“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens

There is something compelling about a well-written opening line. It draws the reader in and entices them to ignore the ringing telephone, disregard the piles of laundry that need to be attended to, forget about the meeting that is scheduled for the morning. Often, the true test of a story’s worth can be seen when the reader reaches the last page and reacts in alarm at having no more pages to turn, no other source of information about the characters that they have been getting to know. Storytelling is powerful: it can propel a person to action, enlighten the readers and inform the audience about a topic. Entrepreneurs who wish to maximize their marketing efforts can learn a few lessons from beloved authors.

Marketing 101 | Storytelling Simplified

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To begin a marketing campaign of storytelling, you must 1) understand the definition of marketing storytelling, 2) know why storytelling works, 3) learn how to craft a storytelling strategy, 4) know how to evaluate the success of a campaign, and, 5) be able to identify successful storytelling brands.

MARKETING STORYTELLING: THE DEFINITION

Storytelling is the process of making a connection with the customer first, and selling a product second. This method of marketing is contrary to most advertising programs, and often seems more like a creative writing program than a marketing strategy. Through skillful writing, however, a story is created that not only connects with customers; it establishes the company as a trusted resource. Properly done, the story is the primary focus and the product takes a backseat to the journey the story provides. A customer makes an emotional connection with the story, and the message is considered genuine. Interestingly, even though the customer is aware that the story is being used to ultimately sell something, they are still more inclined to purchase based on the connection they made through the story.

How can storytelling relate to marketing?

Knowing which type of story to tell is an important feature in using storytelling as a marketing tool. Storytelling comes in a variety of forms; the trick is in knowing which one is best suited to meet the needs of your marketing strategy.

One of the primary storytelling forms is the educational story. Using your marketing efforts to educate consumers provides your company with the opportunity to establish a trusted reputation as a source of valuable information. Educational storytelling can incorporate factual information about topics related to your business, use simple stories to communicate difficult concepts and use illustrations to demonstrate services.

Capitalizing on the current news of the day is another way to weave storytelling into your marketing strategy. Finding ways to tie current news stories into relevant pieces of information that will affect your customers is a smart way to use storytelling. Will new legislation affect how your business works? Does the new zoning plan change the type of business in a certain section of the city?

Client stories are another type of storytelling that can be a powerful marketing tool. As you develop a relationship with clients, you have opportunity to learn their stories – how they use your services or products, how you’ve helped them. Ask for permission to use their story, and then add it to your promotional materials. Use their success as an opportunity to showcase how you were able to help, letting potential customers know that you’ll do the same for them.

There are powerful stories that have been passed down through generations. These classic tales are often used as a means to communicate a deeper truth: slow and steady wins the race, you can do more than you think, you can’t please everyone, believe in yourself, for example. Using classic stories as a storytelling technique can be a powerful method of relating to your customers. Through recognizable stories, your customers will feel a connection to the company and be more inclined to purchase from you.

Customers who are looking for relevance and connection in their own lives are more likely to buy from a company that fills those basic needs. Sharing personal stories is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling because it demonstrates a level of transparency and vulnerability from the company. By allowing customers to see first-hand the tragedies and triumphs you’ve experienced, it cultivates trust and reliability, strengthening your relationship with them.

Marketing Storytelling: Tell Effective Marketing Stories

WHY STORYTELLING WORKS

Stories define the very essence of human life. Through stories, important lessons are shared, common values are identified and messages are communicated. Compelling stories create connections between people. When someone relates a story that you can identify with, even if you don’t know that person, you begin to feel a connection. The personal connection created by storytelling communicates authentic human experiences. Without using specific narrative, customers can identify ways that using a product or service benefits and enhances their life and are motivated to replicate the scenario in their own life.

Through the power of the internet, the global marketplace is growing. This creates opportunity for businesses to expand into new cultures, which can present new challenges for reaching the target market. Through the use of storytelling, however, a company can tap into the global themes that affect every culture and people group. Themes like family, love, friendship, overcoming challenges and others are common to every nation. Crafting stories that highlight these themes is a highly effective means of creating connections. These connections help to unite people in a global community. With the rising number of companies that are competing for the new global marketplace, it can be harder to set a company apart. The use of storytelling gives companies an edge and helps their voice to be heard over the crowd.

Relating to a customer through storytelling allows the company to use the personal interaction to change attitudes about products or services. Stories can provide customers with a new perspective on a company, giving them the opportunity to evaluate products from a new angle. Even if they previously had no interaction with a company, a compelling story can give the customer the incentive they need to become more engaged with the company.

CRAFTING A STORYTELLING MARKETING STRATEGY

Once you’ve decided to create a storytelling strategy, what are the steps you should take? What are the criteria for creating a compelling storytelling marketing campaign? By taking a few lessons from writers who have successfully crafted their marketing stories, any company can begin an effective campaign.

Use truth

This may seem contradictory, when considering the creation of a storytelling campaign, but truth is essential in the marketing strategy. The story must include elements of reality, and that reality must be centered on the products or services that are offered. Even if the characters are fictional, the attributes of the product should be truthful and reliable. Successful stories must be consistent, show persistence, and exercise restraint. The stories should avoid confusion – they must stay true to the company ideals. If a company promotes healthy living, their marketing story should include that message. If the goal of the company is to encourage communication, the storyline should contain themes that support the goal.

Create personality

Storytelling is not an advertisement or marketing pitch. It should create a persona that is identifiable with the company’s values, and be relatable to the customer. While it is not necessary to create a fictional character (Allstate’s Mayhem character is an example of this), it is important to include a character that drives the storyline. The character should be crafted to create an emotional connection with the audience, compelling them to take action.

