Even the story of storytelling in the marketing world has evolved, transforming from a nice touch to a must have. When we first think of stories, we think on the personal level. “As humans, we tell stories to relate to one another, and it can be common experiences, funny, sad, or educational experiences that can help us relate, learn and gain perspective from each other,” says Cory Schnaible, concept copywriter at Ethos. “Storytelling in marketing is very similar to storytelling in your everyday life,” he continues, “only now it’s a critical tool in the business world. Brands are fighting for limited attention spans and screen space, and if that message doesn’t connect with the audience at the moment of delivery, customers will be gone.”
In order to grab and hold the attention of these valuable consumers, a solid story needs to be made before it’s told. Are you ready to learn how to craft the right story that will matter most to the people you are trying to reach? Let’s get started.
What storytelling is and what it isn’t
Many people consider stories to be a “universal language” that all humans can connect with regardless of our different backgrounds. That’s why storytelling is an essential tool for marketers, allowing brands to communicate their values and their purpose to loyal and prospective customers alike. In creating a story that connects, HubSpot illustrates a key differentiation between what stories should and should not be, captured below:
- Useful information in a narrative
- What motivates your team
- What your brand stands for
- About your customers
- Emotional and engaging
- A beginning, a crisis, a resolution
- An interaction between your customers and your brand
- Any 10,000-word article
- Your sales goal
- An advertisement
- About your brand
- Something “cool” that happened
- A sales pitch
In other words, storytelling isn’t about you. It’s about everything else. Customers need brands to have relevance and purpose in their lives. Step outside of your brand and profit goals and think about why you deserve their time. When the customer takes center stage, it becomes clear what you have to say.
Why storytelling is an effective marketing strategy
Storytelling takes significant work and skill to get right, so is it actually worth the time? The answer is a resounding yes. Storytelling is unique in that it appeals to (and fulfills) both the logical and emotional needs of your audience. This two-tiered approach is essential in the media world today – an extremely fragmented landscape where people spend lots of time but pay less attention. Storytelling cuts through the clutter and delivers a unique experience to consumers in these two primary ways:
1. Feeding the brain
- Simplifying the complex: New ideas can be hard to grasp, especially abstract concepts. Storytelling demystifies complex ideas by providing real-life examples and context, suddenly making them relatable to consumers.
- It communicates authenticity: In seeking validation, customers want to be sure they are relying on the most knowledgeable messages and brands. Storytelling can provide reassurance that this is the best resource to learn from.
- Establishes a channel for learning in an engaging way: Stories are powerful ways to make sense of what is going on in the world with a company, brand, product, etc. Storytelling enables brands to share that with consumers in a meaningful way.
2. Filling the heart
- Satisfying the ultimate need: We all crave connection and are driven by curiosity to discover how we relate to others. Stories are the best way to illuminate this connection. As stated in a recent Forbes article: “From the earliest recorded history, storytelling was a method used by cavemen to communicate, educate, share, and connect.” This is still true today.
- Creating an emotional connection: People value relationships in their personal and business lives, and they will be more apt to engage with those entities that show them empathy.
- Displaying humanity: Whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, helplessness, or hope, stories give validation to how we feel and process emotions. Stories help us identify with people/brands that also “get it.”
With logic and emotion as the foundation of storytelling, businesses are no longer seen as faceless sales machines. With the right story, brands instead become authentic, relatable, and transparent resources that people are willing to listen to. It’s when people lend their ears that a brand can transform.
Putting it all together: How to build a story
“You can’t follow a process to develop a story. If you approach it like engineering a story, it will literally be that. Instead, seek out stories to tell and the composition will come naturally,” advises Cory Schnaible.
First, consider what makes a good story. It should be:
- Entertaining (in an authentic way): Keep the consumer engaged and interested in what’s coming next.
- Educational: People are curious and want to learn; they feel validated and connected through learning from a knowledgeable source.
- Relevant: Just like in normal life, a listener only tunes in if it’s relevant.
- Memorable: Use humor, suspense, raw emotion, and inspiration to make a story stick in the consumers’ minds.
Now that the story’s inspirational foundation is there, it’s time to ensure you have the right building blocks:
- Personified audience: To know exactly who you are talking to, put a name to this person. Research how this target thinks, consumes, and what they need. If you knew this person IRL (in real life), how would you talk to them and how would you tell them your story?
- Obvious core message: In defining the point of your story (including your objective of selling/promoting XYZ), HubSpot suggests you “try and summarize your story in six to ten words. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a core message.”
- Defined story type aligned with objectives: Consider different stories that will achieve your goal:
- Stories that incite action: Marketers are held to the candle on this one. It’s literally the job of marketers to create stories that will incite action (i.e. behavior change, lead generation, etc.).
- Stories that convey values: People need to know what a brand stands for to know how it relates to them in order to earn their business.
- Stories that build community and relationships: In driving loyalty and engagement, customer lifecycle marketing is critical.
- Powerful call-to-action: Know exactly what you want your audience to do after experiencing your story and make it effortless for them to do so.
Choose your medium
In the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of media study: “The medium is the message.” And, there are many different mediums you can choose from to tell your story including:
- Written stories: Primarily composed of text (blogs, articles, books), this is an affordable and accessible form of storytelling.
- Spoken stories: Presentations, panel discussions, pitches, and in-person stories all present the content in “live” and unedited ways. While these stories can be powerful, they also require extensive preparation and practice to pull off.
- Audio stories: Podcasts are an increasingly affordable and popular option to consider.
- Digital stories: Video, animation, interactive stories, and gamification can all be effective and engaging storytelling vehicles.
To make the most of your storytelling, stories should be shared across all available and relevant channels including the brand website, social media networks, outside publications/blogs, as well as hubs like YouTube and Vimeo. This is particularly important because in marketing, unlike everyday conversation, it may take many touchpoints with your audience to fully convey and understand your brand’s story. And if you create a worthwhile story, other people will continue to tell it for you, widening your net.
Example: Maine Coast Heritage Trust – #KeeptheCoastMaine
Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), a large coastal conservation nonprofit, has protected over 150,000 acres of land, hundreds of miles of shoreline, and 300 coastal islands. Despite its accomplishments, the organization struggled with broad awareness of its mission and impact.
As Maine Coast Heritage Trust embarked on a new fundraising initiative—the largest in the state’s history—they knew they would need to reach beyond their existing member base in order to meet their goal of raising $125 million. To achieve this, they would need to educate the people of Maine on the harsh realities of what could happen in Maine if action wasn’t taken to conserve coastal areas.
To tell the story, we enlisted real Maine people to express what Maine’s coast meant to them. By compiling these heartfelt memories, with expansive footage of beautiful coastal locations, and illuminating the truth about at-risk habitats, the campaign spurred action from those who could relate.
The message reached over 2 million people, including key supporters and set MCHT’s comprehensive campaign on track to raise $125 million by the end of 2019.
Make your last chapter the start of a stronger connection with your consumers
With clear objectives at the forefront and a compelling message to be told, you can now create a powerful story that will mean something to the people that need to hear it. This story isn’t about you. It’s not about being polished and safe, either. Instead, it’s about what your brand or company brings to the table, how you understand your audience, and how you play a part in their lives. It’s about being vulnerable, real, and human. With masterful storytelling, this deep connection helps create life-long customers. And, if you really tell the right story, there is no last chapter, no ending. You instead create an open and powerful dialogue between you and your consumer that will evolve over time. All you need to do is pick up the pen and write the first page; your readers are waiting.
Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.
At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.
With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.