Christoph Trappe, aka The Authentic Storyteller, has made a career from storytelling. He began as a journalist before becoming a prominent content marketing strategist and trainer. He is a global keynote speaker, a frequent blogger and author.
Here, he talks to Juliet Stott about authentic storytelling, divulges the secrets of great storytelling, and explains how to write stories that people want to read and share again and again.
Juliet Stott: What is authentic storytelling and how does it differ from other forms of storytelling?
Christoph Trappe: Authentic storytelling is about sharing the stories that have actually happened; for instance, brands describing how they’ve helped solve a customer’s problem. Authentic stories come from real life. These kinds of stories resonate with audiences. They don’t have to take time to write; some can be produced in very little time. For example, I wrote a personal blog a couple of weeks ago about how one of my high school football teammates—now a police officer—had been ambushed and killed. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. I wrote a blog post about how I had cried that day. People really related to it. The 319-word article had so many views it crashed my website that night. It was a blog that took 15 minutes to write on my phone.
What’s the benefit for content marketers adopting this approach?
A lot of people are producing content; the problem is that it’s really hard to stand out unless you make it unique. The only way, long term, to come up with unique stories is to draw on personal and organizational experiences, as there are too many very general stories such as “8 steps to writing a great blog post” out there. If everyone produces the same C.R.A.P (Content Really Annoying to People) then it doesn’t go anywhere. Whoever tells the best story wins in the long run. To do that you have to draw on the things happening in your life, in your organization’s life; it doesn’t matter what the business is, you have to find and tell the real stories that matter.
Give me an example of a company that has adopted this approach and the positive impact it’s had.
UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas comes to mind, with its popular pregnancy blog, where they share real-life stories. A favorite of mine was a blog that covered the topic of how many people you should bring to an ultrasound. It was written on the back of a true experience and addressed the common situation many women have when they are pregnant. It was widely popular and shared thousands of times on social, all because it was authentic and told in an original way.
From your days as a journalist, what are the main components of a good story?
There are three components that you need to incorporate into any story.
One: Be aware of who your audience is. What do they care about?
Two: The content needs to be authentic. Sometimes marketers can over-use words or phrases that don’t seem authentic to the reader, such as “state of the art,” “the best,” “innovative.” These superlatives undermine the story; they put doubt into the audience’s mind. You have to build authenticity and trust over time.
Three: Every story should incorporate an element of conflict. One way is to show how someone overcame adversity. You have to take the audience on a journey, from laying out the challenge to describing the resolution and how they got there. Another way to add conflict is by saying something controversial—disagreeing with the mainstream views or having a unique opinion that can be backed up with facts. But be careful with this. Don’t just be controversial to be controversial.
Do you have any advice for marketers on the best channels to utilize?
I still recommend blogging. Blogging is not dead. Nor is email. Those traditional channels are still relevant. People should start sharing their stories on their own website—not just on a social channel—because users still search for things online, and that’s how people can find you. For many brands Facebook is still relevant, so share stories there. Twitter is more relevant than it gets credit for, especially for generating traffic and conversations. But my overall advice is to continually think about planning for change. New channels are being launched all the time, so instead of having elaborate strategies for each channel, have an overall content strategy that can be applied to the new mediums as they emerge. Just look at Vine as an example. Not long ago marketers were grappling with how to use it in their business, some with greater success than others, but now that channel is shutting down and being surpassed by the likes of video on many other channels, including Facebook, Twitter (which owns Vine) and Instagram.
What would you like to see happen in 2017?
I really hope the trend for next year is that companies figure out what they stand for and work out what they want to talk about. There’s too much content out there that addresses the same thing. I want to see brands share their unique stories and uniquely original content.
Christoph Trappe’s latest book, Get Real. Telling Authentic Stories for Long-Term Success is available to buy on Amazon now.