t be, your story will fail. For instance, on LinkedIn, writers insert 1, 2 or even more line spaces between two sentences or paragraphs to increase readability for the audience.
All platforms behave differently, and so, style and presentation of a story also differs. Start with one platform instead of jumping upon many of them simultaneously.
Observe how people write content on that platform. Go through a few examples and references to understand how the platform reacts to content.
Don’t go broad. You can start with LinkedIn. Look at how people write content and tell stories. Don’t copy anyone’s style. Take ideas, replicate them, and apply your creativity to write a unique story.
Next, I’d say, have a marketing swipe file: a ready reference file where you can keep the things that inspire you. For example, if you’re observing the landing pages, and you’ve come across top 15 of them, save them in the marketing swipe file. In future whenever you need inspiration, look at those 15 landing pages to see header, subtext, vocabulary, power words, persuasion techniques, placement of CTA buttons, etc.
So, to sum it up in one line - Observe others’ work and document the most favourite ones for future reference.
First and foremost, you need a character: someone who can be the centrepiece, carry your story through, and is relatable.
Next, figure out a personality for that character. Even while building a story for a brand, put human characteristics to it. It helps you build relatability. A brand can be funny, inspirational or exciting.
Have a clear path and vision for the character. Think of Marvel or your favourite comic - Every character has a particular trait or path which he or she follows throughout the story. Create similar rules or guidelines for your story’s character.
Next, map out the entire path to a story. Think everything you want to include even before you have written a single word. If you don’t lay out the entire path, you’ll end up losing the essence of the character midway. Before starting a story, visualise how a character will act or respond during a situation, or if a conflict arises between two characters X & Y, how they both will solve it. This helps in building believability and trust throughout the story.
Use a narrative arc. Every story you read has a different narrative arc - Harry Potter, Cinderella or Slumdog Millionaire - all of them narrate a story differently. In total, 5-7 different narrative arcs exist. But unless you’re experienced, stick to one. If you mix up the narrative arcs, your reader will get confused.
Be cognizant of your sentence length and overall rhythm. Don’t make the story monotonous by writing each sentence of 5 words. Instead, vary the length from sentence to sentence so the story looks rhythmic and keeps the reader engaged.
If you can’t say a sentence in one breath, break it into two.
Last but not the least - Edit your story until the fluff cuts down completely. Keep a gap between writing a story and editing it. If time permits, read your story every day for 7 days to check if the story is still invoking the emotions. If not, re-edit it.
PRO TIP - Once you’ve finished the editing, read the article backwards. Since the mind is not programmed to read a story from the bottom to the top, eyes catch the errors and unnecessary sentences quickly.
Always remember, good copywriting is the essence of good storytelling.
Storytelling is adaptive in nature and can be used anywhere you want. It can’t be put in a box.
Steve Jobs would use storytelling in his speeches and presentations. Apple uses storytelling to brand itself.
As long as you know the intent, storytelling can be used everywhere: marketing campaign, branding, CEO pitch, CSR activity, or public address. If you want to use storytelling to build brand awareness, be more excited and speak positively about the company.
If you’re building a CSR campaign, invoke emotions and show them the bigger picture (How donation of one rupee can fulfill someone’s thirst).
List down your objectives behind writing a story, choose a relevant narrative arc, and use it to write a story which accomplishes the goals.
Storytelling is equally crucial in B2B marketing. Companies in the B2B space are facing bottleneck competition, and to be a category creator, they have to do something out-of-the-box. Storytelling lets them achieve that position.
B2B purchases are usually expensive. Every touch point matters because decision makers and users have to decide upon to buy your product or service which will cost hundreds of thousands of bucks to the company.
Stories give birth to brand loyalty and brand affinity which creates trust in them for your offerings.
Remember, every decision maker and user in a company is a human too. A business is not buying your product, a human is buying it. So, if you’re not doing storytelling, you’re missing out on something huge.
Both of them are necessary to have. When you think of Apple, you think of three words: innovative, tech first, and consumer friendly. That’s company branding! When Apple launches a new iPhone or any other product, it markets the product based on specifications, competitive advantage and targeted segment. It’s product marketing.
However, product branding should stick along the same lines of company branding.
Apple won’t market its products using terms like “sexy”, “cheap” or “affordable” because the company has created its legacy and brand image in a luxury segment. Product branding will always be aligned to the company branding that Apple stands for
So, both the brandings - company branding and product branding - should go in tandem with each other.
It can fetch positive ROI. But when you’re running a fear based campaign, you expect a sudden jump in demand. So, keep your production, supply chain, operations, customer service etc. on board for fulfilling that spike. If you don’t prepare in advance and anything goofs up, you’ll get negative PR. People these days are vocal in sharing their experiences on LinkedIn and Twitter and spread news like a wildfire.
So, keep your resources on stand-by when you’re launching a fear-based marketing campaign. If done aptly, it can bring laurels for the company.
Definitely. Mission and vision statements are not meant to just impress your customers. You and your team have to experience those statements every single day. Tie your mission and vision to your culture, because, when the culture is set right, it comes into the product.
Everyone at companies like Facebook & LinkedIn live the company’s mission and vision everyday which is reflected in customer interactions as well as the product.
Don’t just hang the mission and vision statements in the director’s room. Let your employees and team members live the statements practically.
Your brand message can’t differ from your sales pitch versus marketing collaterals and working culture of the company. All forms of content and marketing messages have to be tied back into the mission, vision, values and brand story.
Apple markets itself as a quality-driven company across all the platforms and channels. Because of their brand story, their marketing strategies achieve positive ROIs. In spite of being in a luxury space, people buy Apple products due to their belief in best-in-the-class quality and unmatchable customer experience.
Undoubtedly, the world and art of storytelling is fascinating. I didn’t feel exhausted for even a moment while talking to Vanshi and editing this article. That’s the inborn quality of great storytellers: they don’t let the listeners or readers distract for a second.
Follow Vanshika on LinkedIn where she writes amazing stories and posts on freelancing, writing, and marketing.