Persuasive storytelling is centuries old

November 7, 2012

Let me tell you a little story.  I promise — we’ll close the circle with some marketing insights but I need to set the stage.

Back when I launched my blog in ’06, I met Todd Andrlik about the time he was creating what would eventually become the AdAge Power 150 index of marketing blogs.  Todd participated in the first Age of Conversation book and was a part of the Blogger Social weekend in New York City where about 100 of us early adopters to marketing blogging gathered just to hang out.

As a thank you for being a part of the organizers for that weekend, Todd gave me a very special gift that told me a great deal about him.  It was a collectible version of a front page from a very old newspaper – the kind Todd had been collecting for years. Until then, I’d had no idea that Todd was an avid collector of old newspapers and in fact, he owns one of the most significant collections of American Revolution era newspapers in existence (Some of his collection is actually housed in the Library of Congress!).  He’s considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on 18th century newspapers.

Todd’s new book Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before it was History, it was News (click to buy*) was just released and it is stunning in both it’s eye-opening content and it’s eye pleasing presentation.  It has the appearance of a beautiful coffee table book — with remarkable photos of some of the most historic front pages in United State’s history.

But the book then combines these newspaper accounts with essays from 37 historians and American revolutionary experts to take us from the Boston Tea Party all the way to Independence, introducing us to incredible stories, characters and plot twists in the story of the US’ fight for freedom. What’s so cool about this book is that the experts talk about how the newspaper accounts impacted each stage of the revolution.

Todd has also built (as you might imagine) an online companion to the book at, so interested readers, teachers and others can learn even more.

I will tell you — this is not the sort of book I normally read. But I couldn’t put it down.  The storytelling was that riveting.  That’s where you come in.  As i was reading the book, I realized it was an incredible primer on how to tell compelling stories.  Not only did I learn a lot about the Revolutionary War, but here were some takeaways for all marketers.

Bring your characters to life by making them three dimentional: One benefit of telling stories about real people is that they’re not flat.  They have dimensions, good and bad qualities, failings and virtues.  Stories are much more believable when the characters are genuine.  And today’s jaded audiences find “too good to be true” characters much less compelling.

Remind us of the greater good: Part of what made Todd’s book so exciting was that even though I knew how the fight ended, I found myself rooting for those who were truly fighting for the greater good. Many times in our marketing efforts — we get too granular and we forget to take a step back and talk about the bigger picture.  Be sure to remind your audience why what you sell matters and how you can help them in their quest to be significant.

Blending facts and emotions builds credibility:  Emotion is what triggers our hunger to buy but facts support the decision. The best storytelling marketing combines the two. Part of what made the content in Reporting the Revolutionary War so sticky was because the newspaper accounts and quotes from the stories documented that it wasn’t just fluff.

I don’t expect that most of us are creating marketing materials that would qualify as coffee table worthy but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a few lessons from a book that belongs on everyone’s coffee table.

A huge congrats to Todd on producing such a fantastic book and a reminder to all of you that despite all the hype around the word storytelling — it’s actually an ancient art that all of us can use to help connect the right people to the products and services we sell.







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