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How Storytelling Marketing Will Change Your Digital Efforts Forever

Written by Dina West | June 04, 2019

Since we were young, we've been told stories. It's a fact of life and something that we are all driven by (whether we know it or not). It's the deciding force of whether we like a movie or a novel, or connect with a brand. In fact, the top, most well-known brands in the world are all expert storytellers. From Nike and Subaru, to Apple and Airbnb, big brands recognize the importance of storytelling marketing. They are using it to create an army of brand loyal followers that feel connected on an emotional level.

Making an emotional connection - storytelling marketing

Right now, you may be wondering - "How do they do it?" or "My company isn't a big name like Apple or Nike, so does storytelling marketing make sense?" It absolutely does! Your company, whether in finance, construction, or any other industry, can and will benefit from telling a great story.

In fact, according to Forbes, Americans consume an average 100,000 words online every day. That's a lot of content! Additionally, "92% say they want brands to tell stories amongst all those words". That means, not only are people consuming online content, the vast majority want storytelling. It's a huge opportunity.

We'll get into how brands are finding success with stories shortly. But first, let's define storytelling marketing. 

 

What is Storytelling Marketing?

Storytelling marketing is the use of stories or narratives to communicate to a brand's target audience (or ideal clients). Here's the perfect example. You've probably seen the Humane Society commercial. You know the one. The commercial with that iconic Sarah McLachlan song and clips of homeless animals. Although the commercial is only about 60 seconds long, it immediately grabs your attention and tugs on your heartstrings. Through this commercial, the Humane Society is successfully using storytelling marketing.
 
They have goals to raise donations and find homes for the animals in their facilities. Instead of storytelling, they could have used traditional messaging to address their goals. Picture this - a representative from the Humane Society on camera. He talks about how many animals have been adopted. Then, he explains how much money they need to save more animals. Are you feeling captivated? Probably not. Are you ready to change the channel and take no action? That's probably more like it.
 
That's why storytelling is so important. Because the Humane Society showed you animals (the characters) in need of a home and veterinary care (the conflict), then included clips of their team rescuing and caring for them (the resolution), you get a complete story. Not to mention, you really want to help those shivering puppies. Reason being - our brains naturally respond to stories. It's a chemical thing. Our brains are always looking for the three main parts of a story:
 
  1. The characters,
  2. who encounter a conflict,
  3. and eventually, find a resolution (through a guide)

That's the premise for every movie, book and short story you'll ever pick up and read. A story becomes unsuccessful when one of these things is lacking. Have you ever left a movie feeling unsatisfied (maybe even angry) when there was no resolution? Have you ever read a book where the characters weren't defined? It makes it hard to connect with the book, right? The same goes for storytelling marketing.

storytelling in books

To paint a clearer picture, let's explore some additional examples. We'll start by taking a close look at some brands that are killing it at storytelling marketing.

 

Two Companies that are Storytelling Masters

1. Nike

This athletic shoes and sportswear brand has harnessed the power of storytelling for years. It's what made this brand stand out above its competitors. Adidas, New Balance, and Reebok are all well-known, but none compare to Nike. How do they do it?
 
Instead of focusing on their products alone, they highlight their customers' stories. For instance, take a look at this recent Facebook post:
 

Storytelling Marketing Example - Nike

The copy for the social media post is captivating by itself, but the storytelling appears in the video. Now, click the image above, and get your tissues ready.
 
In a mere 30 seconds, this inspiring video takes you on a journey through the three parts of a story. The story begins before the start of a marathon race. You see the young racers warming up and getting into place. Then, the camera focuses on a smiling elderly woman (the character) in the line. At this point, you've only subtly seen a blurred image of a Nike symbol, and no words have been said.
 
The elderly woman then starts narrating, "People said I was crazy to run my first marathon at 81 (the conflict), but that's the great thing about being old. I can just pretend not to hear them (the resolution)." She then laughs as the race starts. A message appears- "It's only crazy until you do it" - and you notice multiple runners wearing Nike gear.
 
In this video, as in many pieces of Nike marketing, the brand leads with the customer's story. Their product becomes a supporting feature in the background. It causes people interacting with their brand to feel more connected.
 
Wouldn't you rather do business with a brand you can connect with? The same is true for your customers.
 

