Since before the Egyptians were writing stories on stone, people have been telling stories since we could draw on cave walls. Bedtime stories, grand odysseys, tall tales, epic adventures, tragedies, romances, comedies – these are how we understand one another, how we bond with each other.
Brand storytelling isn’t a new concept, as Joe Pulizzi wrote back in 2012. Brands of all sizes realize the need to entertain their customers and prospects via the age-old method of storytelling. And just as Pulizzi wrote back in 2012, “you don’t have to be in the Wall Street Journal anymore to have your customers accept and engage with your content.”
Selling isn’t just about the cool things your product can do, and buying isn’t a logical process. Stories bridge the gaps between features and benefits and the deep emotional reasons people buy. Stories build connections between you and your prospects – emotional connections that keep them coming back to you.
Consider your favorite blogs and the most memorable commercials. They used the art of storytelling to bypass your logical mind and put their message straight in your heart. Whether you laughed, cried, hated the product, or rushed out to buy it, the stories stuck in your mind and kept you coming back for more.
Companies like Harry’s have found ways to tell their story in a way that makes just about anyone crack a smile (except “big razor” as they call them).
And I can’t count the number of Publix commercials that have brought a small tingle to even my eye, like this one.
The point is, stories are how smart marketers win their customers’ hearts. And winning brands have mastered the art of storytelling.
Why should you be telling a story as a part of your overall marketing strategy?
Convey Your Personality
Storytelling is the perfect platform to let your brand’s personality shine through. Not by selling of course, but via the stories you tell be they created by the brand itself, via user-generated or a combination of both. Never be afraid to let the personality of your brand come through loud and clear via storytelling.
Just remember it is your brand’s personality you’re sharing, not some individual’s; not some marketing team’s and so on. Your customers want to see and experience your brand’s personality.
Bring Your Brand In Front As The Lead
In the 1920’s, John Deere used The Furrow magazine not to sell their equipment, but to educate farmers on the latest technologies. Storytelling can be something metaphoric, yet simple, like a journey, to something more in-depth, with use of roles and a plot for the more adventurous. Portraying your brand as the protagonist in either case is essential.”
Doing this, will ensure the brand is intrinsically linked to the story’s message. This can range from ensuring your brand is known as one that will deliver quality results, to perhaps setting the brand above its rivals, be it as a champion, a maverick, or both. In either case, the brand needs to stand out, which sounds simple, but can easily be forgotten, especially in an overcomplicated story.
Tug The Emotional String
Storytelling in of itself is perhaps the best way to hit that emotional chord with your customers. Tell stories that are real or at the very least based on real stories and tell them in a way that evokes feelings and emotions and so on. Do not under any circumstances try and hit that emotional level just for the sake of hitting it for consumers will see right through you.
Keep ‘Em Thirsty For More
As Adam Weinroth wrote in One Spot, “Everything begins with a compelling story—one your target audience can’t possibly resist. Out of this central narrative stems a network of intertwined efforts, each distinct piece playing an important role in the larger story.”
Just consider the fact that Americans alone consumer over 100,000 digital words every single day but 92% say they want brands to tell stories amongst all those words. So don’t just throw one stat after another at consumers: Tell them a story!
So how do you use the art of storytelling to win your customers’ hearts?
First, you need to define your audience. Although the daily lives of your audience will differ throughout countries and cities, pinpointing a few parameters for the people you’d like to connect with will create the foundation of your content strategy. To ensure your story is both compelling to prospective customers and strategic to brand growth, identify the types of people experiencing the problem your brand solves.
For example, if you are a car company, you will interact with first-time customers as well as people who have made such a purchase before. Each group will have different questions. By identifying the different audiences and understanding the kind of support they need throughout the discovery and buying processes, you can create storytelling strategies aimed at gaining the trust of each.
Second, you have to know what makes a good story.
So what makes good storytelling?
Good stories – the ones you remember because they captivated you – use all the right elements in the right proportions. The right combination
- captures your attention
- keeps you interested
- draws you in
- resonates with you
- builds a bond between you and the storyteller
The Elements of Every Good Story
Something happens. Either the character does something, or something happens to the character in the story. All good stories have some sort of conflict. Even when the conflict is emotional or logical, action will stem from it depending on how the characters of the story choose to act.
Where there’s conflict, readers naturally want some sort of resolution. A nice tidy ending feels good, but it’s not always necessary to a good story, or to fulfilling the purpose behind the story. In fact, sometimes leaving your audience hanging a little bit is a good thing. It keeps them interested and coming back for more, something TV show writers and novelists understand and take advantage of.
Some personality is involved in the action.
Human, animal, protagonist, bad guy – every story revolves around at least one character. Most memorable stories stick in our minds because of the characters involved. Some we love and want to succeed, while others we love to hate.
Strong characters are crucial to content marketers’ storytelling because they are the connection between storyteller and audience. The more your audience can relate to the character, the more they see themselves in that person’s shoes.
