What if there were a blueprint for telling irresistible stories, for making almost everything you write have an impact in the hearts and minds of your readers? Look no further than Downton Abbey for that blueprint. What can a once-obscure period television drama teach us about effective writing, content marketing, and engagement online? The British television mini-series is a true phenomenon, captivating millions of ravenous viewers around the world.
Something So Irresistible
How did Downton Abbey — a British period drama about the lives of lords, ladies, housemaids, footmen, and valets — become the darling of so many hearts and minds so quickly? The storytelling is obsessively enchanting. All good stories start with great characters. In Downton Abbey , there are more than 25 of them. The dowager countess, played by a scene-stealing Maggie Smith, even has a Facebook page. The adoring Downton fan base is in love with these characters for precisely the same reasons why readers come to love literary fiction characters, non-fiction writers, bloggers, and thought leaders.
Downton actress Siobhan Finneran Ms. They have hopes and dreams that fade to ash, but they continue to fight. Just like us. Ultimately, the good characters — those that are identifiable, memorable and special to us — are real to us in powerful ways. And we like or dislike them enough to follow their journeys to the end. You are a primary character.
Your reader or customer is another. Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey has no sons, so the heir to his title and considerable estate is his cousin James. Naturally, other high stakes drama erupts around them: scandals, deaths. And the outbreak of World World I, a global fight of good versus evil, altering the social fabric and flow of life forever.
High stakes are what make readers pay attention.
You might be writing a landing page with vivid benefits and features. You might be writing compelling content that pulls readers closer to you. You might be writing compelling fiction such as Downton. They need to allow themselves to become emotionally involved with the story and characters. This balance between high drama and realism is key, and Downton handles it beautifully. The characters are fictitious, but the high stakes are historically accurate.
Writer Julian Fellowes even admitted that the sordid scandal from the first season was borrowed from a true historical coverup from the period.
The Downton Abbey Guide to Irresistible Narrative Marketing
Each episode ends on a cliffhanger. Social tensions are rife all throughout the British aristocratic way of life — and those tensions change and evolve in wake of WWI. And the witty dialogue delivers smart social politicking. Smart writers do this in their copy and narratives. They set characters, benefits, events, and arguments into a specific context and allow those elements to drive the storytelling.
This makes for genuine tensions and high anticipation, with little effort. Are you writing an important sales letter? What truism can you seat beside one of your benefits to bolster its resonance? Drafting a gripping article headline? What opposing elements can you pair to create a compelling contrast? Writing a romantic scene? What conflicting social norm can you inject to make the budding romance more tantalizing?
Irresistibility lies at the intersections of these elements. Automatic drama is at its finest when the elements are in intimate proximity and of opposing qualities. This remains one of the most drastic periods of social change in history, marked largely by World War I. It was, thanks to WWI, a time of violent conflict, great uncertainty, and everyday anxieties. The realities of the time led the world to the edge of change from which there was no turning back. This is what we experience with Downton Abbey : lives at the cusp of new beginnings; urges to be more and do more; discoveries of what happens when you must go forward into a different world.
This is the atmosphere that every good drama needs. Skilled copywriters create similar atmospheres in their own writing. Or, their private newsletter reveals their personal struggles with change and the successful strategies they used to overcome them. And while individual results will vary, these new offerings present a strong case for a better future through the embrace of change.
This realism is a powerful force because stories that entertain and convey truth compel readers to take action. The conflicts and outcomes of those stories are what drive the narrative of Downton. Special thanks to PBS for their treasure-trove of behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and producers. Matt Gartland is the founder of Winning Edits , an editorial agency helping indie authors win reader hearts and minds.
Good job Matthew! Thanks Glen! Coming from you, that means a lot. All the best! I still encourage watching the series. Yes, addictive too, but exceedingly worth it. Thanks for the kinds; glad you found them useful. Great stuff. Thanks Dave! Excellent perspective. I am a devoted fan of Downton, it is best show I can remember in very long time. One of the most compelling aspects of the show is restrain and subtlety. Everything is incredibly nuanced into a look, expression, quirk of an eyebrow or a slightly pithy remark. Great points Diane.
