January 4, 2016
Did you know 92 percent of consumers want brands to make their ads feel more like stories?
Storytelling activates portions of the brain responsible for elevated attention, emotional response and increased memory.
With that in mind, it’s obvious it is an important tool that allows bloggers and marketers to create award-winning content that encourages reader interaction and engagement.
In addition to making your writing more interesting to read, incorporating storytelling elements also promotes better brand recognition and a deeper understanding of why your company does what it does.
When marketers get it right, storytelling can be a powerful tool for making your brand stand out from the crowd and marking your company as a unique and passionate force in your industry.
What is Storytelling?
The human brain craves storytelling and anyone who has ever cried at the end of Friday Night Lights knows why: storytelling allows us to hook into a subject deeply, to feel it within ourselves and to form a connection with it. This is true in entertainment and in business. Best-selling books are hugely popular largely because they pull people in, encourage a connection and form a bond between the reader and the subject.
Surprisingly, it’s no different in marketing.
While novelists use great stories to hook readers and to tell a tale that nobody wants to walk away from, bloggers and marketers use it to convey a message, to promote an idea and to cultivate a desired response. In short, storytelling is a source of inspiration and inspired people are much more apt to engage, make a purchase or share than non-inspired people.
Storytelling in a marketing context is essentially the act of bringing a product, good or service out of the ether and making it real for customers. This, in turn, helps customers get excited about the product and promotes more purchases and increased interaction.
Why Storytelling is Important for Your Brand
Although storytelling has always been an effective marketing strategy (think of Coca-Cola’s smash-hit in 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad, which branded Coke as a commonality rather than a commodity) it is especially important in today’s post-outbound marketing world, where everyone knows that “content is king.”
Because so many marketers realize the fastest way to a customer’s heart is to create valuable content that helps solve a problem or soothe a pain, there’s not much to keep us from drowning in a sea of blog posts and articles. Now that so many people are creating great content, what’s going to help yours stand out? The answer, of course, is storytelling.
Say you run a content marketing agency, for example, and your goal is to help your customers create great content and produce a positive ROI. As such, your marketing material says things like “create great content and produce a positive ROI!” Customers who read this, however, know that there’s not a content marketing agency on the Web that’s saying: “Create terrible content and watch your ROI go down the drain!” As a result, everyone sounds the same.
Because of this, and because of the fact that the company that stands out the most is the company that’s the most likely to land customers, storytelling is an effective way to take your Web copy from run-of-the-mill to truly unforgettable.
How to Use Compelling Storytelling in Your Marketing Copy: 5 Tips
First of all, think of Hunter S. Thompson. His claim to fame was “Gonzo Journalism.” Unlike his counterparts, who were perpetually erring on the side of objectivity and removal, Thompson inserted himself into the story and avoided making any claims of objectivity. It was unconventional, but it was huge and it’s a large reason that we’re still talking about him today.
Bloggers can do well to take a lesson from Mr. Thompson in this respect. In order for storytelling to be effective, it can’t be objective. Great brand stories are never dry, removed narratives. Rather, they’re highly subjective forms of content that require marketers to insert themselves into each story and outline their experiences. With that in mind, follow these tips for great storytelling:
1. Stay Away From Jargon: For the most part, marketing buzzwords aren’t as effective as you may hope. Typically, they serve as filler that doesn’t add any value to your overall message and doesn’t mean anything to customers. With that in mind – consider the difference between jargon and hyperbole. The content marketing agency example above is jargon — “positive ROI” and “great content” are good and all, but do they really make your customers feel something?
Think, on the other hand, about a brand like Folgers, that advertises itself as “the best part of waking up.” If we’re being honest, that’s probably not true, but it makes customers think about a pleasant morning with a steaming cup of coffee and no pressing obligations. That image, that story, is powerful and, as a result, the brand reigns as “America’s favorite coffee” and enjoys a 15.6 percent share of the American market.
The Folgers example makes it easy to see why marketing jargon is bad but a healthy dose of hyperbole can be great. Phrases like “favorite,” “best,” “unbeatable” etc. can help to make your brand stand out and create a story your readers want to engage with.
2. Remain Consistent: When using storytelling as a marketing tactic, it’s important to stay consistent and know which customers you’re targeting. Even the best storytelling campaign won’t work if you’re directing it at a different customer base every week, so take the time to research your customers, develop a target persona and decide who exactly you’re telling your story to. Customers are willing to wait a little longer or pay a little more for a product they identify with, and ensuring that you’re taking the time to craft a story your particular audience will love is well worth the effort.
3. Seek to Educate
When you’re writing copy that seeks to tell a story and educate your customers about your company, product or cause, ask yourself these questions:
- “What Do We Do?” To stay with the content marketing example from earlier in this article, you obviously create content for inbound marketing purposes right? Keep in mind, however, that literally thousands of online companies do that so, to differentiate yourself, you’re going to have to spend some time outlining how you do it and what sets you apart. Think of DollarShaveClub. They make and sell razors, just like hundreds of other companies, but their story about how and why they do it is what’s quickly making them the dominant force in the razor industry.
- “Why Do We Do It?” Because you got bored and decided to start a company? Because you lost a bet? Probably not. More likely, you started a company to cater to a struggle, difficulty or question. Your customers want to know about these origins and a successful brand story will outline where you came from and why.
- “What Do We Care About?” Developing a company POV is a powerful way to further engage customers and create a dialogue and, when done correctly, can help customers see where your company is coming from and why they should pay attention.
4. Make it Memorable
When using storytelling to promote a brand, marketers can do well to think of Allstate. The insurance giant created a marketing character known as “Mayhem” and, since his inception, Mayhem has been featured prominently in the company’s commercials. While people may not be able to remember Allstate specifically, they most certainly will remember the Mayhem character. Making storytelling memorable is one of the best ways to ensure customers remember your brand when it matters.
5. Build Your Brand
Think of Starbucks. Compared to Folgers, which was mentioned earlier, Starbucks is going after a totally different clientele base. Starbucks’ customers want a high-class brand and are willing to pay more for it. Now think about how Starbucks markets itself across as an upscale brand across the board: their buildings are sleek and minimal, their colors are consistent, their marketing campaigns feature young, healthy people. Although it may not seem obvious, the brand has successfully crafted a consistent and compelling story that makes people want to buy the product. Their brand is the same everywhere you go and, as such, they’ve become a reliable force for coffee lovers everywhere.
The Case for Storytelling in Marketing
When making a decision about a brand, customers rely on their emotional judgment rather than information such as statistics and facts. With this in mind, it’s obvious that great storytelling is one of the most effective ways to get inside a customer’s head and make your brand stick. When you make your storytelling memorable, informative, consistent and relatable, customers are more likely to bond with your brand, which means that they’re also more likely to make purchases and recommendations in the future.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.