Storytelling for Business Bloggers

Welcome to another edition of Top 10 Tuesdays, a semi-regular series introducing you to some of the finest bloggers around, my fellow winners of a Top 10 Blogs for Writers award.

This week meet A. Victoria Mixon. She gives spot-on advice to authors and aspiring authors at  victoriamixon.com. Her new book is The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual.

Now, here’s Victoria:

You’re in a really bad bind.

You’ve got a business—a product or a service—and you need to get the word out about what you offer. Not only that, but you’re up against an implacable deadline: either you start moving revenue fast, or you start moving out of your office space.

You’re smart, creative, driven. Cornered.

You’re the ideal fiction protagonist!

And this is how you must think of yourself when you blog, because readers of all stripes and colors, fiction and nonfiction alike, read for only two reasons:

  1. to learn something they need to learn about survival
  2. to be reassured live is worth surviving

Readers want to know how others have made it, so they know they can make it, too.

What do you have to offer that can help your readers survive? Who’s out there you’ve already helped? Whose story can you tell?

I contract part-time for a writing studio that sends me case studies for a large (very large) and visible (possibly the most visible) computer corporation online, which this corporation uses for marketing.

They ask happy customers to fill out a questionnaire explaining exactly how they use the products and services, under what circumstances, and with what very specific details. They ask them what they did before, what inspired them to make the switch to the corporation, how it works for them now, and what their future plans are. They ask them for a quote.

Then they send the whole kit-&-kaboodle to me, and I turn it into a piece of copywriting—a nonfiction story.

Readers love this stuff.

  1. HOOK: There’s a protagonist—the happy customer and, even more specifically, the contact at the happy customer company, the named and titled individual who supplies the quote for the ending.
  2. DEVELOPMENT: This protagonist has needs, extremely pressing needs bounded by their resources, their financial situation, their deadlines, their geographical, business, or creative limits.

    This protagonist has a backstory—what they were doing before they switched to this corporation—and a goal—where they hope to go.

    And in the middle of it all is their story, the exact circumstances and very specific details of what they do and how they do it using this corporation’s products and services, a story the reader can project themself into, a place made entirely of words where the reader imagines, That could be me.
  3. CLIMAX: Finally, this story has a premise—how the corporation’s products and services have changed this company’s life. That’s the real, subtle, fundamental reason this case study is written up, so it goes at the end: the contact’s quote about the corporation and what it means to be the happy customer.
  4. The End

It doesn’t matter whether or not you use this corporation’s technique of individual happy customer case studies for your marketing. Because every reader is a potential happy customer, so all you have to do is tell the one story—their story—from whatever angle or angles you’ve got. Teach them what they’re here to learn about survival.

  1. HOOK your reader with something that will surprise and intrigue them. Make it something to inspire their curiosity, something to make them just have to know more. This is how fiction writers send out the crook-neck cane from the wings and get the reader by the neck. Say something right up front your reader doesn’t know but needs to. You don’t have to make sense. Just make them curious.
  2. DEVELOP your reader’s story
    Use the fiction writer’s techniques of backstory (where is your reader right now without you?), goal (where does your reader wish they were?), and most importantly needs (what are your reader’s most pressing needs, most overwhelming deadlines, most nerve-wracking limits?). Show them you understand what it’s like to be them. After all, you’re really just like them, aren’t you? Smart, creative, driven. Cornered?

    The ideal protagonist.

    Be exact about the circumstances your product or service addresses. Be very specific about the details. Write multiple posts, each one focused upon a different set of circumstances and a different hypothetical collection of details. Make your reader feel like they’re reading their own story.
  3. CLIMAX with the premise—the reason you’re writing this
    Your company can help this reader survive. You have something this reader needs. That’s your point. Be sure you lead all the way through your post straight to it.

    Then in the final sentences, give your reader that golden egg that means everything to them, a resolution. Put your all into the very last sentence of every single post, make it the most perfect sentence in the entire piece.

Give it a bit of resonance by referring back to that intriguing, inexplicable thing you said at the beginning.

Give it a classic beauty by making it simple and clear.

Give it a little extra something to make the reader feel good.

You want your reader to become a happy customer? Turn them into a happy protagonist.

  • A. Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and independent editor with over thirty years’ experience in both fiction and nonfiction. She is the coauthor of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators and author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual. She can be reached through her blog, her editorial services, and Twitter.
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    29 Comments

    1. Ollin Morales March 22, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      I’ve always seen my blog as a story, in fact that’s the subheading. I keep on wanting to write a post like this one, about how storytelling can really be good for business and for your brand, but what do you know? The fantastic Victoria Mixon already pulled it off. Bravo!

      Wonderful as always. I hope people can learn from your post just how valuable storytelling is to blogging and business models.

      By the way, I think there may be a typo in number 2?

      Did you mean life? and not “live”?

      Reply

    2. Victoria Mixon March 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

      :))

      Ollin! What an eagle eye. Thank you for catching that.

      Yes, the bottom line is that, no matter what we’re doing with our weekdays, we are still deep down inside human beings in need of knowledge and comfort over this bizarre situation in which we find ourselves: just being alive.

