If marketing was a superhero, then it's superpower would be storytelling…
…because when you get it right, it's the one thing that guarantees your business will triumph, even in the most crowded space.
Even when all hope is lost.
There is Marketing Man.
Look at brands like Innocent smoothies and GoPro – humble beginnings, huge successes!
They saw how stories travel online and offline, and built their brands on great narratives that create strong communities and hordes of raving fans.
But do you need to tell stories for your business to grow?
Can't you just throw all your money at ads and get the job done that way?
Well, you could.
But the big problem with advertising is that your potential customers are most likely to see it as an unwelcome interruption in their lives.
And that's not a good way to start your relationship.
Wouldn't it be better if after your customers met you for the first time, they actually looked forward to hearing from you again?
How stories = sales
79% of adults think brands should tell stories in their marketing
55% say they're most likely to buy a product if they love a brand story
44% say they will share a great brand story
What's more, a good story can make customers happy to consume ads.
92% of consumers want brands to make ads feel like a story
53% say they are perfectly happy to read or view a brand-sponsored story
30% say they prefer unsponsored stories but would read or view sponsored ones anyway
Impressive stats, right? But why are people going bonkers for storytelling marketing?
The science says our brains become more active when we hear stories. And that means they're more receptive to ideas. Telling stories can actually influence our behaviour and change our thinking – without us even knowing it's happening.
Storytelling is the equivalent of throwing a party for the sensory areas of your brain.
And to make sure your various lobes and cortexes are well and truly sold on the occasion, Story gets busy passing round out its own unique cocktail.
It's a hormonally-infused recipe of:
Cortisol – for forming memories
Dopamine – keeping us engaged.
Oxytocin – linked with empathy, building trust & deepening relationships.
Our brains can't help themselves. One swig of that heady mix and they're gone.
The fact is, we're hardwired to love Story.
And that means using stories in your marketing is outrageously powerful.
It's why every entrepreneur remembers Amazon's lowly start.
It's why when we see the image of Bezos toiling away underneath his home-made brand banner, we feel overwhelmingly inspired.
1994 Jeff resonates deeply – and 2021 Jeff?
Well, if we were to look critically at all the data, then we might struggle to look beyond the abuse of labor and market monopolies.
But 2021 Jeff makes a lot of money.
And if you're just setting out on a new business venture, “good timing, good luck, and being a hard-ass”… isn't a very compelling story.
But the rags to riches story of the wealthiest man on the planet? That's inspiration!
Stories can take a lot of information or complex concepts and turn them into something simple and memorable.
And that's exciting – because it means storytelling marketing can create big business results.
So, how do you come up with compelling marketing stories?
We want to create “viral” stories for our companies. Ones that stick around and get shared and reshared. The kind people don't forget.
The easiest way to make those is to:
Listen to your customers.
Narrate back what they tell you, making them the hero of the piece.
When you do that, you can be sure that whatever you say will be relatable and interesting to your people.
That all the content you put out is helping the right folk to connect with your brand.
When you're sharing your message in a way that aligns with their values and supports the things they care about – it makes them feel good.
When they hear stories like that, your people will clearly see how your product or service fits into their life and how it will help them solve the problem they have.
Storytelling for business results… what's the secret formula?
Whether it's a movie, book, a podcast or in advertising – when you start looking you'll notice the most memorable stories follow a very specific pattern.
The ones that grab us are based around characters who encounter and then resolve a challenge or crisis.
In simple terms, that usually looks like this:
The hero has a problem that needs a solution.
There's a guide to help them get to where they need to go – slaying the dragon, saving the princess, and living happily ever after.
But it only works if…
We care about what the hero cares about (we share their values and world view).
There's some kind of villain or threat. There have to be high stakes, and a possibility that it could all go terribly wrong!
We watch a journey unfold. Unless things are different at the end to how they were at the start, we lose interest.
This is Snow White
(most beautiful of them all).
She grows up in a loving home and never has a care in the world.
She marries Mr Perfect and has a blissful existence forevermore.
I mean... that's great for her and all. But it doesn't really pull you in, does it?
(pretty, great personality, has everything going for her)…
…has an insane stepmother who murders anyone her Magic Mirror takes a fancy to.
Snow flees her home and hides out, finding a motley band of beardy-guys to support her.
They offer a broadband connection so she can keep up to speed on Social Media.
Unfortunately her stepmother uses a tracking pixel to reveal her location, and sneaks her a poisoned apple tart. Alas! All is lost!
Head Beardy-Guy finds a Miracle Doctor. He has the anti-venom!
Snow recovers and reports her stepmother to the authorities. She returns home, fulfilling her dream of Instagram stardom and pursuing a meaningful relationship with Mr Medicine.
High stakes, conflict (with a little agitation) and a satisfying resolution make the story a lot more interesting, memorable and shareable.
See how that formula could work for you?
If the premise is making sense, but you're still not sure exactly how to do it, then let's dig deeper:
What are the best stories to tell your customers?
You can use different kinds of stories make your marketing more persuasive.
Try these three to get started: they'll really help you stand out.
This strings together the whole story of your customer's world.
It describes what they're struggling with now, where they want to get to, how they can get there with the help of your nifty offering.
It describes what's possible in their future.
Hint: Your company may be all kinds of wonderful, but if you talk about that more than you talk about what your customers are going through, they'll never come close enough to find out. Tell stories that represent their struggles, and see how much more effective it is at drawing people in.
Create an awesome narrative by answering questions like:
Where are my future customers right now,what problem do they have?
Where do they want to get to?
And what does it look like when they get there?
How does my product or service fit in and help them on their journey?
These are good to include in your narrative, because you can have your customers tell stories for you, (or participate in the ones you're telling to give them some extra clout). Either way, you start to create a community around your brand.
Hint: If you currently have lots of testimonials that are nice but incredibly vague (“I love ThisCompany, they're super-legit!”) start replacing them with customer stories and see how much more credibility they give you with new customers.
Create compelling customer stories by asking them questions like:
What problem did you have before you started using our product/service?
What changed when started using our product/service?
What were you worried about before you bought our product/service?
And what made you decide to try it, despite those concerns?
What would you say to someone else who's looking at buying this?
Simon Sinek famously said: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
This guy knows some stuff about things.
People value a meaningful and authentic origin story – it gives you credibility, shows you share their values and offers them the chance to be part of a cause.
Hint: If you have an “About Us” page that reads like a history book, it's probably time to shake things up a bit.
Create a relatable origin story by answering questions like:
What made you start your business?
Why this business and not any other?
How are you/is your business different?
What kind of impact do you want to make?
Using all of these stories will help your customers:
Show them how they can get unstuck and start moving toward the positive change they're looking for in their lives. Explain how others like them have achieved the things they wanted – with your help. Share what you stand for and why you're committed to helping them make the change they want to see.
Storytelling marketing is a fun way of advertising your company – and it creates results. Whatever stories you choose to tell, keep them focused on your customers for compelling results.