Last week a friend of mine sent me an email with a sample of a corporate history he had written. He is one of the most thoughtful sales and marketing people I know. When I say “thoughtful,” I don’t really mean “considerate,” although he is that, too – but this is someone who thinks through a strategy, considers a variety of tactics, and weighs the potential impact before implementing.
He admitted he had struggled with this assignment, although it read perfectly fine. It was organized, interesting, and full of information. He asked for ways to make it more compelling, and that made me realize many of us face the same quandary. When should we switch from reporting to story-telling, and is there a place for both?
My friend, now a Marketing Director for a niche retailer, included an interesting tidbit on his page. He mentioned several celebrities who had worn their gear. This prompted me to ask, “How might we use this information in a different way?”
Here are a few tricks of the trade:
1. Back into the history. Rather than say “XYZ company was founded in 1895” and roll out the copy in chronological form, use that current color to capture the reader’s attention. Example: “Little did Celebrity know when he selected This Company Jacket to wear on his album cover, he was supporting an American institution.”
2. Show the benefits in use, rather than spelling them out. Instead of saying the product is handsome, durable, and guaranteed, make those points part of the story: “Celebrity probably thought this jacket was ‘cool’ – we do, too – with its brass studs and wide shoulder straps. In fact, we still manufacture that classic style today.” (This is where you’d link to the online store)
3. Use pull quotes. Sometimes even the best writing becomes dense, and in this case, visual relief is most welcome. A key phrase extracted and set apart in bigger, wider-spaced italic type, occasionally with accentuated quotation marks, lets the eye ‘take a break’ and quickly conveys a key point. Scattered throughout an article, pull quotes help guide readers to the most relevant parts if there’s no time for a complete read.
4. Intersperse infographics. Research data tends to be dry because people want the facts and want them fast. To this end, illustrations rock. Yes, there has to be text to explain the findings, but keep it short. Use pictures to tell the rest. These save space, convey data quickly and can be repurposed. And don’t structure sentences the same way: “33% say this, 60% say that, 95% say the other thing.” Try: “Nearly a third of respondents say,” “3 out of 5 believe,” “Most participants agree.” Variety adds interest.
5. Bring in another voice. Sure, it’s nice to hear ourselves talk, but other perspectives lend authenticity. Yes, it’s more work – but it’s generally worth it. How much more intriguing it is to read a first hand account: “I remember coming into the old store on Maple Street with my Dad and seeing a bright red bicycle on display. My father said I could have it if I helped earn it. I was mowing lawns that summer, so every time I got paid, I set half my earnings aside. My Dad matched it, and that fall, I rode home on a spanking new bike. I can still remember the salesman shaking my hand, congratulating me and telling me to ride safely. I also remember the first time I rode it to school– how proud I was and how my friends gathered around.”
The trick is not to forfeit selling points when telling a story but to infuse facts with feeling. Human emotion is a great driver when it comes to getting response, and done right, it can be incorporated into even the driest content.