Is narrative dead?

Marketers are well aware their audiences wade through massive volumes of information on a daily basis. It’s why so many principles of information design focus on reaching “skimmers” and “scanners” versus in- depth readers.

So is there even a place for narrative prose in marketing copy anymore?


Surveys show long-form content online is shared more often — and gets higher Google results. There are times when people still want to read. The key is to know when those times are, and when other ways of presenting information might be more effective. A blog post is the right place for narrative, for instance, whereas a timeline showing key milestones in your organization’s history probably isn’t.

Here are some other quick guidelines:

Use narrative to…

  • Tell stories and engage people emotionally
  • Show understanding of the reader (i.e., create a sympathetic connection)
  • Reinforce your brand voice
  • Set context
  • Recap history
  • Analyze and explain data

Don’t use narrative to…

  • Describe processes or systems
  • Present or summarize data
  • List facts
  • Convey timelines, milestones, chronologies

Alternatives to narrative
For the items in the “don’t use” column, solid alternatives to narrative are bullet lists, tables, charts, graphs and infographics. People retain 55% more of the information they hear after three days if that information is accompanied by a meaningful visual. Smart, interpretive infographics that are conceived as content pieces in their own right (not just “accompanying images”) go a long way.

Vary it up
Variety holds people’s interest. The choice to use narrative or not may be less “either/or” and more “also/and”. Whether you’re developing content for online, print or a presentation, an ideal approach is often to mix things up: use narrative for intros and explanations and bulleted callouts, and infographics to deliver data at a glance. In most cases, keeping narrative blocks short and modular — five lines or less — is useful even in longer narratives because it helps readers pick out key ideas and navigate through the read.

If you’d like help planning your content to get the right narrative mix, drop us a line at [email protected].