Published in Forbes on September 14, 2015 By Jayson DeMers
Marketing is getting more difficult by the day; amidst the content marketing buzz, audiences are drowning in content as marketers and brands try to establish authority and credibility through frequent content publication. Consequently, people are beginning to ignore content that isn’t absolutely top-notch, just as they do with TV advertisements. It’s leading to lower ROI and increasing frustration for marketers.
The problem is that too many marketers aren’t moving forward; they’re sticking to what they know. The fact is, marketing strategies must be continually refined in order to succeed, and a great way of doing this is by telling a story within your marketing strategy.
What is Storytelling?
In marketing, storytelling is used to create an emotional investment. Commonly used in video marketing on television, the goal is to make the viewer pay attention to the story, rather than the product. As such, the product itself is passively sold to the viewer.
Let’s examine a couple examples.
In the US, the new Ford Focus was marketed by giving a camera to test drivers who would film themselves driving around the streets. The authenticity has been questioned, but the campaign successfully integrated multiple individual stories that delve into the lives of people using the product.
It happens across the world. In the UK, one of the most prominent examples is BT Broadband. BT invented a family; it started with a husband and wife, and over the years they had children, got divorced, were remarried, and then the story moved to the perspective of their (now) grown-up teenage son and his roommates at a university. This story lasted for about a decade, and it continues today.
In both of these examples, the product was present, but it was never marketed directly. This is exactly what the companies intended.
Storytelling is effective because it has existed throughout history; throughout time, people have enjoyed stories. In the article ‘The Psychological Power of Storytelling’, author Pamela Rutledge explains that stories are powerful because they tap into authentic human experience; something many corporate advertising videos don’t do.
Why Storytelling is Such an Effective Marketing Strategy
To understand why storytelling works so well, we have to look at why most forms of advertising fail to connect with readers. As the article ‘How to Use Storytelling to Cut through the B2B Content Clutter’ explains, there are 700,000 Google searches every 60 seconds, 5.3 trillion ads shown every year, and consumers process over 100,000 words every day.
It’s a matter of numbers; we can’t pay attention to absolutely everything. In fact, our brains just ignore most of it. We have, as a result, become accustomed to skimming rather than reading.
Here are some of the reasons why storytelling is such an effective strategy for marketing:
- It cuts through the clutter by being different. Our minds only truly pay attention to advertisements when they offer something different.
- Stories are always different and they distance themselves from standard advertisements.
Stories connect with authentic human experiences. They’re capable of connecting with us on a level standard marketing campaigns can’t.
- Stories don’t have to have a conclusive ending. Customers who enjoy the stories you tell will want to find out what happens next, building excitement, energy, and anticipation.
- Show, don’t tell. Companies claim they understand the problems of customers, but saying so doesn’t accomplish anything. Through a story, you’re applying your claims to the real world. Masterful storytelling will show the viewer/reader that the company understands the problem and how their product solves it. This is why visual content is so effective in social media.
- Storytelling enables companies to show how their products solve problems. They don’t scream about the benefits; they subtly illustrate them, allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
- You can do it through multimedia. There are no limits to how you can tell a story and where you can tell this story. It can appeal to any audience of any age, which makes it one of the few universally effective marketing tools.
The Importance of Telling a Story through Multimedia
To make your story work, you have to tell it through multiple forms of media. If you only tell it through a video or a book, you could be leaving out a significant portion of your audience.
Why is this the case?
Consider how people learn. Millions of research dollars have been spent on understanding educational habits. Some people learn best by reading, others by listening, and others by viewing. It’s the same with marketing; people respond to different forms of marketing, and different types of media.
This is why your story should come in multiple formats; audio content, images, and written content.
How to Get Started
Getting started with telling a story is the hard part. Not only do you need a good story, but you have to develop a unique voice for your company, as I stated in my article, ‘How to Build a Kickass Content Strategy.’
Let’s assume you already have your team and you’re ready to tell a story. First, you have to make sure your story aligns with your business objectives. Is your story giving enough exposure to your product? What are you asking your audience to do after they’ve seen your content?
As a marketer, you’re not just here to tell a story. The goal must always be to increase sales, leads, or refer your target to a specific location. The story is the mechanism, rather than the goal.
After you’ve created your content, you have to measure the response you get from the story. Monitor the effects of your storytelling on your goals. Ask yourself after a month whether you’re in a more advantageous position now than before you started. If the answer is no, find out why your audience hasn’t responded in the way you intended.
The reality is, telling a story alone won’t turn you into a global brand overnight. The vast majority of businesses must constantly reinvent their stories and angles to compel their target audience to do something. If you can’t do this, you’re not going to achieve the gains you want.
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with your audience through an authentic human experience. Storytelling not only builds your brand authority and credibility, but also humanizes your brand. Construct your own stories and be sure to measure the results. It’s a matter of trial and error, but keep trying until you find a story angle that works with your audience.