The secret of how to master brand storytelling may not be as complex as you think.
Want to know the secret to brilliant storytelling?
It’s actually just one thing. And curiously enough, that one thing is looking for the one thing.
Let me explain.
Every day, for more than 15 years in journalism, I was preoccupied by the idea that there’s really only one thing that matters in a story.
A clever editor of mine once said “write the headline first and the rest follows.” It’s probably a cliche in the journalism business, but it clearly illustrates my point.
Think about how you read stories online or in print. First you scan a headline, then check out the picture, read the caption and if your attention is piqued, you’ll start reading. But even then, there’s a good chance you’ll only read a few paragraphs.
If you’re a journalist, author or copy writer, it’s just a given that you lot are a tough crowd to please.
So what’s the solution? How can you cajole someone into reading an entire story?
It all starts with just one thing. Every single story, about anything, must pass the one thing test. That is, how quickly can you identify the most compelling idea that holds it all together?
It sounds easy, but in reality it’s a bit like making a clarified soup or an elegant wine – it takes time and skill.
Here’s an example from the US presidential race. No doubt you’re a sick of the Trump vs Clinton saga, which has consumed our attention for a very long time. The relentless barrage of coverage presents reporters and editors with a particular challenge.
Every day, they’re looking for a unique angle to create another micro-chapter in this long-running saga. And every day, they have to convince us this new angle is worthy of our attention. I’ll spare you the joy of recounting specifics, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of space dedicated to filling us in on the back story as a way of justifying the day’s new angle. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes it’s tedious waffle that you’ve read countless times before.
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To me, the ability to pitch a fresh angle and rise above the noise is the very definition of brilliant storytelling. Grab someone’s attention, and hold it.
And it should be said, finding the most compelling one thing is a skill that applies to any form of storytelling, be it a feature article, blog post, opinion column, press release, case study, video script, or advertising copy.
Now, before I go, there’s actually one more thing. Let’s call it the other thing.
The other thing is my answer to the question you’re probably asking: exactly how do you find the one thing in the story? It’s a tricky question to answer because our brains are all wired differently, but here’s a few things on my “how to find the one thing” checklist:
- Assemble all the facts first. Don’t think hard, just write, draw or scribble.
- Ask yourself “who cares?” Once your audience, or persona/s are clear, your focus sharpens.
- Think about why. Why does this story matter right now, today?
- Pick your one thing, then begin work.
- Self-editing or collaboration with a friend or colleague is essential. Once you’re done with the first draft, revisit your one thing – the big idea. Have you clearly argued the point? If not make a call and decide if the story, or even the headline needs reworking.
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