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Five Things NYC Taught Me About Creative Storytelling

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[The following guest post is a contribution from Eric Hinson and our friends over at Arkansas-based Explainify]

There’s no doubt about it – New York City moves fast. Step out onto the street, and you’re immediately caught up in a rushing river of busy pedestrians.

It’s fast –  but the energy is infectious.

I thought a little energy and inspiration would work wonders for our team. So in August, we took a five-day trip to NYC to attend a creativity workshop.

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I tend to see storytelling everywhere I go – let’s be honest, it runs in my DNA at this point – and New York was no exception. As we charged headlong into nearly a week of workshop sessions, sightseeing, and outrageous amounts of pizza, I gained some incredible new insights into brand storytelling.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to take risks…

I signed our team up for this creativity workshop without knowing much about it. All I knew was that it was based in NYC, it had received international acclaim, and it seemed like an incredible opportunity for our team to boost their creative capacity.

This was totally a road-less-traveled scenario. We all decided to take a risk and break new ground – together, as a team.

When it comes to telling a great brand story, the winners are the risk-takers. Makes sense, right? I mean, in this crazy crowded marketplace you really have to stand out. That’s why we love the Old Spice commercials – when they came out, no one had seen anything like them.

So if you want to get noticed, you have to be willing to take some chances.

Lesson 2: …But don’t get discouraged when the risk doesn’t pay off.

Turns out – the conference was a big disappointment.

Without going into too much detail – I don’t want to bash the workshop – it just wasn’t right for our team. It was too touchy-feely, vague, and not really geared toward marketers or a business outcome.

Of course this frustrated me, but I don’t regret our trip one bit. We were in New York, for crying out loud! We may not have gotten a lot out of the conference, but we were so energized by our time in the Big Apple that the whole experience paid off anyway.

Not every risky brand story is going to win big – that’s why they call it a risk. But the lessons you learn while making a mess can be incredibly revealing. If nothing else, you’ll know more than you did if you’d never taken a risk in the first place.

In short – if you take a risk, you may make mistakes. But the results of playing it safe are much worse.

Lesson 3: Give your audience a taste of the familiar – and then surprise the crap out of them!

One of the biggest highlights of our trip was a participatory theater show called Accomplice.

You show up at a previously disclosed location – out in the streets of New York – and find the rest of your group. When it’s time for the show to start, a character shows up, and you’re officially on the hunt to solve a murder mystery!

The most interesting thing about Accomplice is that most of the people who participate aren’t tourists – they’re NYC natives.

Why? Because Accomplice takes something that these people know (New York) and helps them see it in a whole new way.

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Similarly, when you’re telling your story, you want to meet your audience where they are. They need to know that you understand them, their hopes and dreams… and their pain points.

But then you blow their minds. Make them laugh, move them to tears – and whatever you do, show them how you can make their lives better.

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to ask a local.

While we were in New York, we got to meet some incredible people.

We spent time with old friends, met with innovative entrepreneurs, and talked with complete strangers on the subway.

These locals gave us some great suggestions, and we got to see parts of the city and eat at restaurants we could never have known about otherwise.

In the same way, don’t be afraid to listen to your locals – your customers – when you begin to tell your brand story. Odds are, they’ll tell you exactly what they need to hear. Survey your customers to find out why they chose to buy from you and apply that to your messaging. Was it your sales process or the guarantee you offer? Maybe it was how easy your checkout process. Would they buy from you again? What specific problem did your product solve in their lives? Your customers are the experts, so let them do the talking and you’ll be on your way to a clear message that converts.

Lesson 5: Don’t try to do too much!

We crammed a lot of stuff into 5 days. Sightseeing, meetings, restaurants, homework from the workshop… and of course, our client work.

By the end of our trip, we were exhausted. We even ended up skipping out on some of our plans toward the end because we were just too dang tired.

This is a huge lesson for brands to learn. When you’re telling your story, you cannotgive your audience too much information – they’ll become overwhelmed and get attention fatigue.

And then you’ve lost them.

Instead, tell them just enough to keep them interested and engaged, and they’ll keep coming back for more information as they need it.

Next time you’re in New York, keep an eye out, and you just might find storytelling inspiration in some surprising places!

Oh, and be sure to grab a cupcake from Molly’s. You’ll be glad you did.

Eric Hinson is the Founder and CEO of Explainify, which specializes in short, engaging, explainer videos that influence buying decisions. He lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife and co-founder, Krista. You can find more great posts on his company blog or follow him on Twitter at @explainify.

Written by Eric Hinson