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Chalkboard Story

Make this mantra the driver of your marketing

Show, don’t tell.

That’s the mantra creative writing teachers repeat to their students (especially those writing poetry). Telling means supplying readers only with information. Showing takes things further by appealing to the readers’ senses and emotions. That results in a more connected and engaged audience—one that will want to turn the page and continue reading.

For a brief example, consider this quote from Raymond Chandler’s novel “Farewell, My Lovely:”

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

Chandler’s narrator could have described the blonde woman’s “attributes” in some considerable detail. But that would have just been telling the reader about the woman.

Chandler was smart enough to let readers use their imagination to fill in the details. If this woman elicits that kind of a reaction from a bishop, well, she must be really something!

Of course, this blog isn’t about creative writing. But the “show, don’t tell” mantra also applies to marketing copywriting. That’s because at its best, marketing is really all about sharing a story.

Your hospital might have the latest, most advanced, state-of-the art surgical device. You might also have the best, most experienced surgeons to use it. As a result, patient outcomes might be better than ever before. The surgical possibilities are seemingly without limits.

These are certainly points worth promoting to your audience. But if you just give your readers raw data, you’re not doing enough to keep them engaged. They’ll simply stop reading.

Don’t just tell readers about the equipment, surgeons and statistics. Show them how the new device can make a difference in their lives by sharing a patient success story.

Here’s a fictitious example:

Mary, a cancer patient in her mid-30s, feared the worst. Her tumor was located in an area doctors considered too risky for traditional surgery. Medications were ineffective. Mary had a husband and two children below age nine. She openly worried she wouldn’t be able to see them grow up, get married and have their own children.

Then Mary learned she was a candidate for a new surgical procedure using the advanced device. Under the care of an experienced surgeon, she had the procedure and had a positive outcome. Today, Mary’s cancer is in remission. She’s resumed her regular activities and especially enjoys watching her kids play soccer. The new device, along with the surgeon’s expertise, made all the difference. Mary has renewed hope for her future, and she’s eternally grateful.

You could make your marketing come alive through Mary’s story. Or you could just tell us that the surgical device is very efficient at removing tumors.

The choice seems intuitive and obvious. But too often, marketers miss the chance to use stories to promote their services or products.

Have you noticed the marketing trend in television ads promoting over-the-counter medications? We don’t see a doctor telling his female patient about a drug for overactive bladder. Instead, we see her going on a pleasant rowboat ride with her husband. The man previously sidelined with depression is now meeting a friend for lunch, walking his dog in a park and reviewing spreadsheets at a workplace meeting. These visual scenes unfold for us as the narrator describes the medication benefits and risks.

People enjoy reading about people (consider the size of the biography section in the local library). And ever since we heard our first “Mother Goose” tale, we’ve been primed to love stories. At every opportunity, ask yourself how you can make your marketing come alive by connecting it to a story centered on people. Your audience may not kick holes in stained glass windows, but you’ll certainly keep them engaged.

Share your thoughts

    • Have you ever felt like kicking a hole through a stained glass window?
    • What’s your favorite Mother Goose story?
    • What’s the best story you’ve ever used in a marketing campaign?

Please share your comments below.

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