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5 Things You Can Do To Tell A Better Story

I’m Cameron Lee Cowan; I’m originally from Denver via Northwest Arkansas. I started writing in 2005 writing essays and short stories. I have a vintage flair in much of my work. All the twists and turns on my journey through music, fashion, theater and writing have provided the background for my writing.

Executive Contributor Cameron Cowan

Humans live in story. No matter what we do we make up a story about it. Even journalism is called “a story.” In business, telling a proper story is vital to power your marketing, get your message across and, most importantly, control your story. There is a real life example where a narrative was not in control and things spiraled out of control.

Shot of a woman whispering something into her friend's ear

Last week we learned that HRH Catherine, Princess of Wales has cancer. This announcement came out after a month of conjecture and speculation. Where did the palace go wrong? They failed to tell a proper story to satisfy a suspicious public. How can you avoid this fate in your work?

Have an arc

Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is true for fiction as much as it is true for your marketing, messaging, and public relations. Kensington Palace gave us a nice start, but then failed to fill in the details, leaving the public to come up with their ideas. As the old saying goes, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will do it for you. While the Prince and Princess of Wales were trying to protect their children, they made the problem far worse by not giving us a middle and an ending to the story. When they finally did that, all the rumors and such were squashed.

Whether you’re creating a new ad or handling PR, having a story arc is important. For ads, it can be the difference between having a watch time under 5 seconds (depending on platform) and getting in 10–20 seconds and generating a new lead and possibly a conversion. Surveys have reinforced the idea that people don’t like advertising unless it is entertaining. What makes for an entertaining ad? Tell us a story about your product.

Make it compelling

The phrase “attention economy” is starting to make the rounds. I was on my podcast with Elijah Szasz when he used that phrase, and it has stuck in my mind since then. The reality is that people’s attention spans are short, so you need to make sure that whatever you’re doing is compelling. The sad reality is that our attention is more divided than ever before, quite likely in human history. To garner attention, whatever you are doing, either organic content or advertising, has to be compelling.

There are some brands getting this right in big ways. Jewelry Brand Alexis Bittar is doing a great series featuring two characters, Margeaux and Jules who play an Upper East Side socialite and her titular assistant. The story is so compelling, you almost forget that it is a giant ad for Alexis Bittar! By telling a great story, the brand is making big moves and getting attention and sales from their efforts.

This isn’t necessarily a new concept. There are older ads that told great stories and changed public opinion and promoted products. Think of the Coca-Cola polar bears (and their invention of the modern Santa Claus) as well as advertising characters like Flo from Progressive or the Geico gecko.

Be dramatic with flair

In a world where… Once upon a time…these famous opening lines from literature and film are synonymous will the beginning of a story with many twists and turns. In creative writing we talk about first lines a lot. They can suck someone in and keep them turning the pages (or watching the show/movie) because we are immediately invested in the story.

You don’t need to lie or bend the truth to be dramatic. Drama can be evident through subtle things like lighting and color, but it can also be through action. Think about ads where someone is angry, pounding the table, or looking stressed out, that image invites us to find out why the character is stressed or angry. Conversely, you can do the same thing with positive emotions like happiness, pleasure, and joy. Think about ads where the people are walking around happy and living their lives (pharmaceutical commercials are excellent at this) and how even that can tell a story.

Give the story a new perspective

One of the ways you can tell a better story is to give us a new perspective. When it comes to telling a story, giving people a different perspective on things can help you tell your story differently. Whether it is showing a new side of something we know or taking us to a different place, a fresh perspective can help a product or person stand out in the marketplace, and it achieves that by telling a better story.

For Brands, showing how your business/product works through a behind-the-scenes sort of campaign can be a really cool way to offer a different perspective. It also gives you a chance to create some product differentiation in the marketplace.

For content creators and thought leaders, showing us some of the most vulnerable and important parts of your story and yourself can give us important perspective. Also, remember that most people aren’t going to have any experience in your area of expertise. Being open and sharing your story helps you define yourself in the market place, as well as, gives your audience a unique perspective on you and how you can help them achieve their goal or just be more informed about your area/topic of expertise.

Tell us something new

When we think about telling a better story, there are some brands that stand out for telling us something genuinely new. I always think about books like Freakonomics which made a name for itself by connecting seemingly disconnected events and showing their effects on each other. Malcolm Gladwell also lives in this space. Even more controversial figures like Jordan Peterson live here too. They turn our view of things upside down by offering something genuinely new that we didn’t even know that we needed to know.

For brands, this can be how your product is used or how your product is a major improvement over the past versions. Whatever new problem it solves for the customer needs to be an intrinsic part of its story.

For content creators, this is where your unique story helps you in a big way because no one has heard it before! It is all new, and it is that freshness that makes it compelling to people. Find a way to stand out in your marketplace by showing how your story is different and new compared to the existing players who have told their story over and over again.

Final thoughts

Telling a better story is the best (and fastest) way to market yourself or a product or service more effectively. Telling a better story is how to compete in the modern attention economy. As marketing shifts towards programmatic, short-form video, and other new ways of spreading the word, the best way to get the attention that is required to drive sales is to tell a compelling story that offers us a new perspective, or just tells us something new. Go out there and tell a story!

Read more from Cameron Cowan


Cameron Cowan, Creative Director

I’m Cameron Lee Cowan; I’m originally from Denver via Northwest Arkansas. I started writing in 2005 writing essays and short stories. I have a vintage flair in much of my work. All the twists and turns on my journey through music, fashion, theater and writing have provided the background for my writing. I’ve seen exciting people and interesting things, and I do my best to find ways to tell those everyday stories and try to leave my readers with something profound. Whether I’m writing about the world around us at The Cameron Journal or creating a novel, I try to make an observation and leave the reader to decide for themselves how they think or feel about it.



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