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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marketing and the lost art of storytelling

Messaging Arc

My commute home is a great time for my mind wander to wander.  There isn’t much else to do while stuck in the sea of cars headed home.  Last night while my mind was wandering one of my favourite songs came on the radio - Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.  The song is a bit of a downer, but it gave me a chance to reflect on my younger days, and made me realize there may be a lesson in marketing hidden inside those memories.

One of my favourite albums ever is the one that the song comes from - The Downward Spiral.  I enjoy it immensely both for the music itself, but also for what it taught me about the art of storytelling.  There was a time when as a young music listener, I’d simply take the individual songs that I enjoyed the most and put them on repeat.  The Downward Spiral forced me to break that habit.  All 14 songs created a story arc, within which Trent Reznor took a listener through a multi-layered journey of a person trying to uncover all the layers of emotions that affect him and his mental well-being.

Very deep stuff; But it taught me that an album could be more than just a collection of individual songs.  The songs themselves can be written to speak to a common theme, and be structured in a way to take a listener through a much longer story arc, with defined acts that touch on various emotions at different points in the plot.

Without question content marketing and inbound marketing are the hottest topics in marketing circles today.  Armies of professionals seem to be pumping out great content components each and every day - Infographics, videos, blogs, eBooks, you name it.  In this community however, the lesson on storytelling that Trent taught me years ago is relevant again.

Every piece of content should tie back to a common theme.  Every piece of content is an opportunity to reinforce your core value proposition and positioning.  For products that require longer sales cycles this is particularly important.  In those cases, each piece of content should map to a particular stage in a longer customer education process.

Content and storytelling both need a defined arc, and plot. 

Without that, you’re just picking your favourite part and putting it on repeat…


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