Narratives are essential for your content strategy to succeed, and they come in a variety of forms. Basically, the term “narrative” refers to any kind of story, preferably with a beginning, middle, and end, and with a central character as part of that story. That character doesn’t need to be a fictional protagonist, or even a person—in fact, it could be a piece of equipment—but it does need to have a kind of starring role in the story you weave.
It may seem strange to describe storytelling as a content marketing element—after all, storytelling is usually equated with fiction, and writing with a completely different purpose. However, whether you’re whipping up a new blog post or polishing the final draft of your latest eBooks, narratives can make or break your efforts.
Why Narratives Matter
So what is it that make narratives such a powerful tool in your blog posts?
- Stories are second only to experience in learning. Our brains aren’t wired to process direct lines of information. Instead, they learn best through experience. For example, seeing a tiger in the wild attacking prey by sneaking up on it, then lunging with powerful claws is an easy way to understand that such a predator exists, and is dangerous if encountered. Trying to describe the animal in objective, unemotional terms may be able to inspire a similar conclusion, but it won’t be as powerful because it wasn’t experienced firsthand. The middle ground here is storytelling, which allows for a descriptive, emotional, and time-dependent experience (with the narrative’s beginning, middle, and end). Research shows that brains are more active when reading a story than when reading basic information, and subjects are more likely to remember what they read in a story than what was transmitted as basic information.
- Stories allow for more creativity. Next, stories naturally allow for more creative liberties. Rather than trying to blankly explain some process or some collection of items, you get to come up with a cast of characters, and imagine what they do (and how they do it). This is powerful because it gives you more freedom to experiment with your brand voice, and more ways to differentiate your brand from those of your competitors.
- Stories are immersive and memorable. Stories are also a way to immerse your audience, rather than feeding them information. When you describe a setting, or introduce a challenge for your main characters to solve, you give them a frame of reference and establish questions that your readers’ curiosities will naturally prompt them to answer. This makes your readers more likely to follow your content through to completion, and more likely to remember what they read after they’ve finished reading it.
How to Incorporate Narratives
So how can you incorporate narratives into your content marketing?
- Simple storytelling. The first strategy is the easiest; simply relate something personal that you already know is true. For example, you might tell a story about the first real estate you invested in, and how you lost money because you didn’t know what you were doing, or describe one of the strangest sales calls you ever made to inject some humor into your blog post. This personal revelation has the added bonus of making you, the author, more relatable, and instantly makes you more trustworthy.
- Examples. You can also use stories as historical or current examples to explain why a certain principle is important, or demonstrate a concept in action. For example, if you’re writing an article about the importance of overcoming fear of failure, you might relate the stories of famous people who overcame failure or adversity to achieve great success.
- Hypotheticals. You could invent stories of your own as hypothetical scenarios to illustrate your points. For example, if you’re trying to describe someone starting an SEO campaign, you might establish a character who is unfamiliar with the basics of SEO and has limited technical capacity. Then, show him discovering how easy it is to optimize onsite pages.
These are just a handful of examples—any story, worked into your content, can be beneficial, so get creative!
Hallmarks of Great Narratives
So what makes a narrative effective?
- A point. First, the narrative has to have a point. Sometimes, that means the narrative should illustrate a lesson, much like a children’s fable. Sometimes, that means the narrative should be entertaining, adding some flavor to your work.
- Originality. Your story needs to be original, or it’s not going to be well received. Part of the visibility and memorability factor depends on a story being unexpected, or novel in some way.
- Relatability. should also be able to emotionally relate to your story. They should have shared experiences with your characters, or some kind of connection to the narrative.
- Structure. You need to have a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. Without that structural frame of reference, your “story” doesn’t exist. You may also want to consider how your story fits in with the rest of your content.
- Immersion. Finally, your readers need to be immersed in your story, and that means including details that heighten its realism or add texture to the work.
If you can spin a narrative with these elements into your content, you’ll instantly make it more effective, more memorable, and more original. Keep practicing your narrative incorporation, and eventually you’ll develop a reputation for it!