Tuesday 30 April 2019, London

A good marketing communication tells a story that allows audiences to connect on an emotional level. That was the opening thought posed to us at the recent PM Forum Mastering the Art of Business Storytelling event led by Warwick Harniess of Scandinavia Stories.

To help us understand how to craft effective marketing stories, Warwick imparted four key lessons to the group.

Lesson 1: Start with a feeling and write a story title

To start the day, Warwick contemplated on how emotional triggers can help with effective storytelling, something often neglected in professional communications, especially in business to business marketing. We have been taught to see emotive language as unprofessional and unsuitable for professional communications, however, as Warwick stated, emotional triggers can be powerful tools for business storytelling.

Warwick introduced the audience to Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Matrix theory. The theory states that humans have six different foundations of moral concern:

  • Care / harm
  • Fairness / cheating
  • Loyalty / betrayal
  • Authority / subversion
  • Sanctity / degradation
  • Liberty / oppression

To illustrate how these moral foundations can be used in communications Warwick presented Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election advert to the audience. Throughout the one-minute advert Reagan appealed to his audience by using each of Haidt’s moral foundations at different points. By doing this Reagan was able to ensure that his messages would stay with the American voters long after the advert itself ended.

This is a technique that we can bring to our own business communications; by appealing to one or more of these moral foundations we can craft highly effective and memorable messaging. Afterall, as Warwick correctly pointed out, morality underpins emotions and emotions drive stories.

Lesson 2: A key message should be poetic or proverbial

The key message is the heart of your marketing communication – what you want the audience to know. To the ancient Greeks a key message could either be poetic or a proverb and this is something we should remember if we want to create memorable communications. Warwick gave us three techniques to help us craft our key messages:

  • Write out your key message as a sentence;
  • Eliminate words until the sentence is short and punchy; and
  • Play around with literary techniques, such as alliteration, acronyms, puns and metaphors

Warwick illustrated this technique by crafting a message about Brexit. Due to its topical nature, many law firms are highlighting their expertise in Brexit-related services, however many are using the same messaging. During the course of the session Warwick crafted a bespoke slogan, which he crafted using the above technique:

Brexit – We Deserve to Know

This message is proverbial in nature and is short and pithy, making it easy for the audience to remember. The message also utilises two of the Haidt’s moral foundations:

  • Fairness / cheating
  • Liberty / oppression

Lesson 3: Create a three-part structure and write sub-headings

All stories generally tend to follow the same structure and each part plays a vital role in effective communications.

The Beginning

The beginning is where you hook the reader by setting the scene. Perhaps you introduce them to a problem or a mistake – whatever the case, you only have five seconds to grab their attention.

The Middle

Here is where you increase the tension. In marketing communications this may be introducing the solution or presenting an effect of an action introduced in the beginning.

The End

This is the resolution. Show your audience the impact or consequences of the actions that have occurred in the middle.

This story arc is effective as it is a structure we are all familiar with; all of your favourite novels or stories will follow this pattern in their own way. Tapping into this helps our audiences engage with our communications by providing familiar touchpoints.

To help work out the structure of your communications Warwick recommends writing sub-headings that tell the story in short form.

Lesson 4: Think like a journalist but don’t write content like them

At different stages of our lives we are taught to approach writing differently. As children we are taught to be creative, but as adults we are taught to report. By forgetting to bring creativity to our work we could fall foul to three curses:

  • Knowledge – we risk blinding our audience with too much science and alienating them
  • Literalness – show your audience; don’t tell them what they already know or feel
  • Expectation – professionalism can be bland and boring

To avoid these three curses we should think like a journalist but not write like them. In other words, think analytically and work out what your audience needs to know, but don’t just report the facts – bring a creative flair to your writing.

Overall, the day provided us with much to think about and challenged our preconceptions about business storytelling.

Asad Moghal, Digital and Content Manager
Byfield Consultancy