How to make your story resonate

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If there is one thing we all want it’s to be heard and recognized. Whatever the story we are telling is, we want it to reach someone and cause a reaction. Most of the stories we tell are personal, directed at one person or a small group, but some are intended for far larger audiences.

If you’ve been paying attention to the worlds of media, entertainment, marketing and B2B, there is one term that is right now the hottest one around. Storytelling is what everyone wants to be doing, or at least be perceived to be doing. All it’s different sub-layers – transmedia storytelling, creative storytelling, multiplatform storytelling, interactive storytelling… the list goes on and on – are geared towards the same end goal; to make a story resonate with an intended target audience and cause an intended reaction.

I’ve been writing passionately about storytelling in many different forms on this blog for the past few years. My focus has been on the transmedia part of storytelling, as I was and still am convinced that new media platforms offer new possibilities to reach and engage with audiences, and that ignoring the fact that different media platforms have different strengths and different weaknesses is downright stupid. If we can engage with an audience on a deeper and more effective level by shaping our content to fit different platforms, to not do so is above and beyond pure laziness.

As for the principles of how this could be done – and this is of course highly dependent on the field you’re in, the story you’re telling and the audience you want to reach (not to mention budget constraints, the territory you’re targeting etc and so on) – there are a number of posts around the web, and also here on this blog, relating to how it could and should be done. But once you’ve figured out the core of your story, the core of your story world, your target audience and your intended media platforms, there is still the all-important, elusive question of making your content resonate.

I read a post the other day that was intended for brands, looking at what stories they tell and how they achieve the intended result among the target audiences they are trying to reach. In the study, six different archetypes of stories were identified. What was interesting to me was that it was quite apparent that the stories the brands and their storytellers were the most interested in telling were not the ones the audience were the most interested in hearing.

The archetype “rags-to-riches” stood out as the one brands liked to tell the most. It is understandable, as it is a very classical story and story line, no matter what the core subject is, and it’s one that is easily pitched to anyone paying for the production. What people were more interested in, however, were the more complicated story lines – “riches-to-rags-to-riches” or vice versa – stories that dive deeper into the protagonists and their fates, and offer deeper insights and meanings.

People’s lives are complex matters, and while rags-to-riches stories might be convenient to create and produce, more complex stories also give more opportunities for target audiences to identify with the subject, while at the same time building the foundation for more intricate and complex interactivity and calls-to-action.

So, how to make our story, our content resonate? Here are three key principles:

1. Never settle for the first obvious solution. It’s like every other production of almost anything – that you create for the first time – in that when you think you’re 90% finished, you have about 90& left to do. Granted, you might get an epiphany so strong and so spot on, that you can just sit down, write it out, have it produced and achieve storming success. You would have a bigger chance of winning any given lottery though, so instead stay healthily critical towards that first, brilliant idea. Bounce it off everyone you can think of, including yourself. What are the weaknesses, what are the strengths, how does it build forward and how can it be bettered upon? Because believe me – it can be bettered upon.

2. Your audience is more important than your story. If you have a devoted audience and no story, there is a myriad of things you can accomplish. If you have a great story and no audience, you can’t do shit. If you feel your story and your content is on the weaker side, either as story goes or as interaction goes or as transmedia storytelling goes or according to any other principle, you already have your most important asset; use your audience to get it moving in the right direction. How can they mash it all up? How can you use what they create to better your content? How can it all build on each other, strengthening along the way, to something much better that you and your audience are both invested in? Revere and celebrate your audience, for without them you’re nothing.

3. Stay on it. When Red Bull started out in 2005 and 2006 they sponsored local hip hop contests and had some very brief videos of paragliders landing in Las Vegas. Not much to inspire, not much to resonate with. But now? Through a clear and – in hindsight – fairly obvious concentration on high energy extreme sports (including e-sports etc) their stories are the ones people associate with all things extreme sport today. But it took years and years, and carefully maintained strategies along the way to get to that point. If you’re convinced your story is solid and that is has an audience, analyze, tweak, release, and rinse and repeat. You can’t but achieve success if you manage to do this right.

If you have any great tips on getting content and stories to resonate, please share in the comments!

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