It all started around the campfire, from one caveman to another. Our ancestors told stories about powerful beasts, far-distant lands, gods, and other fascinating and important things. They told stories to entertain, but also to educate. It’s human nature to want to tell stories and to be captivated by them. And you can leverage this inherent human characteristic in your marketing plan.
What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is basically communicating something to your audience through narrative. It enables you to develop a deeper connection with the audience. It unites people and creates deeper connections between them. Think of the power of movies, books, or music. They all have a story to tell – and they’re universal. Some stories are based on facts, and others are improvised to better explain the core message.
A well-crafted story speaks to an audience no matter the language barrier. As humans, we love hearing or seeing a good story. It immerses us into the narrative and fulfills our need to escape from a sometimes harsh reality. Stories also stimulate our passions, emotions, and imagination, that’s why it’s so powerful when used in marketing. Some stories are based on facts, and others are improvised to better explain the core message.
Storytelling in Marketing
Big and small companies alike use storytelling all the time to promote their products. Stories are more efficient at promotion than just stating dry facts because they provide context to situations or problems that people can relate to and connect with. Storytelling in Marketing is simply telling a story in such a way to highlight a product to consumers. Here’s a great example from Google:
Stories or narratives cross all forms of marketing. They can be used in offline marketing materials, emails, newsletters, websites, landing pages, SMS and of course social networks. Social media is essentially a place where people and companies tell stories – short glimpses of their life, lifestyle or products.
Influencers, bloggers, and various companies have made storytelling a part of everyday life. Their ability to connect with the public has raised storytelling to a whole new level and its potential to influence people can be greater than a traditional “buy my product” message.
Here’s a summary of the benefits of storytelling in marketing campaigns:
- Makes abstract concepts and complex messages easier to understand
- Gives the most diverse people, despite their differences, a sense of unity
- Inspires and motivates people to take action by tapping into their emotions
- Humanizes and gives an identity to your brand or product
- Builds stronger connections with customers
- Helps customers to better identify your brand
- Can be applied to different digital marketing media (emails, blogs, videos, etc.)
The Components of a Good Story
While there’s a lot you can do with a story, all great storytelling experiences have a few criteria in common. Well-crafted stories:
- Entertain – readers are glued to their screen and eagerly await the next turn of events.
- Educates – readers are given high-quality information through a storytelling framework
- Are memorable – good stories – and their intent – whether they’re funny, dramatic, etc., stick in the reader’s mind
- Are universal – the human experiences in stories transcend race, religion, and geography
In more concrete terms, good stories always have a character, a conflict, and a resolution. The character in the story is the link between your brand/product and the reader. The conflict is the challenge that you want you as the storyteller want to resolve for your audience. And of course, the resolution is the conclusion of the story, which ideally stimulates the reader to take some form of action (a call-to-action).
The Storytelling Process
1. Define your audience. For your story to be most effective, you have to know to whom you’re telling it. Who wants to hear your story and is more likely to gain the most from it? To that end, create customer personas (if you haven’t already, as these are important in all forms of marketing, not just storytelling) and adjust your message and story format from there. For example, are you targeting mainly younger people, more middle-aged clients, or older folks? Knowing your audience will help you write a story that really resonates.
2. Establish your core message. In order to tell a great story, it should have a core message or an overarching plot, let’s say. The message should be as simple as possible before going forward with the story. Do you tell a story to sell a product or to advocate for an issue? Is it for raising funds? To help you create a foundation for your story, summarize your core message into a medium length, easily digestible sentence.
3. Choose a storytelling formula. Traditionally, there are seven types of stories. These plot types can provide a blueprint for figuring out what your story could be like:
1. Overcoming the Monster – the classic underdog story (Rocky franchise).
2. Rebirth – a story of renewal (It’s a Wonderful Life)
3. Quest – a mission from point A to point B (The Lord of the Rings)
4. Journey and Return – a story about transformation through travel and homecoming (The Wizard of Oz)
5. Rags to Riches – a simple person’s rise to prominence/fame (Cinderella)
6. Tragedy – stories of the dark side of humanity (Shakespeare)
7. Comedy – the opposite of tragedy (Old Spice ads)
4. Choose a story format. In the digital world, stories come in many sizes and different formats. Whether it’s a written text, verbal presentation, audio story, or video – choose a format based on your resources and type of story you want to tell.
- A written story is the most affordable of all as it’s mostly text with a few images in the form of articles, blog posts, books etc.
- A story through spoken word can be a live presentation, pitch, or panel, such as a TED talk. These require public speaking skills to properly convey a message.
- A recorded audio story is an audio recording of someone who’s speaking. Podcasts are great examples – and they’re wildly popular!
- A digital story can take the form of a video, animation, and even games. Due to their visual nature, they typically have a bigger impact on the audience, but are also more expensive to create.
Now that you know the basics of storytelling in marketing, it’s time to start crafting your story. With your target audience defined, core message in mind, and call-to-action put in place, writing your piece is now just choosing a format and adding a creative flair to your narrative.
So, what’s your story?