Written by Josh Westerman
PR and content agencies can harness the potential of storytelling to help clients go well beyond bland, skin-deep corporate statements, and instead create compelling, in-depth narratives that can make potential customers understand why they should buy into their brand, products and services.
Here, we explore the potential power of storytelling as a marketing tactic, and put to bed some of the doubts that some brands might have about it being suitable for their respective audiences.
Whether it’s been through a cave painting, play, novel, epic poem, TV ad or viral social post, humans have always used stories to convey messages.
Our minds are hardwired for stories, and brands have been using storytelling as a strategic business tool for quite some time now because they improve how we receive, understand, trust, absorb and retain messages. That’s precisely why we use fairy tales and fables to teach important lessons and ideas.
While brand storytelling was once merely the preserve of TV advertisers with eye-watering budgets, the ready availability and affordability of video and content platforms has levelled the playing field, giving marketers and agencies the means to produce great stories and disseminate them to targeted audiences.
Imagine going on a date and just talking about yourself. Or worse, having someone talk at you about themselves. That’s what brands have done through traditional marketing channels like advertising for yonks. It worked in the past. But it just doesn’t wash with modern audiences. They expect more from you. They want to know what your business can do for them, who (not what) you are and, increasingly, what you stand for. You need to grasp and hold their attention through a more three-dimensional means.
The genius of storytelling as a messaging delivery mechanism is that it allows brands to move away from traditional one-way methods of vanity marketing, and instead create interaction between businesses and their customers. For instance, by creating narratives that show you understand – and care about – their problems; and have solutions that can resolve them. You can make it about them, not you.
The classic, simple formula applied to basic storytelling is as follow:
Think about how that formula could be applied to the challenges your customers face, and the solutions you can offer them.
And keep it ‘human’. For example, if you’re looking to tell the story about a great piece of new technology you’ve developed, resist the temptation of going into the complexities of how it works. Instead, focus on the potential experience of the person that it’s designed to for – think about how it will make their job or general lives easier, improve the user experience and drive their performance.
“OK, can I stop you there?”, you protest. You hear what we’re saying but have seen some examples of storytelling as a marketing tactic, and you’re concerned that a cutesy animated fairy tale won’t at all be a good fit for your brand.
Sure. But there are infinite ways to skin a cat when it comes to storytelling, and it may well be that a more prosaic yet engaging thought leadership-led written article or an infographic would be more suitable than an off-the-wall video or animation when it comes to telling your particular story. It’s incredibly important to be authentic to your brand in all your communication too, so you’d be well-advised not to run with a fairy tale animation or similar if you think it will jar.
Storytelling can be applied to a brand’s overall marketing, content, social media, email marketing, website copy and more.
And don’t go falling into the trap of assuming that storytelling is just for B2C, either. Plenty of very sensible B2B brands, from Cisco to HP, have used storytelling to their advantage, with research finding that 50 per cent of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase from you if they feel an emotional tie to your company’s brand.
If storytelling strikes you as a real risk, bear in mind that, in this data-driven age, a good agency should not only be coming up with great creative ideas but also thinking about how their ideas fit your specific target audiences.
While marketing storytelling might once have been a bit of shot in the dark, it’s coming into its own now because good modern agencies can combine brilliant ideas that rely on instinct with sophisticated data-driven insights that don’t. Storytelling should be about hitting the right people with the right messages at the right times through the right channels. When done right, it’s the perfect marriage of pragmatism and creativity.
So, if storytelling is so great, why isn’t every brand doing it? The problem in a nut-shell is that a lot of in-house teams don’t have the time, resource, nor insights and requisite creativity at their disposal to be able to focus on storytelling. Storytelling also often relies upon a third party outside view and a fresh eye.
There’s a lot more to consider when it comes to great storytelling in marketing – from differentiating your brand position from your competitors’ to the kinds of emotions and actions storytelling can trigger in audiences – so if you’d like to learn more, why not give us a call on 0113 394 4580?