Stories can have a profound effect on your audience. Sometimes in ways that you don't anticipate. But when you're authentic, when you're unafraid to include the uncomfortable parts, there's no telling who you can reach, and how you can impact them.
The reason that I believe in storytelling as I think I've said probably numerous times in past episodes, and I'll tell you right now, I'm going to say it several times in this episode, is that it can have a profound effect on your audience and the people that you're trying to reach. And that's because when it's done right, it can elicit an emotional response and then in turn it can align your message or your brand with that emotion.
Now, this is being backed up by science and scientists are really only beginning to understand how human beings receive and perceive messages and how the human brain works. And some recent developments in technology have allowed scientists to see the brain activity in real time as people are exposed to different types of messages.
I'm simplifying here. It gets a little bit more complicated than this, but basically what they found is when people hear stories, their brain basically lights up all across the board, especially areas associated with emotions.
And like I said, this is something that naturally can have a profound effect on the person listening to the stories or hearing the stories, and this is something that I experienced about four years ago in this episode.
I want to talk a little bit about that. I want to talk about the role of storytelling and why it's important to engage your audience and then also how it can sort of exist alongside the technical side of content development, especially things like SEO.
So let me start off by telling you a story. It's a story about a story that I wrote a few years ago when I was starting off as a freelance writer and content strategist. I was doing what I could to get my name out there and one of the things that I did was to write articles on Linkedin.
And my goal at that time was to establish a reputation and start to get some, some recognition. I was writing articles about basically anything I could think of. And one of the articles that I wrote was about some lessons that I learned from a former boss back in my younger days when
I was about 22 or 23 and I was working as a bartender in a restaurant in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And the article was about lessons in entrepreneurship that I learned from the owner and manager of this restaurant.
And let me tell you a little bit about that owner and manager. His name was Fred Krautkramer. He was a big guy, large man, and a big personality. And he worked extremely hard, as you have to do in the restaurant business. And he expected excellence from his staff and he would do anything for his customers.
But he always solidly stood behind his people. And he was loyal to them and he earned the loyalty and respect of his staff in return. Now, he didn't demand it. He didn't ask for it. He earned it through his actions.
Now, Fred, of course, like a lot of us had also had some weaknesses and some demons and for him there were some pretty big ones in the form of his health, most notably his weight and his smoking habits. He smoked a lot, as you might do in the restaurant business back in the nineties and eighties and that contributed to an untimely death of his in his early fifties.
He died less than 10 years after I stopped working there to pursue this fabulous career that I have now. And all of these years later, some 20 plus years later, it occurred to me that I had learned quite a few things from Fred that I didn't really think about up until up until this time when I was starting my career as a freelance content strategist.
So I wrote the article and in the article I made a choice. I decided to use Fred's real name. I thought this would lend some authenticity to the article and basically make it real, but I was also taking a risk here.
It had been some 20 years since I had set foot in that restaurant and certainly since I had interacted with Fred or anybody who worked there and there was a pretty good chance that I might not have remembered everything.
Also, I did not know who was going to be reading this. You never know really who's going to be reading or consuming your content when you put it out there.
So imagine my surprise when shortly after I published the article, I was contacted by somebody who knew Fred really, really well.
Fred Krautkramer, Jr.: My name is Fred Krautkramer, Junior. I am Fred Krautkramer, Senior’s son.
I've said it a couple times already in this episode, and I'm going to say it a few times more. Stories have a profound effect on people. So after the break we'll hear from Fred Junior and we'll hear what he thought about my story about his dad coming up.
When I was young again in my early twenties, right after college, I worked at a bartender at a restaurant called Boder’s on the River in the suburbs of Milwaukee. It was a quite nice restaurant, actually quite iconic restaurant at the time, in one of the nicer suburbs of northern Milwaukee.
And My boss was a big hardworking man named Fred Krautkramer, who would do anything for his customers and he would do everything for his employees.
In his wisdom and his weaknesses, he taught me some important lessons, which I didn't really realize at the time, but reflecting back on it a couple of years ago, they seemed quite apparent to me. So I decided to write an article and publish it in LinkedIn about three or four years ago.
His son, Fred Junior, of course, knew him even better and he remembered some of the lessons that he learned from his dad when he was growing up.
