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  • Writer's pictureChris Bowler

Why you need Performance Storytelling

Updated: May 7, 2019

Apply these 4 techniques to make your marketing more effective

A few new buzzwords have recently hit the marketing lexicon. The first is 'Conversion Copywriting' which represents a subset of marketing copywriting around eliciting action. Some marketers might argue that this might be the preeminent goal of copywriting.

A second buzzword, arguably even more powerful, is 'Performance Storytelling'.

Now, I am a sucker for new words and I've championed a few of my own in recent years ('Dynamic Branding'; 'Participation Marketing' to name a few).

I first heard of Performance Storytelling just yesterday, while listening to the Marketing Today podcast which featured Ty Shay, global chief marketing officer for Norton's LifeLock.

What makes Performance Storytelling so powerful is rooted in two concepts. First, it is an approach to marketing which blends the best of performance marketing (direct response in many instances) with brand building. One has the reputation for being hard-hitting; while the other is creatively driven. In political science terms, call it 'hard' (military) versus 'soft' (diplomatic) power. The two combined form an effective approach to marketing. Second, Performance Storytelling is held accountable for business results. If it doesn't 'perform' to a predetermined degree, it's not worth doing. An interesting way that Lifelock operationalizes this accountability is by deploying an 'Ad Score' which quantifies how good the storytelling is.

I'd argue that Performance Storytelling is even more critical for smaller or mid-sized businesses to embrace. These organizations don't have a large marketing budget, so what you have to work with has to be as effective as possible. That's why many of the first marketing tactics go towards performance marketing, such as SEM, SEO and paid social. They also are the most accountable (ie trackable). But this reliance on performance marketing misses the branding element that a new and growing company needs. They can't run big video campaigns, let alone mass-market advertising, so it's tough to break out. By aiming for a Performance Storytelling approach, it helps ensure that this branding element isn't left behind.

So what does it mean to 'do' Performance Storytelling? This is where some of the tenets around its close-cousin of Conversion Copywriting comes in. The creator of the concept, Joanna Wiebe, laid out a few techniques that I think apply more broadly to Performance Storytelling as well.

  1. One, embrace the link between creativity and analytics. Creative concepting, experience design, marketing copywriting, social media content - you name it - all have to be informed and measured by analytics. Sounds obvious, right. But how many creative ideations start with a grounding in analytics of what works and what doesn't?

  2. Two, conduct grounded research and discovery which leads you in the right direction. This means really getting close to what the customer is looking for, their needs, and especially how they talk. Don't conduct isolated research, however. Go to where they hang out, where they work and even conducting off-the-cuff interviews over a cup of coffee. Search similar products on Amazon for clues. Read review sites about the products and services you are trying to market which are steeped in real-world language. In some ways, this could lead to more refreshing insights than what standardized qual or quant research could provide.

  3. Three, tell the story in their language - not the language that your internal teams prefer you use. Write with words that make a connection. It's 'storytelling' after all.

  4. Four, allow for split testing of different versions. Similar to Shay's ad score, this is a step that is often missed. The creative team creates, polishes, and produces a fixed campaign versus developing different versions that should be tested and optimized. Some may not like this, but it's a necessary aspect of the 'performance' element of the Performance Storytelling equation. Of course, the goal here is to test to determine which variations elicit an action. And sometimes this means exclusion testing - removing components such as copy or visuals which serve no actionable purpose.

Whether drafting copy using the techniques of Conversion Copywriting or developing content and experiences to do Performance Storytelling, you need to unlock the power of persuasion tied with scientific analysis. Do it - and do it now.

Have a suggestion or thought? Feel free to leave it in the comments section below.

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