Everyone loves a good story. From the nursery rhymes we memorize as children, to the television programs, movies, and books we devour as adults, we love indulging in a fictional world, where heroes rise and villains fall, lessons are learned, and dreams come true.
The art of storytelling isn’t just entertaining, it’s an imperative part of the business world, as well.
Storytelling, and Your Business
Storytelling has been incorporated into all aspects of business, from training new employees to marketing campaigns.
In fact, experts are finding more and more that storytelling is crucial for drawing in new customers, and keeping seasoned customers interested and informed.
But how should you incorporate storytelling into your business’s marketing campaigns, and what are some tips to make sure your stories have the intended result?
The Basics of Storytelling in Marketing
We’re all familiar with the basics of how a story works. A story involves at least one character who is faced with some type of conflict. However, when most of us think of “a story”, we think of a long exposition with an introduction, climax, and conclusion.
Stories take pages and pages of narrative to give the audience a clear picture of what’s going on, right? So how on Earth can we fit an entire story into an ad?
In order to understand how to use storytelling in business, we need to simplify the very idea of what a story is.
Yes, there are characters, and some sort of conflict is addressed, but a story can be as short as a single photograph. In fact, a significant number of advertisements use less than 30 seconds to tell a story about how their product can solve a problem or allay a particular type of conflict.
Remember Nike’s “Just Do It” ads? The television commercials shared a person narrating why they are inspired to “just do it”. The print ad versions often showed a single powerful picture with the slogan, allowing the audience to infer the fear or difficulty faced by the athlete pictured.
The character was unnamed, the scene was undefined, but they told a story of defying adversity, overcoming loss, and bending stereotypes.
Take a moment to think of some of the ads you’ve admired lately, whether on television, in print media, or online. Try to consider who the characters were, what the conflict was, and how the product or service being advertised solved that problem.
Insurance companies often provide some of the most obvious storytelling examples, as they describe or re-enact the situation for which a claim is being filed.
Still, between visuals and slogans, even a fast food restaurant or storage facility ad can tell a story.
How Does Storytelling Work in Marketing?
The key is creating a sense of connection between the audience member and the product or services being advertised.
Just like a good book or movie, the audience becomes absorbed in the character and their struggles. They care about the outcome of the story, which means they are invested in your brand.
They see your product as saving the day by creating a positive outcome to an otherwise very big problem.
This not only creates an emotional bond to the product, but also inspires a sense of trust for the product. If a new pair of high-tech sneakers can keep an older runner on the track despite his age and health, then an average person interested in jogging can trust that the same brand will give him confidence to “just do it” himself.
If an insurance company was able to help out these hapless homeowners with a flooded basement, then surely they’ll help us if something unforeseen happens to our home.
The Buzz Effect
The story also inspires conversation around your product. On the Monday morning following the Super Bowl, social media shares and even regular conversation between coworkers focus on the commercials that aired the night before.
People don’t ask if you’ve seen that banner ad that’s purple; they’re more interested in whether you saw the spot with the horse and the puppy.
Even though they’re talking about the commercial, they’re spreading awareness of your brand and your product. It’s exactly the kind of organic traffic boom money can’t pay for, as people flock to your social media sites, YouTube channels, and website to see it again.
How Can I Incorporate Storytelling in My Marketing?
Chances are high that you may already be using elements of storytelling in your current ad campaign, but there’s always room to grow.
The first thing to keep in mind is simplicity. If you’re creating a short video or commercial spot (you can find a list of tools here), you might have more time to develop a plot, or to give characters more of a voice, but don’t go overboard.
You don’t need tons of dialogue or multiple settings to tell a story. Just as you wouldn’t write a wall of text for a banner ad, you’ll want to express your brand’s value quickly and succinctly.
Another key to success is pulling from relatable context. Stick to situations and problems nearly everyone in your audience will have at least some exposure to, so that they can immediately understand the story’s significance and the character’s plight.
At the same time, consider an emotional angle, rather than an intelligent angle. This means knowing your audience and what touches them, which can play back to knowing your demographics.
If this sounds like the marketing equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your belly, don’t worry: you’re not alone. There are people who make a living from creating stories for advertisers and marketers to use in their campaigns.
Therefore, don’t lose sight of the simplicity aspect of storytelling. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, so pay attention to the details. Color, posture, lighting, and the positioning of text can convey a lot of meaning.
Furniture catalogues are a great example of all of these factors working together to tell a story.
A teenager slumped on a sofa tells a story about a family who needs solid, reliable, comfortable furniture, while a candle-lit dinner with lots of food on a dining room table is formal, luxurious, and romantic.
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Being able to draw in an audience with a relatable tale will not only create a sense of identification with your product, but will inspire an emotional reaction in these individuals, as well.
In an ideal scenario, they’ll be compelled to discuss your story with others, spreading the word about your brand beyond your initial investment.
Relatability also inspires a sense of trust, creating instantaneous prospective customers. Though it might be tempting to go overboard in storytelling, just a little can go a long way.