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What children’s books can teach you about storytelling

Did you have a favourite book growing up? Perhaps it was a Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton classic…maybe it was a story about hungry caterpillars or tea-drinking tigers.

If you ask me, those long hours spent exploring imaginary, fictional worlds are some of the most precious we have. I know my own childhood days weren’t complete without a visit to the world of big friendly giants, enormous overgrown peaches and chocolate factories owned by eccentric (mentally unstable?) philanthropists.

But, alas, we grow up. We get jobs. We start businesses. We get married. We work hard – and long.

Those characters and stories that delighted us so much become distant memories.

But one thing that doesn’t leave us is our innate love for stories, whether it’s reading newspapers, gossiping with friends or watching blockbuster movies. I’m no scientist but I believe a passion for storytelling is a massive part of the human DNA.

Savvy marketers tend to agree. We’ve blogged in the past about the importance of brand storytelling, and how it’s rendering traditional ‘product-feature’ marketing obsolete. In a nutshell, it means that people no longer want to be sold products – they want to be told stories. So maybe the lessons we learned from those crazy stories are still useful…

You see, if you’re looking for tips on storytelling, maybe you’d find it useful to turn back the clock, and take a leaf from your favourite kid’s tome. You’ll be surprised the lessons you can still learn from those raggedy old pages!

Here are just a few…

1. Set the background

In order to capture your audience’s attention, it’s always good to build context. What’s the problem? What are the obstacles to be overcome?

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the early part of the story focuses on the penniless and miserable existence of little Charlie Bucket and his family.

James (of ‘Giant Peach’ fame) is being subjected to intensive daily labour by his disgusting aunts, Spud and Spiker.

And Harry Potter is enduring a lonely, friendless ‘sleep-in-a-cupboard-under-the-stairs’ lifestyle before he receives his Hogwarts owl.

This gets us emotionally invested in the story; it makes us crave change, and, when it comes, it’s even more impactful.

Make sure you always bear in mind the ‘problem’ that your product addresses, and establish it in your brand story. It’s a great way to strike an emotional chord with your audience at the earliest opportunity.

2. Keep it short and concise

Remember how short your attention span was when you were a kid?

There’s a reason why the most popular kids books are short and snappy. It’s because the authors knew that the higher their word count, the greater the risk of their reader getting bored.

Think about that. That author LOVED their story; they lived and breathed it, investing years of hard work. But they accepted that in order to hold the attention of the casual reader, they had to strip it back to include only the juicy bits.

That’s one of the most important lessons you can learn when telling your story. However passionate you are, the brutal truth is that not everybody else will be. So don’t take their attention for granted – get to the point, and tell your story quickly, passionately and concisely. Make your marketing copy short and punchy, and keep any video content between 1-2 minutes.

3. Character is everything

Stories are great, but characters really bring them to life.

To demonstrate the point, how interesting does this story sound: “local kids go on a tour of a factory.” Er…good luck getting that into print.

What if the kid was utterly impoverished, with a loving, but down-on-its-luck family? What if his only pleasure in life was a single, solitary chocolate bar on his birthday? What if the factory was the place where that very chocolate was manufactured? And what if the other factory tourists were a motley crew of ungrateful, spoilt brats who met their demise in a variety of hilarious ways?

Welcome to ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ one of the most successful kids books of all time (and a Hollywood blockbuster, too, by the way. Twice.)

When telling your story, of course the ‘what you do’ bit is important. But don’t forget to focus on the ‘who you are’ and ‘why you do it’ parts, too. Showing people that there are real, human faces in your office, and not just a neatly packaged brand, is a great way to build trust. The characters ‘behind the scenes’ in your business are the most authentic form of branding you have!

4. Happily ever after

Can you imagine a kid’s book where the hero doesn’t win the day?

There are always some pretty shaky moments, but, eventually, Voldemort meets a sticky end, James lives forever with his new friends inside the giant peach and the hungry caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly.

Whatever the problem your brand or product was designed to address, make sure your story always demonstrates to your audience that you’re the one delivering a ‘happily ever after!’ Otherwise it’s just half a story 🙂

5. Be easy on the eye

When I recall some of my favourite books, I instantly think of the front covers. They were so evocative, so colourful, so vibrant and such fun.

The cover provides a ‘gateway’ into the story for the reader and also sets a certain level of expectation…the colours and imagery give us a good idea of what kind of story to expect before we read a single word.

You should think about the visual elements of your brand in exactly the same way. Your logo, colours and typefaces represent your story, and should immediately communicate a fair amount of what and who you are.

Of course, nobody would be happy if they bought a book and it had no pages. And a book without a cover is really just a fancy pamphlet. What’s my point? You have to make sure that both the visual and story elements are present, and working together!