1. evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.
    “his eyes were strangely compelling”
    synonyms: enthralling, captivating, gripping, engrossing, riveting, spellbinding, entrancing, transfixing,mesmerizing, hypnotic, mesmeric, absorbing, fascinating, thrilling, irresistible, addictive;

    “she gave a compelling and intensely dramatic performance”

    2. not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction.

    “there is compelling evidence that the recession is ending”


One of the best keynotes I ever heard was from Kevin Spacey, where he was speaking to an audience of marketers and he told them,

“The story is everything. Which means it is our jobs to tell better stories.

But we must remember that the audience is everything (and their attentions spans are short).

So we must tell our stories as fast and as compellingly as possible”.


The battle to tell a compelling story is not easy. Storytellers from Pixar and Disney, from Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher have been struggling to tell better stories for years. Audiences find some stories compelling and they flock to theatres in their millions. But other stories (Waterworld, John Carter?), which science and focus groups think will be compelling, receive heavy funding for elaborate productions, but end up playing to empty seats.



If movie studios with huge resources at their disposal can’t get it right all the time, how can marketers ~ with their limited budgets and tight deadlines? Netflix are investing $5Bn in original programming this year alone. They are betting on the fact that “compelling stories” like House of Cards will continue to attract new on-demand audiences to their subscription services. This is serious business. With serious people working hard to tell better stories.


“Brands are no longer competing with other brands in their industry. they are not even competing with other brands. They are competing with Amazon Prime and Netflix. They are competing with Kim Kardashian and Twitter Moments. But most of all they are competing against speed”.


Marketers are often expected to respond “in real-time” but telling a compelling story takes time. Ad man David Ogilvy famously took weeks to write the copy for branded long-form ads, with up to 60% of that time dedicated to just the headline. (Apparently it took weeks to write this Rolls-Royce ad). Today we live in a world where the half-life of a tweet is minutes, so we don’t have weeks to write good stories, in some cases we don’t even have minutes.




So how do we tell compelling stories?


My friend Creative Warriors podcaster Jeffrey Shaw has an idea.


“In order to stand out in the competitive world of business today, we must develop ways to communicate our ideas and draw attention to our products and services, while at the same time, walk a very delicate balance of not coming on too strong. If potential customers feel like you are coming AT them, they back off. So how do you do this?


Compel. Don’t tell.


It’s fairly easy to tell people what you do, but honestly, that’s not the most riveting way to cultivate a desire to know more about you and your business. You need to be compelling; you need to pique someone’s interest that will draw them in. To cause them to walk towards you so that you don’t even need to walk towards them. With so many options for consumers today, it’s not enough to be good at what you do; you need to excel at standing out first!


What I like about this demand that we, as businesses, must be interesting and compelling is that it elevates the standards of business. It requires an awareness of human behaviour and a respect for others. It allows you to become the architect of your business. Like any good architect, you need more than a plan. You also need a strong foundation, a sound structure, and an interesting -compelling- design. You need to pay close attention to three parts of your business that demand that you be compelling in order to become a successful architect of your business”.




Jeffrey has a point. Telling a compelling story requires that you build a strategy upon a strong foundation. Simon Sinek told us that “what you stand for is more important that what you sell“, but people need to understand what we stand for. How do we tell them (quickly), in a way that will have an impact?


What separates one politician from another is their ability to tell a compelling story, by breaking complicated topics down into language that the average guy on the street can understand. (Some of those compelling stories may even be true!) The same challenge faces CEOs, teachers, scientists, consultants, journalists and evangelists. Compelling stories require exciting narratives around a conflict of some kind, and that usually means breaking down complicated events down into bite-sized chunks that every understands.


But telling a compelling story takes time. I was told by TED organisers that some of the best TED talks have a 10:1 ratio. For the 18 minutes that they present, they invest up to 180 hours creating the content and crafting the story. Think about that the next time you’re throwing a few Powerpoints together for your that 30 minute business presentation you need to give!




When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 as the interim CEO, he was faced with a company that had several product lines, hundreds of partners, fragmented business divisions and mixed marketing messages. When asked about his turnaround plan he simply wrote one sentence on the wall,

“We must provide relevant and compelling solutions, that customers can only get from Apple”.

Soon after the Think Different campaign was born, the iMac was launched, iTunes changed the way that people consumed music and they money that he saved went to a secret team called Project Purple. they went on to create the iPhone. They built a strategy first. That strategy created some of the world’s most innovative products. And then they figured out how to tell compelling stories that did those products justice.


All this came together in a perfect storm when he gave the famous iPhone launch keynote, a keynote believed by many (including me), to be the greatest business presentation of all time.



So if you want to stand out in an increasingly noisy market place… If you want to rise above the likes and re-tweets of whoever is having their 15 minutes of fame… Or if you want someone to take notice of your brand or idea when PokemonGO is vying for their attention…


You better have a good story to tell…


And it better be compelling.





Communications Designer @IBM • Climate Reality Leader • Lover of Old Business Books, Clever Technology and the NHS • Based in London, UK.

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