      Everything comes back to that, always and forever. The human condition.

      Reply

    3. J.J.Brown March 23, 2011 at 5:38 am #

      Thanks for sharing this advice here Victoria, engagement really helps as a reader and I’ll keep it in mind as a writer.

      Reply

      • Victoria Mixon March 23, 2011 at 10:21 am #

        You’re welcome, J.J. Engagement’s a good word! It’s all about the communication between real, live human beings.

        Reply

    4. Nick B. March 23, 2011 at 9:08 am #

      Interesting way of thinking about the reader. I do enjoy using stories (even if I’m writing about something mundane such as CT car insurance) but never thought of the blog as being a story.

      The hook, develop, climax route is interesting. Hooks always get me when I read other blogs. The title or first sentence or two usually dictate if I read the whole posts.

      Thanks for the advice!

      Reply

    5. Victoria Mixon March 23, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      Absolutely, Nick. If you’re familiar with journalism you know they’re all about the hook—in fact, they like it so much they stuff the climax in there with it. That’s because nonfiction is less about the experience of reading than fiction and more about the learning, and readers who already know what they want to learn are pretty adept at screening that first paragraph.

      Salespeople think of it as ‘buying-in.’ Once you’ve made the decision this article or blog post has what you need, you commit brain cells to it. As J.J. says, you’re engaged.

      But the more the writer engages with your human qualities the stronger your buy-in, because you’re not just confident of learning, you’re confident of enjoying it.

      Curiosity—the best reason to read ever invented.

      Reply

    6. E.J. Apostrophe March 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Wowie-Wow-wow! I never seen myself as the protagonist of my blog. This is both thrilling and frightening! Still, if my experiences can help others, then the readers deserve A+ platinum material from me to help them and teach them to be the best they can be.

      Reply

      • Victoria Mixon March 24, 2011 at 9:14 am #

        Yes, E.J., just like readers of anything we write, they do deserve “A+ platinum material.” That’s the key idea behind the professional attitude toward going on book tour, as well, which I talked about on Storyfix last week.

        Blogging and book tours have a lot in common—it’s all about your relationship to your reader. But of course writing and marketing are about that also. I guess that means everything about offering something is about your relationship to. . .ah-yup!

        Reply

    7. Todd Johnson March 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

      Great ideas Victoria. Seems to me that what you’re saying is useful not only for writing a story in a blog, but also when you are telling it face to face.

      As long as the thoughts are organized and the tale is compelling, you can draw in the reader/listener.

      I can only imagine how much “magic” you have to work to turn the computer company’s testimonials into a story.

      Reply

      • Victoria Mixon March 24, 2011 at 9:22 am #

        Thanks, Todd! Yes, storytelling goes beyond the written word. Or maybe I should say it started out beyond that and continues to thrive best in human-to-human contact. Writing and blogging need special techniques to overcome the challenge of that lack of realtime personal connection.

        Surprisingly, there’s not much ethereal “magic” involved in storytelling for business bloggers once you know how to structure the work. The magic of all storytelling lies in the concrete, significant details, and those are provided to me by the happy customers. In fact, there are often too many great details. The biggest challenge is usually trimming the piece down to fit within pre-set parameters.

        People almost always like being asked about themselves. It makes them feel validated. So when my employer requests those questionnaires, they’re making their happy customers even happier.

        Reply

    8. Courtney Cantrell March 25, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      Thanks for these thoughts, Victoria! When I read them and put myself into the role of Reader, everything you say definitely resonates with me. If a blog post starts with a story, it’s pretty much guaranteed to reel me in. As a storyteller myself, I just can’t resist the shiny lure of a well-crafted tale. : )

      When I read your post and put myself into the role of Blogger, I find that my experiences in this arena (so far) also confirm what you’re saying. My readers respond far more readily to my posts when I tell a story — usually a story about my life that they can relate to.

      I think that if we bloggers couch our “life-lessons” in stories of everyday life, then we are doing our job. I wonder… Are blogs becoming the modern form of parables?

      Reply

      • Victoria Mixon March 25, 2011 at 11:49 am #

        Yes, that’s the key, isn’t it Courtney? To put yourself into the role of both Reader and Blogger. To know both sides of the coin.

        I love your idea of blogs becoming the modern form of parables. It’s such a vast, flexible, complex medium, and we bloggers have really barely scratched the surface of its potential.

        I keep thinking of the pamphleteers of the 1800s. Rebecca West put into her autobiographical fiction stories of her own father writing his pamphlets and paying for them to be printed and distributed. He was apparently a fairly well-known London political pamphleteer of his time.

        Pamphleteering was a venue that disappeared when newspapers took over the job of such dispersal of information, incorporating as they did so a gatekeeper who got to decide what to print and what not to print.

        And now it’s reappeared, right here on our doorsteps. A whole world of serendipity to be explored!

