5 Storytelling Techniques I Learned From Hip-hop


5 Storytelling Techniques I Learned From Hip-hop

I started listening to Hip-hop at the illegal age of 13. Naturally, I was such a bad ass that I didn’t tell my mum. Knowing if I did, it would be RIP to my Walkman.

But once the novelty of disobedience wore off, I realised that my new-found taste in music was more than an adolescent wobble. In fact, it was a love that existed for as long as I could recall. As a kid who grew up in the pre-digital era, books were a major part of how I connected with the world around me. I was fortunate enough to grow up with two English teachers as grandparents, and a mum that would rather take me to the library than stick me in front of the TV. From Huckleberry Finn, Peter Rabbit right through to the diaries of Adrian mole, my childhood was filled with stories.

So, when I started listening to Hip-hop, I felt like I’d discovered audiobooks before Amazon was even a thing. Just like any good book, I couldn’t put it down. Luckily, I still can’t.

Don’t drop the album before the mixtape.

Storytelling is in my DNA, and if you want your brand to thrive, it should run through yours too. It’s no longer enough to simply offer your products and services and hope for the best. People need to feel they can trust brands before they part with their hard-earned money.

Hip-hop entrepreneurs understand this better than most. Typically dropping free mixtapes with their music before asking people to pay for their work. Thus, giving their audience a chance to connect with their story. Meaning when it’s album time, they have a solid community of brand ambassadors ready to jump on board.

For Small Businesses, online brand engagement can be hard to come by. With Facebook alone populating our newsfeeds with between 200 to 1 500 posts every day, and Amazon getting ready to set up shop here next year.

So in order to cut through the content soup, your brand needs to be memorable. The most effective way to do so, is through brand storytelling. To quote the late great Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Here are 5 storytelling techniques from Hip-hop that can be applied to improve business competency, emotional engagement and business performance:

1. The beautiful struggle.

Hip Hop was born in New York during the late 1970s. It came alive at a time when society was divided along the lines of race. African-Americans and Puerto Rican’s were amongst the minorities searching for a creative and emotional outlet to express how they felt about being marginalised. Since then, Hip-hop has grown to become a global cultural movement that’s united people from all walks of life.

Indeed, Hip-hop’s ability to tell universal stories that connect with people on an emotional level is why it’s now a multibillion-dollar industry. Michael Phelps, winner of 28 Olympic medals said Hip-hop had inspired him to get in the zone before a race and stay focused on his goals.

Expressing what motivates you every day is a key component to brand storytelling. This means expressing the hurdles you’ve jumped and hills you’ve climbed, to get to where you’re at now. Being vulnerable about your ups and downs shows you’re authentic and will help people feel connected to your brand.

2. Adopt a tone and pace that reflects your journey.

The most successful rappers control the tempo of their delivery, to create suspense and intrigue with their audience. Confident tones and inflections are especially effective for video storytelling.

By 2019, it’s projected that more than 80% of all web traffic will be video-based. So, there’s never been a better time to begin a video storytelling campaign. You can even ‘add’ to the overall vibe by creating some background music too. Note the emphasis on ‘add’; stay away from generic jingles that don’t add value to your brand aesthetic. Keep it real peeps!

3. Use language that’s natural to your audience.

Hip-hop artists have always used slang; some have even made up words or acronyms like YOLO. No, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; but don’t be afraid to polarise. Because that’s the space where brand loyalty is won.

Focus on talking straight to your audience. Not everything is for everyone. It’s ok to crack a few jokes, share a few faux pas. Because your tribe are more likely to feel an emotional attachment to you if you focus on developing a niche style of communication, that makes them feel like you’re just speaking to them.

4. Be human.

Hip-hop artists put their ‘heartbeat’ in their pen. They often paint pictures based on what they’ve observed, experienced and most importantly, overcome. More often than not, that means revisiting painful and traumatic events so the listener can grasp their vulnerable side and attach to their raw emotions. By taking the listener on a personal journey through their lyrics, the most successful rappers are able to create intimate moments with their audience.

Personalised content is a key driver of business growth and success, especially in the digital world. In fact, a study by PwC and Forbes, showed that customer engagement increases when businesses market personalised content through mobile apps, email and blogs.

5. Keep a surprise up your sleeve.

Nobody’s got time for a predictable storyline. One of the parts of Hip-hop storytelling I love the most is the tricks that rappers keep up their sleeve designed to intrigue, confuse and even shock the audience. This takes skill to master, but the ones that pull it off have songs that transcend trending topics and stand the test of time.

Don’t be afraid to tell a story that challenges your audience’s expectations. After all, life isn’t a straight line. By being original in your approach to storytelling, you’re more likely to gain the respect and loyalty of your audience plus you’ll stand out from the crowd. Also, people are more likely to share stories like this with friends on social media because they become discussion points.

In 1911, advertising editor Tess Flanders said, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Sixty years later and Hip-hop did what it does best, and showed it’s ok to do the opposite. It’s time to step out of the shadows and share your story with the world.

Now over to you, what’s your story and where do you pull inspiration from when you write?

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