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Storytelling. It’s one of the hottest topics right now. Research has shown that stories can enhance empathy, increase the ability to identify and recall key messages, and improve engagement. It’s powerful. From Hollywood to politics, storytelling has been a tool used to sell. Now marketers are jumping on the bandwagon, trying to figure out what makes great stories, how to create them, and how to do so in authentic, relevant ways.
To better understand what marketers can learn from some of the greatest storytellers in the world—Hollywood—I connected with Matthew Luhn, a former writer at Pixar Animation Studios (with story credits including Toy Story 2 and 3, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Up) and author of The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond.
This is part of a series I’m writing based on his insight. The first article provided insight on five ads that tell great stories. The below is about the power of storytelling and the importance of a “hook”.
Kimberly A. Whitler: Can you start by sharing a story about why you think storytelling should matter to marketers?
Matthew Luhn: Sure. I will share a personal story about something my grandfather did. Imagine walking down a city street and running into a giant hairy gorilla. How might you react? Would it grab your attention? That’s what my grandfather had in mind when he placed “Joe” in the front window of our family’s toy store. Joe was a six-foot-tall stuffed toy gorilla, complete with a name tag stuck to his matted chest that read “Joe.” Not only was the gorilla massive, he was mechanical, with a body that turned and waved to everyone passing by. The idea occurred to my grandfather as he was trying to figure out how to get the people who walked past his store to instead walk into his store.
Joe got people’s attention. They would turn and look every time. Most importantly, Joe got people in the door. The passersby wanted to know more. What was going on inside that store? They needed to find out. And they walked out with a new toy.
My grandfather used “hooks,” like Joe, to grab people’s attention, get them talking, and invite them into a new experience. He launched water bottles in foot traffic and set up a child (my father) in a store window with a bottle of glue and set of paints, happily building a model airplane or model car—creating a story that piqued customers’ attention.
My family continues to use creative ways to get people into our toy store, Jeffrey’s Toys, like displaying life-sized statues of The Simpsons characters in the front window next to a sign that reads like a storybook title: “The Oldest Toy Store in San Francisco.” My dad has even recruited me to teach animation and writing classes for kids on the weekends. Which I love to do.
Marketers largely focus on creating better experiences with existing customers or creating new customers. In either scenario, storytelling has the power to not just do this but to do it in a way that builds deeper and more meaningful relationships
Kimberly A. Whitler: You mentioned “the hook.” Can you explain more about what it is and why it matters?
Matthew Luhn: Now, more than ever, our attention is at a premium. We are busy, easily distracted, and short on time, our noses buried in our cell phones. Before you can get someone to visit your store, check out your website, or learn about your great product or idea, you have to convince them you have a story they should listen to. Research reveals that the average person’s attention span is eight seconds. That means you have eight seconds to show people you’ve got something worthy of their attention before they zone out, tune out, or check out. Be it a pitch to investors, a company presentation, or an advertisement, if you can’t catch the attention of your audience within eight seconds, you’ve already lost. So, how do you do it? With a great hook.
Kimberly A. Whitler: So what can marketers learn from Hollywood about creating great hooks?
Matthew Luhn: In Hollywood, there are three really powerful techniques we use to grab the attention of our audience. These three techniques include sharing something unusual, unexpected, or action-driven. When creating a hook, it also helps to start with a “what if” scenario.
1. The Unusual Hook. “What if a monster didn’t want to scare kids anymore?” That was the hook for Monsters Inc., which took the “ordinary” world of monsters, scaring kids, and turned it into an unusual situation. Your audience is now hooked and asking, “Why does this monster not want to scare kids?” Hooks that set up an intriguing question work like magic. This is true not just for film, but also for motivating customers to buy or inspiring your employees.
As an example, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001, his hook was: “What if you could put a thousand songs in your pocket?” At the time, nobody thought this was remotely possible. This was a great unusual hook.
2. The Unexpected Hook. The unexpected hook is similar to creating a commercial or ad that surprises or shocks an audience. For example, “What if a rat wanted to become a French chef?” This hook from Ratatouille is unexpected, because why in the world would a rat want to cook? We see companies use unexpected hooks all the time, like Dollar Shave Club, whose CEO uses irreverent humor to shock and grab our attention.
3. The Action-Driven Hook. In the film trailer for Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, the action-driven hook we used was: “What if the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs had missed?” The image of this giant asteroid about to crash into our planet made for a strong action-driven hook.
In Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, she jolted her audience with the first sentence: “On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood.” What a hook! She landed us in a single action-driven sentence.
While most marketers seek to create high-impact stories, Luhn’s insight on just how important the first 8 seconds are is a reminder of how difficult it is to do so.
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler
June 9, 2019 at 09:14AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs