The Marketing Brainbox 05 Why the brain needs narrative emails

The Marketing Brainbox Newsletter 05: Why the brain needs narrative emails

Just me in my element, surrounded by my people, nerding out over Warhammer!


Let’s talk about making things look as good as they sound!

It may come as no surprise that while being a marketing nerd - I’m also somewhat of a traditional nerd. I love games, I love comics, and I love good sci-fi and fantasy. I love the worlds that are created and pull you into a story so fantastical and ridiculous yet so intricately woven together that you can feel them. It’s a masterclass in marketing.

It’s gaming, in particular, that I have professional curiosity for. There is so much complexity in the design of a story for a game, whether it’s a role-playing game, a tabletop game or a PC/console masterpiece.

Games are full of decisions, puzzles, and challenges that players need to master. Make a decision too hard, and the players get frustrated and won’t continue playing. Make it too easy, and they won’t feel accomplished when they achieve something and get bored.

While each decision stands alone, they’re all threaded together with a narrative that turns it into a story. It’s not the individual decisions that keep players playing; it’s how they unfold into a story that the player is part of.

Marketing is no different - we’re creating a narrative to help people make better decisions. But how often do we look at the story as a whole? Marketers get bogged down in individual decisions, not threading them together into a larger narrative to take people from one decision to another…

Funnels have a lot to answer for in how they have corrupted and siloed our thinking so much that we lose sight of the larger narrative - the customer journey.

But it’s not just about the journey itself - it’s also about how we signpost it. Games are a masterpiece of both narrative and visual storytelling. Leading people to the next step with clues and cues.

Our job as marketers is no different. We’re taking our leads on a journey which needs an underlying narrative. But it needs more than that; it needs visual representation.

And that brings me to something else we can steal from nerds to be better marketers. In general, copywriters are decent at telling stories - and when pointed out to us, we can take a step back to look at the whole - but what about how we present them?

Graphic novels champion the art of telling a story while seeing it - leading the eye from one component piece to the next. Allowing you to see the story while you read it. Graphic novels structure large amounts of information in visual ways - the imagery lends far more to the words than they could ever convey alone.

That richness is lost in marketing. It’s rare for the images we choose as part of our emails and our narrative to compound what we’re saying. Usually, the least offensive stock image is chosen - and what a missed opportunity!

In marketing, we’re helping thread many small decisions together until we reach a more significant decision - the purchase decision. The visual storytelling elements must not only match the narrative, but they must also enhance it!

We can learn two things from nerdery today.

1. How narrative combines smaller decisions into a story that drives action

2. How visual cues help us move through content and give information architecture.

It’s time to look at your marketing as an overarching narrative. Identify the smaller decisions that lead to that final action. Then go deeper. How are you structuring the information you’re giving your audience? How does it enhance the narrative? How does it make your story more impactful?

Why the brain needs narrative emails [The Marketing Brainbox]

In-group and out-group (psychology).

There is a good scientific reason for why we should visually display our content in a way that appeals to our audience. Aside from aiding attention and retention of information, visual design also signals in-group and out-group behaviour.

Humans evolved as a social species - we managed to prioritise our large brain size partly due to our birds of a feather nature. We shared the burden of longer caring times for our young by grouping together in hunter-gatherer tribes. The brain rewards us for being with the people it thinks will keep us safe.

This is in-group functionality. When someone is part of our in-group - our brain marks them as being ‘safe’ - the Mesolimbic system gives us positive hormonal responses for people like us.

But the amygdala is triggered for people outside of our in-group, aka the out-group. This gives us feelings of fear and distrust.

Visual cues help us discern who is in the in-group and who is in the out-group - we wear certain clothing to signal who we are to other people. We do this with all of our purchases.

Your content should be designed to make it easy to consume (i.e. good information architecture) and signal to your in-group that they are in the right place. That is the role of good branding! But it must be displayed everywhere…

I’ve added some resources further down this email to help give you ideas, but here’s a little gift from me. A freebie!

Here are 9 landing page structures and layout ideas. You’ll find an example of a page and some Canva templates we’ve created to help you get a head start on designing your information.

Courtesy of the Marketing Automation Academy, of course! I’ve also included a link to the landing page template for you to strategise the content you will put on the page. Have fun!

If you aimed a microscope at the number of different communities and cultures across the world, you would be faced with a seemingly never-ending list of differences. Cultural norms, languages, cuisines... The list goes on and on.

One thing that sticks around through them all is - storytelling.

Storytelling has a knack for being able to guide us, soothe us, teach us and bring joy to our lives. In each different part of the world, people native to that place will know specific tales and fables like the back of their hand. It happens all around the world, and it connects us. You may forget the details as you age, but you remember the feelings the stories evoked and the lessons you learned.

How the words lend themselves to the story makes us remember the most essential information. When you think this way about how impactful storytelling is, it makes sense that we employ those same tactics when writing copy. The story will engage the reader enough that they retain the knowledge you’re trying to impart.

This blog, written by Eli Landes, teaches how the two work together to make some bloody great copy.

When you’ve become the next great storyteller, you’ll want some grand design to put it into, right?

This is a great time to talk about Really Good Emails. No, not the kind that land in your inbox and you actually want to open.

Really Good Emails showcases over 10,000 handpicked email designs. They’re even segmented into categories for the different types of emails you need to send. This a great resource if you’re a writer whose design skills aren’t up to par just yet, or if you’re a designer who needs a bit of inspiration!

And since we’re on the topic of design...

Design principles - Merging psychology with marketing is what we do. Often, you will hear me speak about how understanding psychology will change how you navigate your customer relationships.

Understanding consumer behaviour lets you know what they will do next and how you respond. But now we know that you can have that understanding before you’ve even exchanged words. How? Design principles!

F-type eye movement - Through an understanding of the principles of design, we can conceptualise the idea that how your eyes move across a page makes a difference to how the reader will react next.

Various eye movements have been studied, but it seems that F-type eye movement is the most impactful. So much so that even Instagram structures its design to support this type of eye movement.

What is customer profiling?
The impact of social identity in marketing

Customer Profiling is an exercise that all businesses should carry out.

Put the time and effort into understanding your customers - those ideal people that your solutions were designed for - then take a targeted and personalised approach. Without this, your messaging will be meaningless, and you’ll likely lose out on acquiring their custom.

Have you ever wondered why you feel more aligned with some brands than others?

Three words: Social Identity Theory. It works in practice around us every day; lending itself to the decisions we make on pretty much everything. Who and what we with, how we engage and even influences many of the decisions we make.

Welcome Campaign kick starts the all-important nurture process. And, considering nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases that non-nurtured leads - it's a must have.

Not welcoming new subscribers creates as bad an impression, as if you choose not to say anything at all. Have you got a welcome campaign in place?

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little romp through the land of narrative and the design around it - and the resources! I’d love to know what you think; please do drop me a line and let me know how you’re doing 🙂 Especially if you’re going to be using some of these! Share away!

Also - if you’re a gaming nerd - let me know what you’re playing 😉

Now get designing - what is the trail of decisions you’re leading people through? What is your overarching narrative? What is the in-group you’re signalling for? And how are you going to pull it all together in a way that is appealing to your audience?

Yours in Ninjery,

Kenda