Do Your Business Stories Stick? Develop the Art of “Sticky Storytelling”
By Carol Wentworth, Marketing Partner
We all know what “sticky” means when it comes to online experiences. But what is “sticky” when it comes to telling stories about your business, products and customers? It’s about putting stories together that are memorable, that have longevity, and that land in top media in front of many eyeballs. Sticky storytelling is an art — but it’s an art with a ton of work behind it. We asked Trevor Hammond, VP of communications for Planet, and Mike Baker, global communications lead for Formlabs, to share the sticky-storytelling strategies they devised over the years.
Quality over quantity
Ideally, you need to tell the right stories and the best stories about your company, which doesn’t necessarily mean telling lots of stories.
“It might be great to have 10 stories that are 500 words long, but it’s even better to have one story that’s 2,000 words long and that goes super-deep on the company,” Hammond says. If you can create a story that’s robust enough for a couple of thousand words, he adds, the journalist will likely meet with three or four executives, even some customers and vendors, which means the result offers a much more well-rounded picture of the company.
Owned media helps get you earned media
If you haven’t come across these terms before, earned media is the coverage you receive through traditional PR activities, like pitching journalists or staging a product-launch event. Owned media is coverage in properties that you control, like your blog or social media channels. It’s wonderful to get earned media in a top-flight media outlet like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, but the owned media can help you get earned media, as Baker explains.
“I’ve learned how earned media and owned media are very connected and can actually bolster each other,” Baker says. He started at Formlabs near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the company started manufacturing badly needed testing swabs via 3D printing. Baker suggested that the swab-printing process be documented via video and photos, which were then placed on the Formlabs website (that is, owned media).
“Early on, there was a concerted effort to gather that information and tell the story on our owned properties,” Baker says. “And then we built up the spokespeople so that then we could march this out in the traditional way.” Plenty of media hits followed. “And since then, in a million different ways, we’ve pitched longer stories,” he adds. “This story would have lasted whether I had touched it or not. But I do think that the way that we approached it, and especially building up that beginning part, allowed it to be something that we can control more easily and get more legs beneath.”
Brainstorm fresh angles for ongoing stories
When Planet launched the first satellites to help deliver its global imagery, there was steady media interest. “But we didn’t want them all to write the same story,” Hammond says. “We wanted to stretch it out.” The strategy was to interest journalists in different stories in order to create a richer portrait of Planet.
“We’d say, ‘You can write about the three satellites we’ve launched so far, but we’ve got some really big news coming up soon,’” Hammond relates. He’d also offer some journalists exclusives, while others would be given early glimpses of new developments. This was a savvy approach, since journalists don’t want to simply re-report old stories: They want fresh angles for themselves.
Become a consumer of great stories — and make space for them
You’ll sharpen your ability to recognize the great stories in your business when you become a reader and viewer of stories yourself, Hammond advises.
“It starts with reading a lot of news generally, so that you know the zeitgeist of what’s going on,” he says. “I think any good communications person reads an incredibly large amount of news, specifically in their company’s sector, but then also across the board and with zero affiliation.”
In fact, broadening your reading beyond your market space can help generate story ideas that, at first glance, have little to do with your business. “Some of the stickiest stories we’ve succeeded with initially started with nothing to do with the company,” Hammond says. “But we were able to connect the dots in a way that elevates us with something that was already going on.”
In addition to becoming a consumer of stories, Hammond suggests fostering an environment where colleagues feel comfortable sharing ideas. “Create a very welcome space inside of your organization, where you let folks know that the job is to tell stories that help the company succeed,” he says. “Those stories can be about anything — not only a great new product, but an incredible customer doing something amazing, or an employee who’s got a fascinating backstory.”
Baker agrees with Hammond on encouraging employee input, and established a Slack channel where the team can share stories they think will stick.