Do Your Customers Want a Story or an Experience?

by David Greenspan
on December 31, 2015

I couldn’t fall asleep last night. It happens to me from time to time. It probably happens to you too.

My eyes wouldn’t close. My mind wouldn’t stop. My thoughts wouldn’t slow like my breathing into a simple lull. I moved from side to side. I flipped my pillow every couple minutes. I listened to a few podcasts.

I ended up in front of my TV playing the old school 360 game F.E.A.R. Heard of it? It’s a mix of a survival game and a FPS. It’s not actually that scary, but it is pretty great.

After a few hours of killing monsters and demons, I started to get sleepy. I tucked myself into bed. I started to fall asleep. I was almost there. I could feel the sweet embrace of Morpheus. Then it hit me.

I realized there’s a difference between a story and an experience. Sounds obvious, right? It is! But it took me a sleepless night to figure out.

Any experience can be a story. In fact, experiences are organized in our minds like stories. That’s just how the human brain works. Not all stories are experiences though.

What’s the difference and how do we bridge the gap? How do we turn even the most boring story into an experience? How do we turn it into something universal? How do we polish it and end up with riotous marketing success?

Tell Me a Story vs. Sell Me an Experience

I started this article with a story about how I couldn’t fall asleep. I used enough details to draw you in, make you feel like you were there, and make you experience it.

I turned my story into your experience.

And that’s how you turn a story into an experience. It’s worth pointing out that although I’m writing this in late 2015, better minds than mine have been preaching and practicing it for years.

Consider the classic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial. There’s a reason it’s considered one of the greatest ads of all time. There’s a reason this simple-on-the-surface TV spot was used to close out Mad Men, the most iconic show about advertising ever to grace our screens (can you tell I’m a fan?).

pouring coca cola for the homies

It tells a story of peace and love. It tells a story of the 1960s counterculture and their dreams of happiness. It tells a story of community and how Coca-Cola helped create said community.

Then – through visuals and song – it turns this story into a sensory experience.

Look at the warm color palette, the waning sun, the smiles on their faces, the red on their cheeks, the certain glint of satisfaction in their eyes, the idillic grass, the memorable yet common countryside as the camera pans out.

Look at the group themselves, standing together despite differences in race, age, gender.

Listen to the melody, the quiet rise at the start, the group’s voice becoming stronger and fuller, the simple background drums, the layering and syncopated vocals as the commercial crescendos, the palpable emotion of their words, the quiet fade, the abrupt stop.

It’s not just the story of some people who want to share a Coke with you. It’s not just the story of some people who want to change the world. It’s not even the story of some people who want to sell you an unhealthy and addicting drink.

It’s the experience of sharing hope and love with another human being and through creating this experience Coca-Cola made billions of dollars.

In other words, they told you a story and sold you an experience.

How This Works Online

That was some nice waxing poetic about Coke’s advertising success. Their commercial debuted in 1971 though…how can we apply that to today’s social media saturated world?

How can we grab the inherent power of language, visuals, and music and translate it into online success?

Simple – you apply the same principles but adapt them to phones, laptops, tablets, watches, et al. The easiest way to accomplish this is through writing.

(Disclaimer: I’m probably biased because I’m a writer)

Call them blog posts. Call them articles. Call them what you will, but they’re the most consumed type of content across all demographics.

In other words, you better know how to spin a sentence. If not, make sure to find someone who can.

finding the right copywriter

Any proficient writer can tell a story. They’ll be able to use clear and concise language to inspire action in your audience (aka convert). They’ll be able to do this in an almost countless variety of ways.

Accessing demographic-specific pain points and weaving them seamlessly into your brand’s larger narrative is one. Varying the length of your sentences to inspire urgency’s another. So is changing the way you write depending on your target audience (i.e. use contractions for younger audiences).

By the by, this isn’t just for articles either. It applies to ad copy, social media copy – everything social media in fact – newsletters, coupons, landing pages, and the list goes on.

That’s all well and good. No sarcasm here, that really is all well and good. You’ll generate traffic, conversions, and leads. You won’t be Scrooge McDuckin’ it…but few people are.

A great writer, though, is able to Scrooge McDuck it. They’re going to translate your unique story into an immersive experience.

Figurative Language & Marketing Success

I’ve talked about it before and here I am talking about it again – marketers can learn so much from poetry and fiction.

Consider the following excerpt from a Ben Kopel poem:

Today I’m feeling very lampshade / like / this kid can’t dance / for shit / but boy / I like your skull / the weight of it / the shape of it / maybe you might want to / let me / make it my belt buckle
-from Naive Melody Sutra published in STOKED Vol. VI

Poetry’s subjective, so there’s not going to be a single interpretation of what those lines mean. Still, we can all agree he’s onto something part-romantic, part-strange, part-longing, and all universal.

Now, instead of using the focused, heightened language from above, try saying “I’m feeling strange because I have a crush on someone.” Which sounds better?

My point, obscured as it may be by my love for words, is that paying close, microscopic attention to language benefits marketers. It allows us to transcend ordinary. It allows us to turn a story into an experience.

If poetry’s a little much for you – don’t feel bad if it is, it’s a little much for most people – consider an example from the world of fiction.

Sylvia Plath opens her opus The Bell Jar with the following gem:

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Not only does this set up some of the story’s essential elements (setting and conflict), but it does so in a distinctive and alluring voice. It does so in a way that lingers and floats around both your memory and mouth.

Now, having explored the finer aspects of figurative language, the question becomes how and to what extent do we use it? After all, you’re not going to write a poem or a novel to capture emails.

How to Apply Language to Your Content

Here’s where things get dicey. It’s one thing to say you need to put blood and sweat into your content. It’s a whole other to figure out what that looks like.

In other words, at what point does using heightened language go from unique and memorable to flowery and purple?

paying close attention to language

Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer. It varies from case to case. A good rule of thumb is to never use more words than are absolutely necessary – trim away the fat until only lean and, dare I say, beautiful language remains.

Do you really need five adjectives to describe your product? For that matter, do you really need any adjectives? Do you really need that extra paragraph on your landing page? That extra sentence? That extra clause?

Sometimes the answer’s yes, but most of the time it’s going to be a resounding no.

What about specific techniques? Well, I’m a big fan of assonance (repeating vowels), consonance (repeating consonants), imagery, and unusual adjectives and adverbs.

Those are my personal favorites, but there are countless other ways to sharpen your language. Consider metaphor and simile, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, allusion, oxymoron…and the list goes on.

Not only do these tell a story, but – when paired with buyer personas and solid copy – they open the door to that riotous marketing success mentioned above and create an experience your audience won’t soon forget.

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