It all started with heroes and dragons and princesses and frogs.
It’s why we binge watch Game of Thrones.
It’s why we have campfire stories and coffee-break gossip.
We’re all addicted to stories. Blame Lewis Carroll or the Brothers Grimm if you like, but our need for and enjoyment of stories are deeply ingrained in our lives.
Remember That Story You Heard …
Think back to sitting in class and listening to lectures from your teachers and professors. Which lectures can you remember? As in really remember? Probably none, except for those where the lecturers used stories to bring their points across. Or when something funny happened in the class, like Johnny falling off his chair because he fell asleep somewhere between consecutive integers and unknown coefficients.
There’s no question that we remember stories. But why? Because stories engage our brains on an emotional level. We experience stories as if we’re part of it. You were sitting in that class right now picturing the teacher droning on about math equations and catching Johnny’s slowly-tipping body in the corner of your eye.
Over 2 million blog posts are published every day. Crazy right? So how do you get people to, firstly, notice your blog, read through it, and then remember it? Through stories.
For instance, say you want to urge your readers to submit their returns on time. You can say: “If you don’t submit your tax return on time, you’ll have to pay late payment penalties.” Or you can say: “Remember Shop So-And-So that closed down a few months ago? Well, they didn’t file their taxes for the past three years, and when the IRS found out, they slammed them with huge penalties. Shop So-And-So had to liquidate half their assets just to pay their outstanding taxes and penalties, and that’s what ultimately lead to them closing their doors.”
Which one do you think your readers will remember?
How Do You Use Stories in Your Blog?
Let’s look at a few examples of how you can integrate stories in your blog posts:
1. Case Studies
This is an obvious one. Case studies are inherently stories that you tell about your clients. Here’s how a story in a case study can look like:
“When we met Mark, he looked tired and stressed – as if he had the world on his shoulders. After spending some time with him and his team, we realised that the reason why he was so overworked and not having anything to show for it was that his business had literally no standard operating procedures in place. Every transaction was handled differently, and his salespeople had to confirm every little detail, including prices, with him.” Then you can go on and tell how you helped them to calculate set prices and implement simple procedures, and end with how he’s now more rested and even has time to slip out during the day to watch son’s soccer game.
2. Interview Pieces
When you write a blog where you interview someone, it’s a great opportunity to slip in some stories.
From prompting them for a bit of background: “Jackie, tell me about the story of how you came up with the idea for your business,” to asking about a benefit of a product: “Give me an example of how this product can help small businesses,” you can sprinkle all kinds of stories into your interview pieces.
3. Product Reviews
We often just jump into the features without even considering what the benefits are of this product or service. Stories are a great way to sketch the benefits of something to your readers.
You can explain how this product made a huge difference in your business: “After implementing this cashflow app I can now see exactly how much money I have and how much I need six months down the line. When my laptop unexpectedly died last month, I had enough funds put aside to replace it, because I planned for scenarios like this. Without this cashflow app, I would have been in a pickle.”
4. Opinion Pieces
Instead of just stating what your opinion is, you can tell the story of what led to you having this opinion. It can look something like this:
“I always thought that the earth was flat. So one day I caught a dragon, strapped a camera around his neck, and told him to fly east. I sat in front of the monitor all day and night, watching the dragon’s flight. 80 days later, I saw a familiar landscape passing underneath the dragon. It was the western side of my hometown. And there was my house. And then there was the thunderous splash in my swimming pool. And then the monitor went out. That’s how I now know that the earth is round.”
(You didn’t expect this story, right! I know it’s far-fetched, but I had to include it so that you can always remember that you’ve read this blog. And, we all need a little bit of fantasy in our lives, right?)
5. Personal Spotlight
Sometimes it’s good to write about yourself in your blogs, as long as it relates to your clients and they get something out of it. Let’s look at an example of an origin story. What has led to you starting your firm?
“While working for another accounting firm, I saw this scenario time and time again: Once a year, we’ll help a client to get their books up to date, draft their financial statements, and submit their tax returns. When the partner presents the financials to the client and tells them how much tax they needed to pay, they were shocked. They thought their business performed better, and they had no idea how they were going to come up with the tax money. The partner would then explain everything in detail to them, and give them some ideas of how they can prepare for next year. But, the next year it was the same story. That’s why I decided to start this firm. Every month I help my clients with their financial planning – setting up budgets and cashflow forecasts, analysing their performance, and then helping them to make the necessary adjustments – so that they can get out of that cycle of not knowing what’s happening in their books, and being prepared for the future.”
