I get an unsettled feeling inside when I think about diving – particularly going headfirst into any body of water. It’s just not my thing. But when I visited a theme park recently with my daughter, a daring high-diver made an indelible impression on me. It dawned on me that most content efforts seem to go one of three ways – they either 1) fall flat, 2) take a nose dive, or 3) make a great splash. The splash happens when great writing meets compelling storytelling – a skill that requires a careful balance between telling the story and promoting the brand.

The Diver’s Story

At the theme park, the intense heat caused tiny beads of sweat to run down the diver’s face as he began to climb a 70-foot steel ladder. With only 10 feet left to climb, he looks down and notices an enthralled crowd of spectators. Then suddenly, a strong breeze prompts him to clutch the ladder tightly as he appears to lose his balance. He regains his composure and confidently works his way up.

As he reaches the very edge of the diving board, he turns around with his toes balancing on the edge and performs a backward dive tuck with amazing precision. While his body drops down head first for a distance comparable to a seven-story building, the crowd watches with unbelief until he finally plunges into a shallow nine-foot-deep circle of water.

Whew… Sure, it sounds risky. But to this high-diver, it was hardly a challenge. What I didn’t tell you was that the ladder clutch and seeming loss of balance was just an act to get the audience’s attention. And even though he’s performed thousands of these dives successfully over the years, every time he does it, he keeps the crowd’s attention and builds excitement.

What if we took the same approach with our content?

Imagine if we all committed in our hearts to be storytellers rather than just brand marketers? The two can coexist. The diver essentially created a story by building a sense of urgency and anticipation into his diving routine. Without the story, it’s just another dive. And with so much content floating around, brands need to capture that sense of excitement to stand out.

Content should inspire! Content should inform! Content should build conversations!

But it requires skillful execution. One slip up and the diver could have fallen flat on his back. It’s like a journalist who attempts to tell a great story, while the audience remains uninspired. It’s not necessarily that the story was bad – it was just executed the wrong way. And when your brand performs a fatal nose dive wreaking all kinds of havoc, chances are, both the story and execution were inadequate.

In Peter Guber’s book, Tell to Win, he discusses how storytelling will always be about the ooh’s and aah’s, not the 0’s and 1’s. “Regardless of the delivery mechanism or the form, the DNA of successful narrative bonds information to emotion making it resonant, memorable and actionable,” noted Gruber.

According to Gruber, stories have always been igniters of action, moving people to do things. But only recently has it become clear that purposeful stories – those created with a specific mission in mind – are absolutely essential in persuading others to support a vision, dream or cause.

So, what’s your story?