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The Chatter

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Henry Mortimer is an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and storyteller who leverages the power of the written word to help others define and exceed their goals.


In 2008, he founded Mortimer Communications Inc. to help growing companies create messaging that is meaningful and memorable by ensuring that the story they tell resonates with their target audience.

By Henry Mortimer, Aug 2 2015 07:16PM

Everyone loves a good story.

From the cave paintings in Lascaux, depicting the cautionary tales of ancient herders and hunters, to kids and counselors at sleep-away camps in Maine and elsewhere, sitting around the fire pit this summer, telling ghost stories, the art of storytelling is one of the oldest methods of explaining the world and sharing ideas.

Telling stories is also fundamentally necessary to our very existence, according to Robert McKee, a screenwriter and writing coach.

Get ‘personal’

“A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling,” says McKee, whose former students include over 60 Academy Award Winners. “[Stories] fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living—not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”

And that’s the key. Knowing your story and being able to tell it in a compelling, effective way can be a powerful tool for anyone seeking to connect with an audience. How powerful? “Serial,” the Peabody Award-winning, 12-part weekly podcast about a real-life 1999 murder in Baltimore, was downloaded more than 40 million times in less than three months after its debut in October 2014.

Even science supports the fact that storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have as humans to communicate and motivate. According to Uri Hasson, a researcher at Princeton University who used MRI data to track brain activity during verbal communication, sharing a story “is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Storytelling, then, literally plants ideas in people’s minds.

Engage and inspire

Stories engage, inspire, and encourage people to think and act. But such benefits aren’t limited to Bill Murray movie producers, public radio sponsors, or neuroscience professors. Businesses small and large use storytelling, in a number of ways, to help improve awareness, increase customer loyalty, and boost sales.

In other words, by crafting an authentic and compelling story, and a set of unique, corresponding messages targeted for your audience, you can:

- “Show” your customers, rather than “tell” them, what your company does and why it matters to them.

- Position your company and yourself as an expert in your field and build trust among your audience members.

- Create memorable messaging that touches customers and prospects in a meaningful way.

- Focus your message, to avoid communicating unnecessary information and causing confusion.

Storytelling can help you make intimate, personal connections that resonate with an audience in ways that facts and features alone cannot do. Forming these types of relationships can boost customer attention and retention, as the people you reach begin to identify with your brand and share their experiences with others. Stories also can help an organization’s internal clients — its employees and stakeholders — to better understand its mission and vision, why it’s is different from its competitors, and how to connect to one another.

3 ways to be compelling

As I mentioned, storytelling is one of the oldest methods of communicating, and it is also one of the simplest. Although an art form more than a science, there are nonetheless several key points to keep in mind for telling a compelling and effective tale:

- Share stories, not statistics, to engage an audience. Facts and information are “need-to-know”; stories are “must-have’s.”

- Stories can help humanize and personalize your company and products, transforming features into benefits. And don’t forget that your business exists because of “you” — tell your audience how and why you created it.

- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask, “What would I want?” and “How does this make me feel?” Know the answers and, by all means, talk about them!

There are other factors to consider, as well, such as ensuring that your story is relevant to your target audience, learning tried-and-true storytelling techniques, and using various means and methods to reach as many people (in as many ways) as possible. But learning and practicing the basics should help you make a meaningful connection with the people you’d most like to join you around the campfire.

If you would like to learn more about how story-based marketing can help you engage, inspire, and encourage others to think and act, join me for “‘Once Upon a Time…’: How Story-based Marketing Can Help You Connect with Your Audience and Grow Your Business,” held at Betamore on July 21, from 5-7. Register here.

Henry Mortimer is an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and storyteller who leverages the power of the written word to help others define and exceed their goals. Contact him at henry@mortimercommunications.com.

By Henry Mortimer, Aug 2 2015 07:00PM

I have a confession to make: I like poetry.

There, I said it. (And I feel so much better for doing it, so thanks.) I’m a professional writer and a consultant who likes poetry! (That’s my barbaric yawp.)

I not only like poetry, I love it. Everything about it. I like reading poetry. I like meeting poets and hearing them read or recite their poetry. I like writing about poetry. I even enjoy writing the occasional poem and, when I’m lucky enough, having it published.

