We’ve been thinking about ‘storytelling’. It’s an idea you hear about a lot, but if we’re all going to use the S word, it makes sense to be clear on what it means. Here are three distinct types of storytelling, for a start.
The Song of Ice and Fire: planning an epic opus
Sometimes, we’re asked to do some storytelling when a client needs a hand taming a huge report. Fixing puzzles like:
* Who will want to read this thing?
* How the hell did it get so long?
* What’s the point of it, again?
In this definition, the writer is like a novelist planning an 800-page fantasy novel. You’re weaving plot lines together to craft a page-turning narrative. And if you want good reviews, you’ll probably need to kill off some of the less interesting or relatable characters along the way.
The Clark Kent: hammering at the typewriter
Or sometimes, we’ll take a storytelling brief and then realise it’s a messaging job. The end result will be a messaging ‘house’ (suite, matrix, or whatever you prefer). Basically, a library of messages in all shapes and sizes that a business can use to talk about its products or mission.
These documents are bigger than a Sunday newspaper and are often the basis for all kinds of spin-off communications. They’re signed off by big groups of stakeholders, and the writing needs to be clear, effective and legally compliant. When you do this type of storytelling, you can feel a bit like a journalist: working to tight word counts, scrunching up redrafts, and checking your facts.
The Dead Poets Society: rekindling a love for language
Then, there’s the creative sort of storytelling. Sometimes, people will come to us when they’re all out of ideas and their writing is getting stale. They might need a creative kickstart for fresh thinking in their team or department. Or a lesson in some linguistic tricks that will hook their readers in and keep their attention.
On this type of job, the writer’s role is like Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society: an eccentric, enthusiastic English teacher who’s obsessed with language. Wear your sensible shoes, because they might just ask you climb up onto your desk for a fresh perspective.
This list could have gone on for much longer, because there’s really an element of storytelling in everything we do as communicators.
If you’re ever struggling to get your story straight, come and talk to us.
Image by Mike Stokoe
Chances are you might be eyeing up a smart speaker in the Black Friday sales. YouGov have said one in ten people now have a speaker like Amazon Echo or Google Home in their pad, up from one in 20 last year.
I do quite like the idea of being able to summon a Jimi Hendrix solo to my kitchen at the drop of a (velvet, wide-brimmed) hat. But if you’re a brand looking to start helping your customers through a voice assistant, the new tech can throw up plenty of challenges. We think it’s useful to start out by thinking about the two sides of any voice conversation: the input and the output.
Speech isn’t like writing. Human beings use really different language when they talk out loud. (If you’ve been on one of our training sessions, your writing might be more speechlike than it was before, but it’s never going to be exactly the same.)
Whether they’re doing a ‘Hey Google’-style search or using your proprietary app, people will use their speaking voice. That means they’ll say ‘Laura has been talking about prawn gyoza for the last hour’ and not what they’d type into a search bar (‘Japanese takeaway south Manchester delivery’). But whether it’s edamame, energy or electronics you’re selling, you’ll need to think carefully about what your audience will be asking for to get near the top of the search rankings.
Answer in your real voice
If your brand has its own voice assistant, take the time to make sure its personality is a good fit for you. Chatbots and voice assistants are already starting to all sound the same, so don’t settle for an off-the-shelf product which is generically ‘warm and friendly’.
Be sceptical of anyone who tries to recommend a radically different tone of voice from your main one. Your new digital friend should be an extension of your main brand’s personality and feel like someone you’d really hire. Setting up their voice is a chance to express yourself, say something about your company’s history, and show your audience you’ve made the effort.
And as always, plug your ears to the jargon
The way things are going, we’ll soon be able to put together a voice tech bingo card, with conversation architecture, voice revolution and anthropomorphic UI on the winning line. When you’re reading up on voice, don’t let the consultancy jargon fool you. The skills you need to have good conversations are golden oldies. They’re just having their comeback tour.
The General Data Protection Regulation comes in on 25th May and the new privacy rules have got marketers in a bit of a flap. That's no surprise when you read the document itself. It’s opaque and chock-full of jargon.
Here are three tips for doing that.
1. Show people you care
Privacy is a hot topic lately. So GDPR is an excellent opportunity to do things right and earn your customers’ trust. You can do that by writing clearly and focusing on what matters to your reader.
- Keep it concise.
- If you’re asking the reader to do something, make it clear.
- Point out what you’re doing to help.
Facebook missed a trick here in their press ad. (Whoops.)
Notice how it’s ‘the regulation’ that will protect you, not Facebook. There’s a passive remark that ‘you will be asked’ something at some point, which is confusing and vague. And to add insult to injury, the call to action seems to be ‘go and read the full text of GDPR when you’ve got a sec’.
2. Fix the formality
The text of the GDPR itself is heavy going. Take this snippet for example:
The arrangement referred to in paragraph 1 shall duly reflect the respective roles and relationships of the joint controllers vis-à-vis the data subjects. The essence of the arrangement shall be made available to the data subject.
3. Spring clean your content strategy
As marketers contact their mailing lists asking them to re-register, it’s judgement day for repetitive, boring communications. Now’s the perfect time to rethink your strategy so you can send messages of quality, not quantity, to the loyal people who’ve stuck around.
That means thinking beyond the Easter egg gif for cracking deals in April. Instead, start planning your messages around what’s important to your reader. For example, a small business owner will usually be interested in a new government budget announcement. So that could be your cue to get in touch.
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