You’ve all heard this one before: “History is written by the victors,” right?

Wrong! See me after class.

History is written by the writers. Just ask Rameses II, who decided that recording a victory against the Hittite Empire and Muwatalli II was just as good as actually winning it, never mind the details. We’re lucky enough to have some other contemporary accounts of the battle or we might never know the difference.

At this point, it’s becoming something of a cliche to say that stories have power, and it’s become a real feather in the cap of marketers and content creators everywhere.

“Kneel before us, the mighty few who bend reality to our whim!”

-That One Content Marketing Guru

It’s a great thing to put into your pitch deck and makes us ink-stained wordmongers feel some dignity about toiling all day over a hot laptop. And you know what, it’s true! The better your storytelling techniques, the stronger your narrative, the more your message will resonate with your audience, whether you’re selling cars or a political revolution. But it’s not as easy or as cut-and-dried as you might think, and it’s not something that you can leave as an afterthought.

History has a lot to teach us here, and if you aren’t telling your story, someone else sure will, so you’d better get a handle on your message and your voice early.

Storytelling with Data and the Objectivity Trap

Here’s another popular saying:

“The data speaks for itself!”

-Basically Everyone, At Some Point

Also wrong! Nothing speaks for itself, as much as our STEM-driven Big Data obsessed society might say to the contrary. Data is a great tool for crafting your narrative, and it’s critical to understanding the facts when you start your storytelling, but good data is no substitute for a good narrative.

A lot of sales and marketing folks like to lean into data visualization. Listen, I love a good pie chart as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t matter how impressive your numbers are if you can’t make them a part of a narrative framework that captures the attention of your customers. Just ask Nissan, manufacturers of the top-selling electric vehicle of all time, an objectively true fact that you’d never guess from the breathless media coverage of Tesla and rocket wunderkind Elon Musk.

This is going to sound like blasphemy, but chasing objectivity is a trap. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as truth, but it’s not easily found and even the best and smartest people can still fall prey to fallacies and bad reasoning.

We’re emotional, pattern-seeking animals first and foremost, and even when presented with hard facts, we often trust our guts and our feelings over what we can easily see to be true. It’s objectively true, for example, that the Confederacy lost the Civil War. Take a walk through Richmond’s city center, though, and you might not pick up on that.

How History Can Inform Your Marketing Strategy

I’m not trying to tell you that facts don’t matter, because they most definitely do! What I want to hammer home here is that, when it comes to storytelling techniques, we’re all just trying to make sense of a highly subjective reality that involves messy and subjective relationships between people and the world around them. The way that you approach your brand, your marketing strategy, your sales calls, has to be informed by the facts, but you have control over how you present those facts.

Let’s look at another example from history. What comes to mind when I mention the notorious pirate captain William Kidd? Maybe someone who looks like this?

Image Credit

Sinister, frightening, dressed very fancifully — the spitting image of a real pirate of the Caribbean, one who’d fit right in on any Disneyland ride. But what if I told you that he actually looked a lot more like this?

The real Kidd looks more like someone who belongs in an Elizabethan period piece than the decks of sloop bound for Tortuga. And don’t even get me started on Henry Morgan!

The histories that tend to stay with us, that lodge in our minds and hearts, are the ones that are evocative, memorable, and that resonate with us. The best ones are true, but they also feel true. History can be used to control, to mislead, and to obscure, but it can also be used to celebrate, to uplift, and to champion a person or a cause or an idea.

Storytelling Techniques in Marketing: Write Your Own History

Here’s the beautiful thing about all this: it’s easier than ever to control your own narrative and write your own history. This is especially true if you’re the founder of a startup or growing business. Thanks to platforms like LinkedIn and modern-day digital distribution channels, it’s never been simpler (or more important) to tell your story. Don’t neglect this opportunity!

The best stories are the ones that are personal, emotional, and authentic — I’m not advocating for or suggesting that you start spinning up a propaganda machine. Instead, decide early on in your founder’s journey:

  • What your company’s mission is
  • What your personal goals are
  • How and when to use your voice
  • How your voice reflects your company’s culture

Once you have that figured out, it’s time to get everyone on board. Write blog posts and web copy that stays true to these values, and make sure that it informs everything you do, from your marketing materials to your sales scripts.

With so much noise and competing information vying for attention, the best way to engage current and potential customers is with a strong narrative and a clear image of your brand journey. The sooner you start thinking about how you want your business to be remembered, and about how you want your story to be told, the better you’ll fare.

You don’t want to end up like Muwatalli II after all.

Unsure where to get started in your storytelling journey? Click the button below to download our Social Selling Blueprint and learn how to create content people want to engage with.

I’m from Texas originally, I went to school in Colorado and then grad school here in Portland (I studied history, specifically piracy and public perception). I’ve got a podcastabout Dungeons & Dragons and I give weekly (ish) history talks on Twitch!