The storyline marketing campaign should follow a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end.

A story should begin with an introduction to the characters and setting. Conflicts and problems are introduced in the middle, and the resolution should be clear in the end. The story arc is important for customers to be able to follow and identify with, and instill the desire to share the story with others.

Cliffhangers are equal parts exciting and aggravating.

For the reader, getting to the end of a story with unresolved conflicts can be nerve wracking, especially when there is a delay before the next installment of the story is released. Generating that same level of excitement in a marketing campaign through storytelling can create compelling connections with customers. Leaving your customers (audience) with the feeling of wanting more is done through hooks in the storyline. Using teasers, “Coming soon” and other interest building techniques, your company can keep interest in the product and draw customers back repeatedly.

Storytelling (The Power of Telling Stories)

EVALUATING SUCCESS

Every marketing strategy must be evaluated for success. Without recognizable benchmarks, the process of storytelling can seem labor intensive and costly, for questionable results. How can a storytelling campaign be evaluated?

Media attention

When a storyline is successful, it will begin to draw attention from media outlets. One of the primary indicators of success is that other people begin talking about what your company is talking about. A conversation that begins with “Did you see that new commercial?” or in other ways indicates that the storyline is moving into the everyday life of individuals is a sure sign that the marketing campaign is working.

Media notoriety is not a sure-fire solution to generating sales, but it does help to generate interest in your product and company. Storytelling creates quality content, which creates better customer interactions. Those interactions can then spread through word of mouth, other social media tools and customer referrals, turning one storytelling campaign into a self-driving machine that continues to bring customer attention, even when the campaign is over.

ROI (Return on Investment)

Generating a buzz around a marketing campaign is exciting but ineffective if the audience doesn’t move into a new role as a customer. A simple poll of customers “Have you seen our new ad? What did you think?” is an easy way to gather feedback regarding the storytelling campaign. Tracking the impact of the campaign on profits can be difficult. However, a marked difference in sales before a campaign started and after the campaign launched can be a clear indication that storytelling is working. Through social media tools in combination with other marketing forms it is possible to determine the extent of your campaign’s reach and develop a good sense of the success of the strategy.

Recently, at a conference about global impact, the CEO of Levi Strauss (the jeans company) made an off-hand remark about the fact that his jeans (that he was wearing at the time) had never been washed in a washing machine. He went on to explain that machine washing wasn’t ideal for the proper care of jeans, and that jeans didn’t need washing as frequently as many people think. His statement became a manifesto and it went viral almost overnight. Suddenly, Levi’s had a story, and a compelling one, at that. They generated a marketing strategy about the company position on water-usage reduction, capitalized on the media attention already focused on the story and are promoting their jeans (as well as sustainability) on a different scale than ever before.

The mystery of storytelling: Julian Friedmann at TEDxEaling

SUCCESSFUL STORYTELLING BRANDS

Some of the world’s most successful brands have used storytelling marketing strategies for years. There is no standard industry – storytelling works for not-for-profit organizations as well as it does for-profit businesses. The only criterion is the presence of an audience, and a call to action that the customer can act on. Regardless of the product or service, creating a storyline that can be used to connect with the audience is one of the most effective marketing methods available. Investigating successful storytelling companies can give insight into how to put a storytelling strategy to work for your company.

Apple

Perhaps most noticeable about Apple’s marketing strategy is the lack of storytelling. Apple’s campaigns focus on one thing: their products. So, how did Apple land the number one spot on Marketingweek’s brand ranking research? Simple. Apple created a story that puts the consumer as the main character. Apple generates ad campaigns about people using their products in new, exciting and creative ways, and allows the audience to imagine themselves in the middle of the ad. Through Apple’s sense of company brand (innovative technology that changes the way people live), the ads show a multitude of ways that people can use their products in their everyday life. This form of storytelling is difficult to emulate and can backfire when not used consistently. Apple has effectively established itself as a storytelling master – leaving other companies to follow along in their wake and hope to catch up.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s has long mastered the art of storytelling. Through their development of characters that eat at the restaurant for lunch, friends who bring each other dinner or share laughs over breakfast, McDonald’s has held a spot in the top five storytelling marketing campaigns. As a global company, they have successfully tied into the themes that affect the world, and have capitalized on their storytelling campaigns.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola recently unveiled a new initiative to promote its storytelling strategy. Through the use of multi-media approaches, they have created a story about friendship. Friends share laughter, events and memories, as well as a bottle of specially labelled Coca-cola products for “Friend”. Their bottle naming campaign is another method of bringing the global community together – everyone loves to have something personalized – why not your bottle of soda?

Macmillan Cancer Support

By using personal stories to draw interest in their non-profit organization, Macmillan Cancer Support is using storytelling to bring attention to the reality of cancer. Allowing the audience to share their own stories and anecdotal accounts provides a connection to the charity that often translates into donations. This non-profit organization has repeatedly outranked for-profit companies in their storytelling, a compelling reason to understand the power of the personal story and harness it for your company.

Incorporating storytelling into a marketing strategy provides another means of reaching potential customers. The truest forms of storytelling marketing are evidenced by the campaigns that leave the audience with strong emotional reaction. The commercials that bring viewers to tears, the print ads that are breathtaking, and the radio commercials that cause riotous laughter – storytelling is powerful and effective and can be used to generate customer connections and sales. Not only is storytelling better marketing, it is meaningful content that creates an authentic view of your company. Putting the ‘power of the pen’ to work for your company can bring long-lasting rewards, giving you a stronger profit margin and more effective communication with your customers.

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