6. Educational Posts
Okay, what about educational posts? Is there really a place for stories in there? Of course there is! There are different ways that you can weave stories into educational posts. You can present the background or history of something in a story, or you can use stories to explain difficult concepts.
Let’s look at a few examples:
A while back, I wrote a blog post for a client about VAT (value added tax) and explained the basics of how VAT works. To spice up the blog, I started it off with a story of my first experience with VAT when I was a kid. It’s a story that a lot of people can relate to, and it makes the dryness of learning about taxes bearable. Read the intro here.
Another great example is one from LiftIgniter where a difficult concept was explained with a humorous story. The story is completely unexpected, it’s hilarious, and the correlations that were drawn between the featured technology and the oh-so-familiar family scenario was done expertly. I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Go read it here. You’ll thank me later.
What Makes Stories so Special?
Let’s have a look at why stories are so compelling when you use them in your blogs, and marketing content in general:
- Explain difficult concepts: Stories make difficult concepts more digestible.
- Make a connection with your readers: Stories are relatable and evoke emotions, remind them of good times, or sketch scenarios they’d rather want to avoid. And when you can show that you understand their feelings, fears, and desires, they’ll quickly feel positive about you and trust you to help them with their problem.
- Give you credibility: A story where you’ve overcome something that they’re still struggling with is extremely powerful, but even just showing that you understand their situation will give you authority.
- They’re entertaining: We all need a little distraction in our lives. If you make it fun, your readers will stick around.
- Get reader attention: When you just blah blah on and on, it’s so easy to lose a reader’s attention. I bet that you’ve read something lately where, after reading a paragraph, realised that you actually didn’t, and then you reread it with the same (lack of) results. Stories draw people back into your blog.
- Inspire them to take action: Stories change the way we think about things and how we act. Remember that story about Shop So-And-So that neglected to file their tax returns? After reading that story, your readers and clients will make quick work of getting their tax returns in – because they don’t want their doors to close.
Storytelling Tips for the Creatively Impaired
You don’t need to be the next Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway to use stories in your blogs. Here are a few easy tips that can help you to blow some life into your stories:
- Keep your story clear, simple, and concise. It’s natural to try and put everything and the kitchen sink into your story, but cut out any unnecessary words and sentences that will distract from the punchline.
- Be authentic and don’t be afraid to lay all the cards on the table.
- Show that you understand your readers’ struggles and dreams.
- Introduce conflict. A story without conflict is not a story. It helps you to make an emotional connection with your readers.
How Do You Find Inspiration for Stories?
The world around us is full of inspiration. We just need to know how to look for it.
We can delve into our own experiences or those we’ve picked up from friends and family. We can tap into books, movies, or articles we’ve read in magazines.
Whenever I feel stuck, I’ve found that going for a walk while thinking the blog over almost always brings up a long-forgotten story from my unconscious mind. Or something that I see on the way triggers the start of a fictional story.
Another way that helps me to open my mind to stories is by reading books – especially a Terry Pratchett book. The stories are so bizarre and chaotic, but there’s nothing as potent as his books to get my creative juices flowing.
You can also jump onto Google for some inspiration. Search for a bunch of keywords related to your blog topic, and then read the descriptions underneath each listed page. These descriptions often trigger a story for me.
Let me show you a few examples of how this works:
- When I was creating content for my blogging course, I wanted to come up with an idea of how you can use a film as inspiration for a blog topic. So I thought, what is one of my favourite movies, and Chocolat drifted in front of my eyes. Then I thought, okay, how can I turn this into a blog topic? Are there any lessons that we can learn from the film? And that’s when I came up with these ideas: perseverance, being innovative, and superior products and customer service.
- Another movie that I’ve watched a gazillion times is Shrek. I’ve seen it so many times that I could come up with a Shrek quote for almost any scenario I found myself in. So think about what you can draw from Shrek? Maybe we can do something with Donkey’s onion simile. There’s always something we can do with layers.
- When I wrote the VAT blog that I mentioned above, I wanted to add some history of where VAT came from. So, I asked Google when VAT was first introduced. While reading that, I briefly remembered how, when I was a kid, I suddenly had to add VAT to everything I wanted to buy in my head, to calculate whether I had enough money or not. I could have let that memory slip away, but instead, I decided to use that story in the blog.
Are You Ready to Make Story Magic?
We all have thousands of little stories inside of us. Whether it’s from our own experiences, stories we’ve heard, or just silly fantasies that we make up. You just have to get out of your own way and let these stories free.
Which story are you going to weave into your next blog?