If that person is a satisfied customer, prospects begin to think you could help them, too.
If the person in the story is you, readers get to know, like, and trust you. And they won’t easily forget who you are, either, just like you haven’t yet forgotten who Andy and Jeff from Harry’s are.
In this point of view, the character is yourself (“I said”). A great example is nearly every Neil Patel blog article, such as “I Lost 31% of My Search Traffic but My Sales Went up by 73%.” This headline presents the story as a personal triumph to overcome objections and spark desire for the product.
The character in this point of view is your audience (“You say”). Second-person stories often use words like “imagine” to get the reader thinking the way you want them to. A perfect recent example is this story from byRegina on starting her blog.
While action drives the story and characters build connections, emotion gives the story power. People buy for deep, un-logical, emotional reasons. The more powerful your story’s emotion is, the more likely your prospects and customers are to do something. When a story resonates with us, we naturally want to do something about it, such as retell the story to others or buy the author’s next book. Pack your stories with emotion, and your customers will do something about what they feel, too – like comment, share, subscribe, open, click, or buy.
Feelings of the character:
Emotionless characters are usually boring. And if the character has no emotional response to what’s happening in the story, why should your audience care enough to feel anything? This doesn’t mean you have to explicitly state what the character feels, but it should be obvious by what the character does and how he speaks that he feels something. In Caples’ music course ad, the character feels pride at his accomplishment; in the story about kicking down creativity’s door, the character is determined.
Practical Tips to Use Storytelling to Win Customers Over
Stories are generally easier to use in long-form content, such as videos, blog posts, ebooks, case studies, white papers, or brochures – but tight, concise stories can be effective in short formats, too. Either way, the trick to making your storytelling work is to choose the right story, and make it as powerful as possible.
How to Choose the Right Story
Pick a story that fits the length of your format. If you have a small ad or short video, the best story to use may have a small conflict or only a little action.
Choose a story with a character that appeals to your audience. Readers that connect with the protagonist are more likely to believe you understand them and can actually help them.
Make sure the action/conflict of the story fits your customers’ problems, needs, or stage of the buying cycle. This reinforces the idea that you can help your audience, and shows the use and benefits of your offer.
How to Make Your Storytelling As Powerful As Possible
1. Use specific details
If that story about the patient’s timely visit only said how he was able to avoid a major (but unspecified) problem, it would be bland, boring, forgetful. It would make no impact at all. On the other hand, if the dentist talked about specific things like deep cavities, abscesses, root canals, the cost of one check-up versus the cost of surgery and multiple follow-up visits – the story suddenly becomes much more interesting and powerful.
2. Make it personal
People respond better to personalized content because it helps them get to know, like, and trust you. When telling stories from the second-person (“you”) and third-person (“he”) point of view, make them more personal by making sure you really understand your audience’s struggles and frustrations, and telling the story in a way that shows you empathize and relate with them.
3. Keep it sharp, clear, and concise.
Even long stories benefit when you pare them down to the most important points. This keeps you from wandering off on a tangent, the action of the story moving along at a good pace (which maintains your audience’s interest), and it keeps the story in line with the purpose for sharing it in the first place.
Stories can be employed in nearly every marketing or promotional material you create, because they add interest and build an emotional bond with your audience – both necessary to win their attention and eventually their purchasing power. Here are some ideas of where you can use stories to build relationships with your prospects and earn their loyalty.
Of all these options, blogs are perhaps the most naturally suited to storytelling. They’re designed to keep visitors coming back for more as you publish fresh content. Stories increase engagement and spark deeper interest, making visitors want to come back for more than just helpful how-to’s.
A prospect’s e-mail inbox is still the most personal way for you to reach them. Personalized e-mails full of interesting stories and valuable content teach your subscribers to open your e-mails and click through, while helping them get to know you. Plus, e-mails with stories don’t feel like mass messages (even though most subscribers know they are).
Visual content takes storytelling to the next level by allowing you to add elements like setting and sound. Videos can also feel a lot more personal if you appear in or narrate the video.
Like videos, podcasts are more personal and allow you to add the extra storytelling element of sound. Because listeners only have your voice–no words to read or images to watch – using stories is even more important to keep their interest, teach concepts (especially abstract ones), and be memorable.
Case Studies & Success Stories
As marketing collateral, it’s easy for these to be bland and boring. Emphasizing the story behind the success – not just how someone used your product or service, but who and why – turns a case study into something your audience actually wants to read. It puts your offer in the best light possible and helps prospects relate to an existing customer. That gets them thinking, “If they can help that guy, they can probably help me.”
You have to introduce the interviewee to your audience anyway, so why not use a story to help them get to know this new person and understand why you’re interviewing him? A story about an entrepreneur’s rise to fortune is so much more captivating than simply saying your guest has founded so many businesses and earns so much per year.
When it comes to building audiences and turning prospects into customers, brand storytelling works—if it’s done right. A good story elicits emotion, makes people feel understood, and inspires them to live differently.