The Joys Of Binge Reading - Jennifer Kincheloe's Irresistible Anna Blanc
The subtlety is indeed amazing; it really adds depth and intrigue to the storytelling. The copy writing done for this article is as enchanting as the Downtown Abbey it describes. I have not been able to catch a glimpse of it too. But you have generated enough interest in me now to go and watch it as soon as I get the opportunity. Excellent post. The art of storytelling is a hard one to get right I find and people get confused how it ties into marketing.
So thanks, it helps a lot. So true. For me it was compulsive viewing ever Sunday, especially the Christmas Special. When I put myself in the shoes of the person asking the question … and this is something that I really want to get across. So, that is a reliable statistic that there is a failure of small businesses in Australia. It is not about you. How are you going to stand out amongst all the other seagulls going for that chip?
How do you get through that noise? How do you cut through the noise? How do you cut through the noise of other people pouncing and pushing their agenda?
The way that you do that is you need to appear to that person as different to everybody else. In order to do that, you have to understand the other people. So but if your offer is … If you have something to offer someone that you … if you really believe in your services and what you offer, and how you can help a business owner, then you have the responsibility to actually be able to get that message across.
I really want you to remember this. So what I want you to now realize is that when someone asks a question in a Facebook group, they may not know what question to ask. So what we do, is we read this posts, it says I need a software program. Also is that person asking the question that they need to know the answer to. So I need to actually find out the information about his business. So what I did, was I said to him what industry are you in?
How many items do you have in your catalogue? Do you already have photos and descriptions about those items, and what current software are you using for quotations? What current method are you using for invoicing? And I also asked him what kind of method do you use to take payments for your clients. So I thought by asking him a whole series of questions about the little information that he gave that I would be able to help him to work out what he really wanted to ask.
But I had a little bit of a look at his Facebook profile and I saw that he was in the hospitality industry selling furniture. So, what I actually did was I get actually gauged the type of business owner that he was. Is this person going to be worth your time? Secondly, I want to work at, is it worth my time? Then what I did was, so then I said … After saying hello, I need to ask you a couple questions. So, what do you think happened? He was looking for quotation software and preferably quotation software that interacts with his existing invoicing software. So, going back to what we talked about at the start, what I did there was I asked his permission.
So, what I did there on the post was ask his permission. Like, what are they going to go off? There are some steps back, steps forward, steps to the side — all packaged together in one coherent experience, with lots of zig-zagging and subtle steps inside those boundaries. If the guest starts to meander too far to the left, your job is to gently and sometimes not-so-gently coax them right.
If they begin to stumble, help them get back on their feet. There are dozens of tactics you could deploy to achieve any number of these things. The dance continues.
Steve Jobs explained the why before the how.
They feel comfortable enough to take my hand, clasp my shoulder, and begin to step. I believe Mike Tyson said that about boxing, and at the risk of mixing metaphors boxing is kinda like dancing, no? On our best days, we like to write down a clever list built on research and cling to them like religion.
On our worst days, we trot out the same old questions as every other episode. We need to be ready to ditch our plan the moment something surprising, interesting, or just plain better crops up. Likewise, we need to master the art of follow-ups for those moments where our interview subject begins to meander or sound like a PR soundbite machine. You could ask an infinite number of follow-up questions, of course. Two of these are follow-ups. Both are crucial. Give them the chance to tell the story, or reflect on it, which enables you to then focus all your follow-up questions on more logical questions you authentically think of in the moment, in order to fill in the story.
Sometimes, as with many executives or business people, they launch into the atmosphere, giving you a 30,foot view or a generality to try and sound smart, or to avoid exposing the brand to any potential vulnerabilities publicly. But those answers are so. Regardless, simply asking for an example can yield magical answers.
Even still, some guests escape this question without saying anything of value. They give confusing answers that sound promising to start but lack the final oomph of a great story, or else they once again respond with a generality.