In today’s tech-savvy society, people are increasingly jumping from one stimulus to the next to quench their thirst for entertainment and to help with decision-making.
But in the low attention span, instant gratification world of today, most advertising has been whittled down to short, snappy snippets that attempt to reel in and hook customers on the spot. Though this can be effective, it typically fails to deliver the long-standing customer loyalty that many entrepreneurs and brands hope to derive from their marketing efforts.
Nonetheless, humans have always told stories to convey information, and a wide variety of entrepreneurs and brands have begun leveraging this medium to better engage with their audience and cultivate more meaningful relationships with their clients.
Benefits of storytelling in business
Nike, one of the world’s biggest footwear brands, has been using storytelling for decades, which has helped position it as an authentic and motivational brand that everyone can relate to. It achieved this by masterfully pushing the “Just Do It” narrative in its stories, the first of which included an inspirational tale of an 80-year-old-man doing what he can to keep fit — highlighting the everyman appeal of the brand.
The benefits of powerful storytelling in business are clear. It can help you not only gain an edge on your competition but also to nurture your leads, grow your brand, and most importantly, develop a more loyal, engaged audience. Over time, this can work to boost profitability, improve customer retention and even convert leads into customers more efficiently than before.
According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review article analyzing the empathetic cultures of 170 prominent companies, the top 10 most empathetic companies happen to be some of the biggest and most successful — including Facebook, Alphabet (Google), Netflix, Whole Foods Market, and Unilever.
This isn’t a coincidence. People prefer to use the products and services of brands they feel operate ethically and have a bigger goal outside of simply selling products and generating profits. This partly explains why the top 10 most empathetic brands generated 50 percent more earnings (as defined by market capitalization) than the bottom 10 in the study.
Great storytelling turns a brand into a familiar, friendly enterprise and can create a legacy that will pay dividends for years to come. But few brands today opt to take the time to weave authentic storytelling into their brand messaging and advertising strategy.
The makings of a good story
While most business marketing attempts to help users rationalize a purchase by demonstrating economic, social or health benefits, etc., good storytelling will help you invoke an emotional response in the reader — helping them make the leap from being a simple prospect to a paying customer.
Though you might be tempted to simply outline the pros and cons of your business and its offerings, it’s more important to focus on building a connection with your reader — through relatable stories, captivating anecdotes and inspiring messages. Facts, figures and data have their place, but they should generally form just a small chunk of any story-based marketing campaign.
Powerful stories are typically ones that invoke an emotional response in the reader and make them feel invested in the characters and stories that are told. But bear in mind, readers can spot something inauthentic from a mile away. It’s crucial that your brand’s story isn’t just captivating and human, but genuine.
One simple way to achieve this is by considering the core values of your business and bringing them out with a story that pulls in the reader with a simple, personal and meaningful arc that won’t be soon forgotten.
Go for the heart, not the head. This means your content should be passionate, empathetic and involve the customer wherever possible. They should be able to easily draw parallels with their own lives, help your brand build genuine connections with customers by demonstrating commonalities. People are more likely to buy from brands that align with their core values and experiences.
If you’re stuck for a narrative, consider the tried and tested hero arc. This is a simple storytelling technique that sees your customer taken through a classic hero’s journey as they venture into an unknown situation, face adversity and eventually overcome it (using your product).
Tips and tricks you can use
Although building out a brand story that your customers can relate to is extremely important, it’s also important to ensure that it’s uplifting. Focus on how the product or service can eliminate negatives, reinforce positives and help the user move forward in some way.
There is a cost to being bored. By keeping your readers hooked on an engaging story with a heartfelt through line, you can help cultivate a reader who believes in your company and the products or services it creates. In practical terms, this means employing a range of tactics to help keep the reader gripped and interested until the end.
This can include reaching out to customers and directly featuring them in your narratives — such as a customer who overcame an obstacle by using your product with unexpected results, or a simple anecdote from a customer who was directly impacted by you or your brand.
But whatever you do, keep it consistent. You want to take your reader on a journey that could span weeks, months, or even years. Make sure to refine your tone of voice, keep your brand messaging simple and ensure a broad appeal to your content. Without being too repetitive, remember to reuse the same images and verbiage across your content where possible — this helps to build familiarity and comfort.
Don’t be afraid to use satire and be fun with it. Nobody wants to involve themselves with some unfeeling corporate behemoth or overly politically correct entrepreneur that can’t let loose. But remember to always inspire, never criticize and try to finish on a light note.
Make sure you give the reader plenty to ruminate on. And remember, a great story is worth sharing and leaves a lasting impression on the reader — so try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes before sending it.