Image source: Gratisography
I talk a lot about thinking BIGGER in your marketing: sharing a bigger story to put your company in the larger context of what people care about.
But today, I’m focusing not on big… but on small. I’m focusing on the need to tell the smallest story possible.
Small stories are specific. Small stories are human-scale.
Ira Glass, host of This American Life, spoke at Columbia University about the need to tell important stories—about refugees and climate change, to name but two—even if most of us are sick and tired of hearing about them.
We’re sick of them, Ira told the Columbia Journalism School graduating class of 2018, because such stories have “the two key ingredients of any story you don’t want to hear anything else about: (1) it’s depressing and… (2) YOU ALREADY KNOW THE STORY.”
Refugees: 60 million displaced people. The largest refugee crisis since World War II. Respectable middle-class people from Syria and elsewhere whose homes were bombed out of existence. Turned away. Dying on boats. Parked in camps.
Climate change: Carbon pollution from fossil fuels warming our planet. Systems thrown out of whack. Hotter temperatures. Stronger storms. Rising seas.
Ugh. Depressing. Scrolls Instagram.
Numb to the Narrative
We’re not just paralyzed from doing anything about these massive global problems, we’re also numb to the narrative. We heard the story already. We got it.
In marketing, we might not talk about important global issues, but we all have our own versions of important but ignored stories.
Our products or services might solve very real problems, but still it’s hard to get anyone to listen to a story about, say, your B2B solution or your law firm or your pharmaceutical products.
The key, then, is to make the story smaller.
Ira Glass says the goal of This American Life is to get listeners pulled in and listening before they actually understand what the story’s about. He says it takes some “cunning.”
I love the playfulness of that word “cunning.” It always makes me think of my Irish aunts grating carrots into the meatloaf just to get us to eat our vegetables. My aunts were cunning, the way they maneuvered those carrots right where they wanted them to be.
We need to do the same.
The building industry in the US struggles with the lack of skilled building-trades people, particularly home framers. So the content created by Norbord Industries (manufacturer of wood building products used in over 80% of home built in the United States) talks a lot about the labor issue. It’s a great example of Norbord owning a “bigger” narrative.
But to really make the story resonate, Norbord made it smaller: At ThankAFramer.com, Norbord’s Ross Commerford tells the story from the framer’s perspective. The program was focused on spreading that message far and wide via social media—mostly video.
It’s going nuts—3.7 million views on Facebook and counting—because it tells a smaller, specific story of actual people who actually build the houses that actual Americans live in.
Big and bold stories are often best told in small and specific ways.
Find the specific details—and use them to engage the heart, not just appeal to the head.
The smallest story leads to your bigger story. Cunning, right?
Josh Javier says
Great tip on using effective storytelling in content marketing. If I might add, a common notion that holds people back from telling smaller, less general stories is that it may attract fewer people. But in a marketing sense, I think those people that listen are likely to be more qualified to actually support your brand.
Anyways, thanks for the useful tip, Ann. 🙂
A useful and thought provoking article. I’m a strong believer in story, and work on learning how best to use it to promote clients’ work. We naturally gravitate to story whereas we find it difficult to read The Big Picture scenario. Seeing small parts of the whole help to re-imagine concepts we have grown somewhat immune to. Thank you Ann
JESSICA WISE says
Your blog articles are so intriguing and so well written! I totally agree! “Big and bold stories are often best told in small and specific ways.”
Your articles on Storytelling amazes me.
I totally agree. And yet, small stories are way more challenging.
This is hits home for me. I’m a synthesizer. I like to grapple with big ideas and reduce them to their practical essence. Taking time to develop a story tends to distract from synthesis, so going small and slowly unspooling a small story that connects with a larger narrative is a challenge for me. Ira Glass is a master of this. Every time I listen, I get sucked in and the stories he weaves are unforgettable. Great insight, Ann. Thank you. Can’t wait to put this to use
Vicky Toomer says
great ideas on how to create story in content marketing. The smaller stories can be just samples of the larger story which allows you to tell it in a bite size informative way.
You’ve also made it easy to understand for people who might be new to stories too!
This is so true! The smaller stories can build to an over all larger picture but are easier to consume.