Poetry is critically important to who I am (and who I was, and who I’m becoming) and to what I do, as a person, as a husband, a father, a friend. Poetry informs almost every aspect of my life, on a regular basis.

Time for a remedy

Why am I gushing and telling you this, here and now? Because it’s in the one aspect of my life where poetry holds the strongest influence — as a professional writer and consultant — that it seems to make the smallest impact on so many others like me, and I’d like to offer a remedy. In fact, so much of the professional writing I encounter these days — on marketing brochures, websites, social media posts — is lackluster and ordinary, flabby and forgettable, devoid of any kind of energy or drama or individuality. In other words, lacking in exactly the ingredients it needs to do its job. That’s where poetry comes in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you need to hire William Shakespeare or Langston Hughes to craft your next slogan, or even attempt to compose a Wordsworthian “Ode to Spring-scented Deodorant” to roll out your next roll-on product (though wouldn’t that be something). The poets I admire are the ones who write plainspoken, clear-minded, impassioned, musical poems about personal matters (without slipping into solipsism) that speak directly to universal themes. Their poems resonate with their readers because they can be easily understood and memorably appreciated by anyone and everyone.

And that’s the key, isn’t it? As a marketing manager or business owner, you want your messages to be meaningful and memorable, right? (You do! You do!) You want your customers, current and future, to know who you are, what you do, and why it matters to them, right? (You do! You do!) Poetry can help.

Learn the basics

And you don’t need to outsource to a bard or enroll in a poetry course at Johns Hopkins (though either option sounds like fun to me). It’s not that complicated. You just need to learn (or relearn, as the case may be) the basic principles of poetry that are critically important to the creation of the most effective writing — writing that is clear, concise, and compelling. I mean, the kind of writing that grabs your attention immediately, makes you stop and take a closer look, ask a question or two, and then decide to open your wallet to buy the latest iGizmo.

In other words, it’s the kind of writing that sells.

What are the basic principles of poetry? Well, since poetry has been a part of our culture for more than a millennium or two (collectively speaking), there are arguably more than a few core competencies, as they say in the C-suite. Everything from specific themes (love and hate) and subject matters (war and peace) to format (sonnet vs haiku), length (short lyrics and long epics), and so on.

To me, though, there are three essentials of poetry, three must-have’s that make for the most effective writing:

- language (word choice),

- music (sound, rhythm, repetition, and rhyme), and

- literary tools (concrete imagery, comparisons, etc).

Be memorable

All three help to separate poetry from prose — and writing that leaps from writing that sleeps — and create in the mind of the reader an experience that is meaningful and memorable — core components of any successful marketing campaign.

Word choice is fundamental because most poems have limited real estate and rely on fewer words than prose; therefore, being precise and clear is essential for understanding. In other words, say what you mean: When you call her hair “red,” do you mean “ginger-haired” or “as a fire truck”? Specificity is similarly critical to any effective marketing campaign: Nike is never just describing — and therefore selling — a “sneaker” in its ads.

Music can likewise make or break a poem’s chances for success. In fact, poets think about how a word sounds almost as much as what a word means or says. (“Brillig!” as Lewis Carroll would say.) Rhythm and rhyme make poems easy to remember, every time. And being memorable, as I’ve mentioned, is the ultimate goal of any marketeer.

Poets use literary devices, such as concrete imagery and comparisons, to make their ideas relatable and memorable — to give shape to a concept or idea that is personal, or even private, show it in a new way so that everyone can understand and be a part of the experience. Who doesn’t know exactly how Robert Burns was feeling when he declared (crowed?), “O my love is like a red, red rose…”?

The bottom line

The bottom line here is this: There is a cure-all to stop you from writing (or paying for) marketing content — for your brochures, broadsides, websites, and posts — that is lackluster and ordinary, flabby and forgettable. Just a few doses of poetry’s essentials — focusing on word choice, adding some music, and using a concrete image or two — can provide you with the spark you need to generate writing that leaps rather than sleeps.

If you would like to learn more about how poetry can help hone your marketing skills, join me for “Get Your Wordsworth: How Poetry Can Help You Clarify Your Message, Reach the Right Audience, and Even Save Your Life,” held at Betamore on June 9, from 6-7. Register here: http://betamore.com/education/get-your-wordsworth/

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