Fred: My memories of my father are, oh Geez, quite a few. He's a very large personality type man. He was a great leader. He was very genuine and caring, but he was also very strict as a father.
I learned so much from him and while I was learning it, it was not the easiest thing. They weren't the easiest things to learn. But I definitely learned about respecting others, working hard, putting the needed time and to do a job right.
And he taught me a lot of subtleties that I really had no clue he was teaching me. He taught me about how to manage my finances. He taught me how to fix things like small engines. He taught me how to do things right the first time. And I, you know, I never appreciated while I was growing up, but it's definitely something that I have learned to appreciate it as I've gotten older
In writing the article, it was not my intention at all to reach Fred Junior. I didn't even know he existed. He and I are pretty close to the same age and he also worked at the restaurant during the summers of his high school and college years.
But the one summer that I was, there was actually the summer that he decided to stay away at college. So I never met him. But by chance he found the article and it had an immediate effect on him.
Fred: One day I was just surfing the Internet and Googling and, just like most people, I Googled my name, just looking to see what was out there on myself. I'm a junior, so my father had the same name.
And as I was going through the Google search, I found something that was related to my father and it's something that I had not seen in the past, clicked on it. And that's when I found the article that Chris had written about my father.
And it was very exciting to read. It brought a smile to my face and it just gave me a sense of pride in who my father was and how lucky I was to have him to build the man that I've become as a mature adult at this stage of my life.
In the article I talked about the positive lessons that I took from Fred Senior. That he insisted on things being done right and that you should always do anything you can for your staff and the people that work for you and that he earned the respect from his staff in return.
But in the article I also talked about his weaknesses and his demons, the endless hours that he worked in a really high stress job and that he was basically almost never without a cigarette.
And those are things that ultimately took his life. And Fred said that reading the article brought back a lot of those same type of memories of his debt.
Fred: The article that you wrote was amazingly accurate there. There were so many things that brought a true smile to my face. But there were also many truths that reminded me about the mistakes my father made.
For instance, he smoked like a chimney and that is ultimately in my opinion what killed him. He lived a very stressful life, being in the restaurant business, working ridiculous hours.
And I remember growing up that I wanted to be my dad. I wanted to be just like him and I wanted to go into the restaurant business and had hopes to be able to take over his restaurant at some point.
Being a young person at that time, I thought I knew everything. Obviously I didn't, my dad took the time to, uh, teach me again, teaching me without me really realizing he was teaching me.
He was teaching me that there was more to life than what he was doing and that he wanted me to carve my own path. And he did a very good job encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone and do something other than the restaurant industry. And that if I, after a certain amount of time, let's call it five years, that I decided, you know what? This other thing isn't right for me. I want to go back to the restaurant industry. I would have that opportunity.
But I would, by taking that leap of faith and that chance of doing something different, it opened doors that, that I as a young person never would have ever thought were there in a million years.
So one of the most important things about the LinkedIn article was although it contained the positive lessons that I learned from Fred Senior, it also contained the unvarnished truth. And that was a risk really for me.
The last thing I would've wanted to do would be to dishonor the memory of somebody that I respected and admired and who did so much for a lot of people.
But that unvarnished truth is really where the good stuff is. That's where the stuff of life is really contained. And that's really for Fred Junior where the lessons that he learned growing up came from. Those hard lessons that Fred Senior taught his son wound up being some of the most important lessons of all. And they have had a huge effect on Fred Junior and who he is now and how he lives his life.
Fred: I do not work merely the hours my father did. And as a result of that, I have that balance. That balance is something my dad never had a just from his, his line of work. And as a result of that, I feel that I'm a better person as a well-rounded individual than what my father was in certain ways because I have the time for the things that are more important than career.
That is, family. My dad, his family was extremely important to him, but his plan was to work extremely hard and then retire young. Obviously that plan did not come to fruition because he died in his early fifties. I believe it's due to the smoking because he developed lung cancer, which is obvious correlation. And in that in the end took his life and as a result of that, he never got the opportunity to find that balance because he never got to retire early, due to the mistakes he made with, with the smoking and that stressful restaurant life.
Stories like this that contained the unvarnished truth are what make us human. But there's business to be done too. So after the break we'll talk about how human emotional stories can fit into your content strategies and how they can help you accomplish your business goals.