2. Plum Organics

This organic baby food brand has released some stellar marketing campaigns over the years. Each of them relates to their customers and address the problems every parent faces. One of their latest campaigns, Keeping It Together, is a great example of storytelling marketing. The campaign revolves around a single message - "Let's commiserate through the blowouts and celebrate the baby steps. Follow us as we share expert perspectives, insights, and stories. You got this!"

Storytelling Marketing Example - Plum Organics - Keeping It Together

This may not seem like a complete story, but the core message is driven by the stories of parents faced with the challenges of a new baby. The website page copy speaks directly to those struggling parents and shows how Plum Organics fits into their life story. So, in this case, the character is you, the new mom or dad. The conflict is the struggles of parenthood in the first year, and the resolution is this resource of helpful videos and insights - a community for new parents.
 
Here's another great example. Plum Organics recognized that dads are also a part of their target audience. Dads can sometimes feel forgotten since many brands speak primarily to the moms of the world. So, as part of their Keeping It Together campaign, Plum Organics released a video titled "Dad Can Do it Right Too".
 

Example of Storytelling Marketing - Plum Organics

As you can see, the video speaks to new dads (the character) about how they feel like their wife thinks they can't do anything right (the conflict). Then, the resolution is introduced - "Let the dad be a dad. Let him do his thing".
 
Like in our Nike example, the brand name seems like an afterthought. Never in the video is Plum Organics directly selling their product. They are simply trying to create an emotional connection with their target audience through storytelling and helpful resources.
 
However, storytelling marketing doesn't only have a place in video. Let's review some other ways to incorporate storytelling into your digital marketing strategy.
 

How Does Storytelling Fit into Your Digital Marketing Strategy?

You may have a solid digital marketing strategy with a plan for inbound marketing, blogging, email, and social media. But, if storytelling marketing isn't a part of the equation, you should definitely take a step back and rethink your strategy.

Website Copy

Take a close look at the text on your website, starting with the home page. In this case, the character should always be your target customer. Does the copy in your header relate with your ideal clients and their pain point or current conflict?

Here's a great example from Campaign Monitor:

Storytelling Marketing on a Website 

Their headline addresses a problem many of us face with email marketing - low open rates. So, let's break it down storytelling-style.

  • The character is you, the ideal client.
  • The conflict is low open rates.
  • The resolution is Campaign Monitor's email marketing platform.

See how that works? Now, let's explore how storytelling marketing ties into content for blogging.

Blogging

Blog writing should also include the three parts of a story. We'll use one of our recent blogs as an example - Refresh or Redesign? The Best Way to Fix Your Bad Website. In this article, the character was our buyer persona, the owner of a business. This is who we were speaking to. The conflict is our persona's bad website that isn't getting results. The resolution is either a website refresh or redesign, which the business owner should be able to determine after reading the article.

Social Media Marketing

Besides video marketing on social media, there are other ways to incorporate storytelling marketing into your efforts. For starters, think about your post copy. Does it speak to your target audience? Does it address their conflict? Does it offer a resolution? Airbnb does this really well.

Take a look at this recent post for example:

Storytelling marketing on social media - Airbnb

Airbnb addressed their ideal client who is looking for a place to stay in Scotland. By posting this available home, they are offering a resolution.

This can work outside of vacation rental properties, too. For example, say you own a finance company. Your ideal client could be a couple looking to get a mortgage for their new home. In this case, your social post could say something like, "You've started a new life together. Now, you need a place to call home, and a mortgage lender you can trust." Then, link to a case study or relevant service page for more information.

So, the newlywed couple (the characters) are trying to buy a new home, but need a mortgage (the conflict). You offer your services as a mortgage lender they can trust (the resolution).

 

Now, Start Telling Stories!

You now know what storytelling marketing is, the three parts of an effective story, and how it relates to your overall digital marketing strategy. Remember, if you go about storytelling marketing the right way, you will captivate your target audience and make them feel connected with your brand. And the more connected, the more loyal they will be. Now, go forth, and start storytelling!

 

You may be adding storytelling marketing to the list, but if you're not getting the results you want out of your overall strategy, take advantage of our free marketing audit!  

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Dina West
Dina West

Writing is something Dina has been passionate about since grade school. So, it really only made sense that she fell in love with storytelling and content marketing in her career. She understands that great writing entails embracing a brand’s voice and strategizing to make it valuable for both the business and the reader.