        Reply

        • Courtney Cantrell March 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

          Ahhh, I’m liking this idea more and more! I’ve been reading far too many revolutionaries lately (mainly Konrath, Eisler, and their deliciously un-establishment ilk), and it’s been getting me more and more irritated with the concept of gatekeepers in the publishing world. I do recognize the value of connecting readers with quality writers…but it seems as though the gatekeepers have forgotten the connect-readers-with-writers part.

          But that’s another soapbox and shall be stood upon another time. ; )

          Anyway, the point is that I love this concept of blogs as modern day parables. Regular people, telling everyday stories to other regular people, and imbuing those stories with clear, simple messages about human nature, morality, and everyday life. Indeed, there’s a world of serendipity to explore here…

          …and I think there’s an awful (aweful?) lot of power here, too. Probably more than most of us have realized. I mean the world-changing, paradigm-shifting sort of power.

          I’m not sure what else to do with that thought at the moment, but there it is.

          Reply

          • Victoria Mixon March 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

            Well, first, Ollin Morales talked about that very issue of awe-ful power for my blog in this guest-posting trade he and Judy and I have been doing the past couple of months. I love his take on it as revolutionary.

            And, second, I just happened to write about the modern gatekeepers conundrum on my blog today. It’s an issue very much caught up in the whole transformation of the industry through POD, ebooks, and self-publishing, and I’ll be talking about it more in subsequent posts on these 4 Frequently Asked Questions.

            Reply

            • Courtney Cantrell March 31, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

              Thanks for these links, Victoria. I’m bookmarking them and will be visiting to read and comment soon! (Maybe not until Monday, though — I’ll be away from the computer most of the weekend. That will be an odd feeling.) 😉

              Reply

      • Judy Dunn March 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

        Oh, Courtney! Blogs as modern parables? You really must read a blog post a friend of mine, Brian Crouch, wrote: The Parable of the Cobbler, a Groupon Tale. It is just so beautifully done— he drives his point home with an incredibly well-told story.

        http://www.briancrouch.com/2011/01/a-groupon-tale/

        This, I think, is how a business blogger can shine, stand out and teach his readers, all in an entertaining way.

        Tell the story.

        Reply

        • Courtney Cantrell March 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

          Judy, I actually read Brian’s story a few months ago, when I first started reading your blog and you posted a link to his Groupon Tale.

          And here’s the power of blog-as-parable: Since I read Brian’s story, I haven’t bought any more Groupons. I’d like to talk with a friend of mine who has used Groupons in her business and find out how they have worked for her… But in the meantime, until I have investigated further, I’ve put a complete hold on my own Groupon purchasing.

          That’s the power of Brian’s parable — and that’s the power of blog-as-parable.

          I’m liking it. I’m liking it a lot.

          Reply

        • Judy Dunn March 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

          Victoria,

          Thank you for bringing your wisdom and wealth of knowledge to this blog. I see on the stats that this post was shared through StumbleUpon 274 times. Wow. That says a lot. : )

          Reply

    9. Courtney Cantrell March 25, 2011 at 10:17 am #

      Ha! By writing the above comment, I got an idea for a new blog post. Thanks, Victoria! : )

      Reply

      • Victoria Mixon March 25, 2011 at 11:50 am #

        Excellent! And while responding to your comment above, I learned ‘pamphlet’ becomes a really hilarious word if you type it enough times in a row. 🙂

        Reply

        • Courtney Cantrell March 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

          Pamphlet, pamphlet, pamphlet, pamphlet, pamphlet… Oh, dear. You’re right. 😀

          Reply

    10. Barbara Breckenfeld April 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      I love how the edges between business and the rest of life keep getting thinner and fuzzier – in a good way. Traditional business communication – especially as taught and practiced by professionals like architects, engineers, and attorneys – emphasizes a neutral, non-emotional tone, lots of indirect sentence structures and passive verbs.

      Having worked in those markets, I can assure you that that way of writing and communicating is boring and tough to read because it makes the reader work too hard.

      People choose other people to work with. When our writing is personal, emotional, and engaging through telling a story, others feel a connection. It’s that simple, and doing it in the old neutral, buttoned down way is for me, unfortunately, a hard habit to break. But I’m working on it.

      Thanks for the inspiration to make every piece of marketing writing a story and not merely a description.

      Reply

      • Judy Dunn April 13, 2011 at 8:09 am #

        Barbara,

        Boy, you have named three industries that are notorious for “business” speak. I think it is that these people usually lean toward being left-brained and analytical/logical. Which works in their jobs but not necessarily in their marketing.

        Even home builders, who I have written website copy for. When they begin to realize that people are attracted to your product or services (at least a home builder whose market is the consumer, not the business) based on what they feel and then need to be assured that they are making the right decision (through logic/facts), it’s a complete 180 degree turn for them.

        You have a great opportunity hear to change some minds. : )

        Reply

    11. Kare Christine Anderson November 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Well worth reading! Complements Tell to Win (unfortunate title for a bk on purposeful narratives that enable others to become a part of the story

      Reply

    12. CatsEyeWriter November 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Kare, Yes! Victoria is amazingly talented and I’m so glad I got to know her when we both won a Top 10 Blogs for Writes award! Will have to check out Tell to Win. : )

      Reply

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