Brand storytelling has become something of a marketing buzzword over the past few years, and it can be easy to dismiss it as a fad. The truth is, storytelling has huge cultural importance to us as humans.
No matter what culture we belong to, telling stories is how we share knowledge with one another; teaching lessons, warning of dangers, and passing on cultural history and values. It not only brings us together but also helps us ‘grow’ as a species.
Harnessing the immersive and influential power of storytelling in your content marketing strategy can reap huge rewards for your business. Here are a few tips on the benefits of telling stories and how to begin telling your own.
Advantages of Storytelling For Your Marketing
But why bother with storytelling at all? Why not just stick to standard copywriting techniques?
The answer is, storytelling is a very powerful communication tool when used effectively and appropriately. It goes beyond simply delivering information and teaches the reader in a more socially inclusive and emotionally-involved way.
Great stories make us feel like we’re a character within them – quite literally in fact, as the parts of your brain which control your sensory perception are activated by references to tastes, smells and other sensory stimuli featured within the narrative.
Stories can also affect the way readers think and feel about particular issues, changing their subsequent behaviour. Since we feel like we’re part of the story, we’re more empathetic to the plight of the characters and the issues they face, and we’re more likely to be influenced by the morals presented.
So, how does this play into content marketing?
It’s a great way to introduce your brand. Stories allow you to explain who you are and what you do in a more interesting and straightforward format, connecting with your potential customers on a more personal, human level.
A well-crafted story will speak directly to the audience you’re trying to attract and help them feel like they know you already. You’ll be inspiring customer loyalty and breaking the ice for future customer-brand interactions, both of which will help to boost your brand awareness via word-of-mouth.
It gets customers engaged. We’ve already talked about how readers’ sensory faculties genuinely sync up with the story to make them feel like they’re experiencing it first hand, but storytelling also keeps them engaged in your message with the simple trick of suspense.
Put simply, your audience will want to know what happened next. If you can hook readers in with a great opening, they’re more likely to stay for the rest of the tale to find out how it concludes, allowing them to get swept up in the events of the narrative.
It makes your brand stick in the mind. Great stories create lasting memories for the reader – not only in the vivid sensory imagery they use, but more importantly in the emotional impact they have on the reader.
Stories can inspire happiness and laughter, sadness, anger and everything in between. People might forget simple, standalone facts, but – to paraphrase the famous quote by Maya Angelou – they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Every time they see your logo, or find themselves in similar circumstances to your characters, they’ll think about your story and your message.
It persuades customers to take the action you want. Storytelling can be a very effective tool for converting people into paying customers. Not only does it let you present new ideas, concepts and opinions in a more engaging way, but since your readers put themselves in the shoes of your protagonist, they’re more likely to align with their values and the moral and/or message expressed within the narrative..
Moreover, if your product or service helps the characters resolve the conflict in the story, they’ll be more inclined to buy into it themselves to solve their own problems.
Getting Started with Storytelling
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, part of the reason why storytelling has fallen out of favour is the way in which some marketers are applying it; putting out simple and formulaic narratives which simply fail to engage readers. Here are a few tips on how to create successful stories.
Learn the essential structural elements of narrative. Before you can create stories of your own, you need to familiarise yourself with their essential elements.
At the very least, your story needs a beginning (where the characters and their situation are established), a middle (where the conflict drives the characters into action) and an ending (where the conflict is resolved, and your characters live happily ever after).
It also needs characters; at the very least a protagonist (hero) which your audience will want to root for, and an antagonist (villain) which they’ll want to see defeated at the end.
Keep in mind, your characters don’t have to be individual humans. They might be groups, organisations, animals, personifications, or even concepts. Think about Monty the Penguin, the John Lewis advert from 2014 – it stars a boy and his penguin friend as the protagonists, and the penguin’s loneliness and longing for a mate as the ‘antagonist’ (as well as the central conflict of the narrative).
Whoever your characters are, they need to be relatable for the audience you’re targeting. If the audience can’t empathise with your characters or the situation they’re in, they’re not going to engage with your narrative.
Identify the story of your brand. You might think you have no interesting stories to tell, but they’re all there within your brand. The products or services you offer, the values of your company, the challenges you’ve faced, the successes you’ve had, and even the stories your customers are telling (i.e. on social media) all make up the complete ‘story’ of your brand.
If you’re still not convinced, consider the tale of McVities vs the taxman. In the UK, VAT is charged on chocolate-covered biscuits, while chocolate-covered cakes are zero-rated. In 1991, HMRC tried to argue that Jaffa Cakes were biscuits and should incur VAT as a result, but McVities appealed against this decision and insisted they should be classified as cakes.
Their reasoning included the fact that Jaffa Cakes were made primarily of sponge – hence they had a soft texture like cakes and went hard when stale (unlike biscuits which go soft). If rumor is to be believed, McVities even baked a giant Jaffa Cake to help convince the tribunal that regular Jaffa Cakes were just small cakes. Ultimately, McVities won the case and the product remained a zero-rated product.
In other words, this simple and relatively dry legal issue spawned a genuinely interesting narrative. It has a ‘hero’ (McVities), perceived to be fighting for good causes (the affordability to customers of their popular orangey treat) and defeating a villain (the HMRC) with perceived bad motivations (greed and pettiness). On top of that, it has the added gustatory imagery of a giant tasty chocolate and orange cake!
Remember, your story is for your customer, not for you. Don’t forget, your content marketing is there to serve the needs of your readers. Don’t get swept up in writing a grand, metaphor-laden epic of your company history – customers will only be persuaded to buy from you if your story is relevant to them, and explains what’s in it for them if they buy from you.
You should also ensure your story is easy to follow, so the reader will want to stick with it and won’t struggle to keep up. Plenty of fascinating tales have been told with non-linear narrative structures – where the events are told ‘out of order’ in time – but they require more work to decode on the part of the reader, and if you’re trying to convert your readers into customers, you can’t afford to make them work for your message.
Only use storytelling where appropriate. Stories are powerful tools in the right context, but there are places where they’ll do more harm than good. From your story’s opening line, you’re asking the reader to invest their time, attention and imagination in your tale – but what if they just want the information instead?
For example, people aren’t visiting your site’s product pages to seek out an engaging fable or anecdote – they just want to know what the product is and why they should buy it. If they have to pick apart a narrative to find the information they need, they’re going to get frustrated and leave your site in favour of a competitor’s offering.