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Storytelling Works, But Has It Gone Too Far?

I’m feeling a bit spicy and compelled to touch on storytelling as a sales and marketing tool. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s become a trope by now. IMHO.

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Stories Are Powerful & Compelling

Yes, people use storytelling because it works. We’ve been telling stories since before recorded history!

Stories work because they pray to the KLT (Know Love Trust) gods. Your audience can learn who you are, why they should listen to you, etc. from your stories. Stories are relatable and make you relatable.

Done well, stories can absolutely be effective and efficient. (And entertaining, educational, and whole slew of other fantastic things!)

I totally get it.

And storytelling should remain a tool in your kit. I’m not suggesting that you ditch it.

But…

Sometimes ya got a story that’s too good not to tell!

Yet, Ive Got Concerns & You Should, Too

More recently, some of the stuff I’ve seen just blows my mind. Not in a good way. For two key reasons.

1. People Are Oversharing

They aren’t just “spilling the tea,” they’re dumping in all over themselves and then pointing out the stains and scars.

Here’s a generic example that I’ve seen MULTIPLE times. The person sending the email (or someone in their family) had a serious health crisis. Literally every detail was shared, including diagnosis, treatment options, etc.

People on your email list, following you on the socials, or otherwise in your biz audiences may know-like-and-trust you and you be a very open person, but you’re still basically strangers.

We often get the advice to “talk to our audiences like they’re our friends.” I agree to a degree that this can be a wonderful approach. And I’m sure that these emailers were just trying to foster community, seek support, process some complex life events, etc.

But oversharing is problematic.

  • It puts the person who’s intimately detailed story is shared in a position of jeopardy. They’ve been made vulnerable to savvy bad actors out there who wouldn’t hesitate to leverage that info for evil purposes. You’re basically sprinkling food flakes to the phishers out there. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways (besides phishing) that the info being shared can be misused or used against the emailer. (Plus, if you’re a home-based biz — your address is already out there. And did you run a birthday sale where the discount was your age so anyone could figure out your exact DOB? Or mention the names of your kids and allude to their ages and show off their sweet cherubic faces by including that pic? Even without story stories, we give out tons of data about ourselves. So — not to be alarmist or anything — you have to be uber careful. Because not everyone’s as nice, honest, and innocuous as we are) the emailer.
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  • A lot of what’s shared is just none of my business or has no bearing on the context of our relationship. We’re dancing a biz tango — do I really need to know what you ate for breakfast while on vaca or why you chose Peach Fuzz over Blushing Apricot for the wall color in your foyer? No. (Unless you’re a designer or something that makes sense.) The issue here is relevance, or lack of it. Knowing the minutia doesn’t deepen or broaden our connection in an applicable and meaningful way..
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  • Stories can make communications waaay longer than they need or should be. We’re running businesses. We’re mostly small enterprises or side hustles. We’re BUSY and PULLED IN A MILLION DIRECTIONS as it is. Do you have the schedule or mental bandwidth to read 1, 2, 100 War-and-Peace-length messages? I don’t. TBH, most of the time I see a message that’s a dense block of text or longer than my arm — I trash it sight unseen.

2. People Are Really Stretching

You know what I mean.

Somehow, through sheer grit and creative license rather than sensibility, in the span of just 1,500 words (<– That’s a lot for a biz email….), they’ve connected the time they went to the state fair and ate battered and deep-fried butter on a stick to their poppin’ new winter collection of die-cut stickers featuring cute pets wearing ironic outfits.

Like, how do you have to zig and zag to get from that Point A to that Point B?! It certainly takes imagination and effort! LOL

You come away kind of scratching your head, wondering how that was a) relevant and b) worth that amount of your precious attention.

Shoehorning a story to fit the narrative you’re trying to create has issues.

  • The path you’re putting your reader, listener, etc. on — to deliver them to the end destination you want — isn’t natural. It can feel forced and unnecessarily circuitous.
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  • It can make your communications stray from the essentials of what’s truly relevant to your audience and your purpose for reaching out. You may lose your audience along the way because they don’t get how everything fits together or is connected to them and their needs. And, again, life and biz are hectic so you don’t want to exhaust your peeps. You want to honor their time and energy (and yours!).
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  • You can come across as being artificial or egocentric. By prioritizing or caring more about getting that story in there no matter what, you may be signaling that your audience’s needs don’t come first. That’s a disservice to everyone involved and a wasted opportunity.

I believe the serious potential consequences boil down to:

  1. Security risks. Giving away too much can negatively impact your safety and privacy..
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  2. Service risks. Inappropriate or poorly executed storytelling can indicate a lack of respect or regard for your audience and yourself because you’re not using your audience’s time and energy (and yours) efficaciously.
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Stretching to make a story “work” is like reaching for the Moon to be an “astronaut.”

The Spirit of Storytelling Can Live On!

Here are some techniques to try. They can help you strike that happy medium of personality, unfolding and guiding message, integrity, and brevity.

  • Think twice, then write. Does the content you want to include pass the quality stop gate? Are there bits that are too sensitive — as in could sharing them prove harmful to you in some way (e.g., data security, personal privacy or safety, etc.)? Hopefully, you get the gist here. Only share content that’s truly serving you and your people and that doesn’t make you vulnerable to potential personal harm.
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  • Revise your content plan. Find a story — or other kind of communication mechanism — that is better suited to your intent so that you can craft a tighter message. Map out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and how so that you can zero in on the best path to take in your messaging. Leverage tried-and-true content frameworks. Use proven templates.
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  • Try to limit most of your emails to 400-500 words. Minimize the scrolling. “Above the Fold” is a good email mantra….
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  • Give a short, relevant update then quickly segue into your topic. Your update + transition should only be 2-3 sentences altogether. You can thank Liz Wilcox* for this one!
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  • Chunk up your message so it’s not a daunting or fatiguing wall of words. For example, I often think of email messages like blog posts. There are headers, text formatting, images, bulleted lists, etc. (Pro tip: Try using your titles and headers to retell your whole message in and of themselves. I’ve done that in this blog post so you can see what I mean.) These facilitate scannability, readability, and boost consumption and comprehension.
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  • Break one long message into multiple briefer, more focused ones. Sometimes more is more, especially when it’s less. This can make it easier for your audience to connect with and internalize the meaning of your message, which can improve downstream events (like conversion).

Help Is Here

Sometimes you need a little assistance wrangling things into order. Don’t sweat it!

I’m sure the list will grow, but right now, I’ve rounded up a few things you can use to get your communications and content ships into shape.

Check ’em out!

You & Stories Can Live Happily Ever After, Together — If…

Be thoughtful and exercise care and caution with storytelling as a sales and marketing tool. Used wisely and done well, stories can be powerful and productive. The key is implementing them in effective and efficient ways that reap benefits for both you and your audience.

Disclaimer: This page has affiliate links, indicated with an asterisk (*) where possible. If you click on affiliate links, I may be compensated at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my one-person, woman-owned biz! Learn more.

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