The Why’s and How’s of Storytelling for Your Audience

Digital Strategy

The Why’s and How’s of Storytelling for Your Audience

March 25, 2016 The Why’s and How’s of Storytelling for Your Audience Katelyn Waara

Stories are, and have always been, a powerful technique for communicating and building relationships. We grow up listening to stories, we tell stories to bond with others, and engage in plenty of other activities—such as reading novels, watching movies and videos, listening to songs, and so on—where stories come into play.

Have you ever heard or seen a story and been moved to tears? Have you ever felt so gripped by a story that it is nearly impossible to turn away from it? I bet you have, but what makes stories so effective? Studies by Dr. Paul J. Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont University, show that compelling narratives stimulate the release of oxytocin—a hormone that’s released when we feel happy and trusting.

The ability of stories to stir up emotions, to engage, and to bring people together is being capitalized by many brands (both big and small) for their marketing and advertising purposes. This is called brand storytelling and there’s no reason why your business can’t benefit from it. Before we delve into how you can apply this powerful and actionable marketing strategy to your business, let’s take a quick look at what storytelling really is, and more importantly, what it isn’t.   

Understanding Storytelling

Storytelling is a way to capture your audience’s attention and engage them through well-crafted narratives instead of canned, CRM-generated or blatant cookie-cutter ads, marketing messages, and sales pitches.

However, storytelling is not a litany of blog posts or a five-paragraph-long “about us” page. In fact, it’s not about your company. The most effective brand stories make customers their protagonist.  

Because “human connection”—a key ingredient in most successful stories—is critical to building familiarity and trust, a compelling story weaved around your customers’ experiences is a great way to make them want to buy your products, invest in your idea, or hire you. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, emotions play a major role when it comes to making purchase decisions or simply preferring one brand over another.  

Brands like Zappos, Budweiser, and Purina from the B2C segment, and B2B brands like Cisco and GE are examples of storytelling brilliance. What makes it work for them? They really know their audience and use this knowledge to tell stories that are relevant and memorable, and certainly not boring.

Take for example, Purina. This pet food company partnered with BuzzFeed to create two viral video series—“Puppyhood” and “Dear Kitten”.

While the first one is themed on the bonding between a man and his new puppy and the second one is a humorous account of an older cat giving sage advice to a new kitten, both series amassed more than 10 million views, proving they struck a chord with the audience in a big way.  

How to Win at Storytelling

If you want to use brand storytelling as a content strategy, but you’re not quite sure how, doing the following is a good place to start. 

  • Identify your audience - what motivates them, their pain points, etc. 
  • Brainstorm on how you can make your content more engaging and interesting.
  • Stop spewing jargon – use words that your audience can understand easily.
  • Tie social media with your storytelling efforts.

Finding it difficult to describe what you do and how it matters to your customers? Why not let the masses hear it from the proverbial horse’s mouth? In fact, stories from real customers will not just add a mile to your storytelling efforts but will also lend a high degree of credibility to your brand, putting you out in front of your competition.

In terms of channels, feel free to experiment with whatever feels right and gradually find out what works best for your brand. It can be videos, podcasts, infographics, slide decks, or anything else in between. The possibilities really are limitless.

Another very important thing to remember is authenticity. Too many stock photos, fake customers, false promises—all of these can make a disastrous recipe for failure. If you’re trying to get the most out of storytelling, you can’t do so without being honest. Trust us, your customers are smart enough to sense if you are lying.  

In a nutshell, to win—or be even remotely successful—with storytelling, you have to be:

  • Conversational
  • Human
  • Honest
  • Identifiable

Brand storytelling done the right way attracts an audience, keeps them engaged, and helps you build meaningful relationships with them for many years to come.

How have you included storytelling in your marketing mix?

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