… compelling stories inform, educate and create authority.
It may have been the 2022 election, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about influencing people and how messages are delivered to targeted audiences.
I worked for a long time in marketing and communication. Whether it’s consumer packaged goods, the automotive industry, or law firms, shaping the way people think about products and services has been a constant for me. This is what marketers and corporate communicators are trained to do.
What starts as branding and messaging points then needs to get out there: translated into copy on package labels; included on displays and tip signage for pharmacies and supermarkets; communicated in print, broadcast and now digital advertising campaigns; properly presented on a company or brand’s website (aka the 24/7 storefront); included in case studies to showcase expertise; or translated into public relations programs at the consumer and business level.
The idea is that messaging will communicate the brand and its differentiation from others it competes with, as well as its distinctive vision, mission and purpose, all to propel a purchase of goods and/or services. This influence would be the commercial use case.
But a second, and perhaps more interesting, use case is when this work is used to frame public opinion. I remember a fascinating presentation when I was in graduate school by a political campaign consultant. He talked about how specific messages were created for targeted groups of voters (separated, for example, by age, gender, income level or geography) to influence a campaign donation. or, more importantly, to motivate someone to come out and vote for a particular candidate. At the time, and this was long before the Internet and big data, as a naïve 20-year-old, I was fascinated by it all.
Collecting and harvesting this data has become much more sophisticated since then. But this is not limited to the use of election campaigns. Retargeting is used in most digital marketing efforts today. Retargeting – or inserting code to tag visitors to your website – allows both campaigns and the company to serve ads (like on-page ads) when those same people visit other websites on the Web. Highly effective, these not-so-subtle reminders of a product, service, or candidate work.
Big data and digital marketing are not the only means of influencing public opinion. PR media professionals and crisis communicators don’t always look for ink on the page for their clients, with examples of “ink” being a feature article or a quote within an article. Often their goal is to shape the coverage – cultivating relationships with the media, providing them with data and information or a subject matter expert for a “briefing paper” to discuss different angles of a new law, d a settlement or a topical issue. This is a long-term strategy and although it is often a waiting game (someone else’s article has to be published), it can be very effective.
A somewhat more direct technique for influencing the court of public opinion, and I might add the courts themselves, is to use opinion pieces and editorials to tell a story and convince an audience to be on their side. side. Lawyers are excellent at writing briefs or presenting arguments in court. But writing an editorial for the daily newspaper can have a much wider reach and even greater impact. An editorial allows the writer not only to tell a story, but also to control the narrative. A strong editorial can help raise widespread awareness of an issue and even, sometimes, right a wrong. And when an op-ed – story – campaign is carefully constructed over a period of time, the results can be impressive.
Coming back to strategic communications, good storytelling engages an audience. The best stories harness the power of vulnerability and connect with others. These stories allow us all to see the world in different ways, often providing insight into different experiences.
Whether it’s an op-ed, TED Talk, LinkedIn post, or blog post, compelling, well-told stories inform, educate, and create authority. And if the story is strong, they help the storyteller influence people, sway public opinion, cultivate a plan of action, or effect specific change. And sometimes even get a candidate elected!
Paula Zirinsky is co-founder and chief strategist of Structura Strategy Group LLC, a professional services marketing consultancy. A former CMO, she is known for her expertise in branding, strategy, marketing, content, communications and digital and technology platforms. She can be contacted at [email protected]