Proverbs, according to storytelling expert Ron Ploof, are "the ultimate long-stories short."
They're universal, easy to remember, and effective at communicating complex concepts in just a few words. Every time period, culture, and language has proverbs.
Ron spent three years heading up social media storytelling at Epson before going out on his own to help brands create more effective marketing through storytelling. He's the creator of the "StoryHow PitchDeck"—a "story coach in your pocket"—and conducts storytelling workshops for brands. Ron's also the host of "Griddlecakes Radio," an indie storytelling podcast.
His latest book, The Proverb Effect: Secrets to Creating Tiny Phrases That Change the World, provides a process marketers can use to create proverbs that convey "deep meaning" in a fast, memorable way. I invited Ron to Marketing Smarts to talk about the book and how marketers can use proverbs to communicate more effectively.
We discuss slogans and the use of metaphor; we also examine why proverbs are so powerful (and how to harness that power for marketing), and more!
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
Proverbs are so easy to understand, they're almost magical (03:00): "There's lots of ways to talk about stories and to break them down. The way I attack the storytelling problem is that I'm a lot less interested in the big archetype stories, which I think is not accessible to a lot of people. I like to teach little, tiny techniques. That's where the idea for the StoryHow Pitch Deck came from: I broke 'story' up into 'a story is the result of people pursuing what they want,' and using little techniques that storytellers use to make you want to learn something more, or listen, or to stay with the story. Little things storytellers use.
"As I was trying to figure out how to break story down into smaller pieces, I started getting interested in proverbs, little tiny sayings like 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' There's some sort of magic in them. People just get it, they understand it."
Proverbs provide a valuable shortcut for presenting information in a memorable way (05:14): "You have an idea that you want to convey to someone, let's say you're doing a presentation. How can you structure that presentation so that it's memorable, persuasive, and repeatable? If you understand how proverbs are made, you can get all three of those things.
"Just taking the structure of your talk, if you actually devised a proverb that contained your big idea, you opened with that proverb, then you used the middle of your presentation to talk about some examples or some evidence that backs your premise up. Then you use that same proverb as a conclusion at the end of you're talk. You've now given someone the ability to sock it away in their brain and bring it up when it is appropriate."
Proverbs focus entirely on the reader at the present time (and so should your marketing) (09:05): "When I [analyzed] these 1,500 proverbs, I found out that there's a very specific way pronouns are used. They use the word 'you' quite a bit, so second-person, and present tense. These proverbs are about you, now. That's one of the biggest secrets to coming up with messaging that will resonate with people. You're giving them something they can internalize immediately; it's a benefit to them, and it's not about the future or the past. They can use it now.
Proverbs are universal, so you can use proverbs for marketing in any country (just make sure you know the culture) (16:38): "Independent of language or culture or education, it didn't matter. There's something about the way that you use these words that resonates with other people. My friend from Ghana sent me a book with 7,000 Ghanaian proverbs in it, written in Twi and translated into English.
"As I was going through these proverbs, I realized that they use the exact same things. They're about you, they're about now. It will get a little bit different when there are cultural references that you may not understand because you don't live there. But how they're constructed, they're the exact same."
To learn more, pick up a copy of The Proverb Effect: Secrets to Creating Tiny Phrases That Change the World, or visit StoryHow.com and be sure to follow Ron on Twitter @RonPloof.
Ron and I talked about so much more, including function words, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Ron Ploof, story consultant for brands, creator of the StoryHow Pitch Deck, and host of storytelling podcast Griddlecakes Radio. Ron wrote the book The Proverb Effect: Secrets to Creating Tiny Phrases That Change the World. For more information, visit StoryHow.com, and follow him on Twitter.