When I published an article about a former boss a few years ago, I had no idea where it would lead and who ultimately would be touched by it. And I'm glad, honestly. If I knew Fred Senior's son would be reading the article, I might not have used his name. I would have chickened out, most likely. I would've been afraid of getting something wrong or causing him pain unnecessarily.
And without the story about Fred senior wrapped into the article, I probably still could have made my point. There's a few things I could've done. I could've made it anonymous or left his name out of it somehow, or maybe changed the story a little bit. I mean, nobody would have known.
But the fact that it was a real story and had that level of detail is really what brought it to life. And I was fortunate to have known a man who embodied so many great lessons, both positive and negative. And to me, it really only made sense to include him in the articles.
So again, I'm glad I didn't know that Fred Junior would ultimately read it. And as I learned from Fred Junior, I wasn't the only one who was affected by his dad as he found out not too long ago. His father's impression on many other members of his staff from those restaurant days lasted decades.
Fred: I went back to Milwaukee for an uncle's 80th birthday party, and many of the workers that worked for my father showed up at my uncle's 80th birthday party, who was my father's brother-in-law and who was the head chef at the restaurant. And it just really showed me, wow, that was a special environment.
So many of these individuals who are now in their seventies, sixties, seventies, and eighties, that took the time out of their lives to come back for a 80th birthday party from a restaurant that they have not, uh, been associated with in you know, decades.
So I'll repeat it again. Stories can have a profound effect on your audience. And in the case of Fred Junior, reading the article that I wrote that contained stories about his dad who had long since past stirred up some memories and it also compelled him to get in touch with me.
Fred: I believe I found in the article, I saw a link. If you want to contact me, here's the information. So I use that to contact Chris and essentially emailed you and said, Chris, my name is Fred Krautkramer Junior. Don't be scared. My father passed away. You wrote an article about him. I don't think we've ever met, but I would love to have an opportunity to talk with you because the article you wrote about my dad really brought a smile and a tear to my face and I, I'd like to hear from you to just connect.
As I mentioned before, I could have left Fred Senior out of the story. I could have made it anonymous, I could have played it safe. But had I not then not only would the story not have been as good or the article wouldn't have been as good, but it wouldn't have given me the opportunity to connect with Fred Junior.
And the story itself wouldn't have had the same meaning for him. He actually likely would have never seen it. But most importantly it wouldn't have provided the opportunity for he and I to develop a relationship.
Fred: It would have been a good article. It would have been a good read. There's no doubt. But having that personal connection, having that connection, is what connected me in, made me take the next step as to would I need to find out who this person is that wrote this.
Having that, that personal connection is really what drove me to go to the next level in reaching out and contacting you.
Telling stories allows us to build relationships with other people, whether it's a one-to-one situation or a company communicating with a large audience.
But let's talk about that a little bit. In this example, we're really just talking about an audience of one person. This article that I wrote, it didn't really get a large audience. The metrics on it weren't all that great and really it was just by chance that Fred Junior found me.
So what's the lesson here? Well, what if you as a company or as an individual who had a large audience larger than I had at the time, were able to find that common ground and find a shared experience with your audience, with your, whether they're customers or employees or what have you?
Then what if you told and shared stories that reflected that common experience, real stories without leaving out the uncomfortable parts or the unvarnished truth. Imagine what kinds of connections you would be able to make when you added scale to the equation of reaching a larger audience than my article originally did.
And also I think there's a lesson here as it relates to the search side of things. Fred Junior found me through a Google search. Basically, he did that by searching on a topic that was interesting to him. In this case it was his own name and that led him to my article, which captured his attention.
And this I think is where the lesson of storytelling and SEO can live hand-in-hand. A strong search strategy or another means of attracting attention, whether it's paid search or what have you, is crucial to any content strategy you need to be where your audience is looking for you and you need to have the information that they are looking for or the information that they need.
But once you have your audience’s attention, you have an opportunity and a choice. You can either meet their expectations and give them what they're looking for and then they can be on their merry way or you can connect with them on an emotional level.
You can make them laugh, you can bring a tear to their eye, you can make them remember, you can inspire them, you can persuade them.
Storytelling. I'll say it for the last time in this episode, no guarantees for future episodes, but storytelling can have a profound effect on your audience. And as I learned with my experience with Fred Junior and Fred Senior and the story that I wrote about him.
A good story can make taking action irresistible and it can make forgetting you impossible.