Storytelling is one of man’s oldest traditions, one that pre-dates the written word and goes back in time to when cavemen sat around the fire sharing their history by telling stories. Stories are a universal language that everyone can understand. As humans, we instinctively want to feel a connection to others, and stories can forge that connection.
Every company, no matter its size, has a story to tell. The fact that they exist at all is a story in itself. Today, business owners are realizing how effective stories can be to nurture customer trust and loyalty.
Getting people to pay attention so you can tell them something about your business is hard. It’s difficult to get your message across if no one is listening. However, people will pay attention to a good story. For example, a Business-to-Business service may seem uninspiring until you put it in context by telling the story of what it helps people do and highlighting the positive benefits of such a service.
Storytelling creates an emotional connection. People make decisions based on how they feel about something. If they don’t care about characters in a book or movie, they don’t care about the movie or book. This is true in marketing as well. A prospect can know something in their head, but until they connect emotionally to the reason why they should go with the solution you are offering to their problem, your information is ignored and is forgotten.
Storytelling puts a face to your business. Storytelling helps your business appear “real”. People don’t buy from brands; they buy from the people behind the brand. When businesses reveal what goes on “behind the curtain”, it makes them seem authentic, it brings them down-to-earth and it helps consumers connect with them and the people behind them.
When your storytelling content reveals the person or people behind your business, when you show your prospects that you can empathize with their struggles and frustrations, that sets the stage for your sales pitch.
Storytelling leads to sales. If someone has ignored or forgotten your content, they’re not going to become a customer. They’re not going to subscribe to your newsletter or “like” your Facebook page. When you build on your connection with them via storytelling, the goal is to get them to think of you when they’re ready to buy.
Storytelling makes intangible services more tangible. A major objection often heard when trying to sell something intangible, like a service, is “It’s great this worked for some people, but will it work for me?” When you tell the story about how your services helped people solve similar problems, it works to overcome their resistance to trying what you offer. They can see themselves in the stories of others; they can relate. It’s not a question of “will this work for me?” anymore. It’s, “I’ve been frustrated by that too. I’m going to give your services a try and see if they work for me.”
"Storytelling is a great way to build a personal connection with your customers, which will set you apart and keep them coming back to you, rather than turning to your competition."
Storytelling establishes a human bond. In today’s age of online shopping, it’s possible to be a customer of a business and never interact with an actual human being. Think about Amazon and Google. A human connection is the reason someone chooses to buy from a local business rather than from the faceless online giants.
When you tell a story that shows off your business’s personality, highlights fun facts about your employees, and makes customers feel like they really know the people behind the brand, that’s the beginning of a meaningful connection.
It lets customers feel good about supporting a small business when they can put an actual face to the company name, and understand that they’re helping these individuals to keep their business going.
Storytelling drives sales. Using storytelling that’s targeted at prospects based on where they are in their Buyers’ Journey is a great way to move people through the various stages of the sales funnel, ultimately culminating in a conversion.
A video that tells the story of your company’s beginning works great to get the attention of prospects. But this video is not going to work with repeat customers who already know your business’s history. They need another story that addresses where they are in their buyer’s journey and nudges them on to the next step in their journey.
Storytelling stands out on social media. Online marketing is all about social media, and the connections you create on the various platforms. They’re the perfect place for telling your story.
Telling a story on Twitter is different than on Instagram since Twitter is focused on words, while Instagram uses images. Storytelling has become so popular on social media that Facebook even has its own “Storytelling” feature.
By telling your story with the same voice and same point of view consistently using these different media, you can build trust and brand awareness and drive prospects to your website.
Before You Begin
1. Know your audience
Who do you think would benefit from hearing your story? It’s important that you understand your readers and who will respond and take action. Ask yourself:
- Why does my work matter? Why am I passionate about this?
- What’s my prospect’s problem that gets him or her to take action?
- What do customers tell me was their biggest take-away from working with me?
- What are things people ask about my work?
- What do I want people to know before working with me?
2. Start with a message
Before beginning to tell your story, you should ask: What is the key message I want to share with the audience I identified? What is the point of my story? Each decision about your story should originate from those questions.
Once you have settled on your message, then you can figure out the best way to tell your tale.
3. Decide what kind of story you’re telling
How do you want your audience to feel or react as they read? If your objective is to:
- Prompt action, then your story should describe how a successful action was completed in the past and explain how readers might be able to make the same outcome happen for them. Here’s a “Before and After” story that illustrates how a homeowner’s problems were solved with a kitchen remodel and how the kitchen designer can do the same for his readers.
- Tell people about your business, then tell a story that features real problems and solutions that makes you human.
- Share knowledge or educate, then tell a story that features a trial-and-error experience, so readers can learn about a problem and how a solution was discovered and applied to solve the problem.
4. Include a call-to-action
What action do you want your readers to take after reading your story? For example, if your objective is to share knowledge or to educate, your call-to-action might be: “Tap the Learn More Button”.
5. Choose your story medium
Some stories are read, some are watched and others are listened to.
You can tell your story by:
- A written story told through articles or blog posts.
- An oral story told in person, like a presentation.
- An audio story spoken aloud but recorded, like a podcast.
- A digital story told through a variety of media, such as video or animation.
- A combination of digital and written. Here’s an example.
What Makes a Good Story?
Key Components of Every Story
Introduction. The introduction sets the scene and reveals a little teaser about the story to come. Readers can decide whether to continue and if they think the information is relevant to them and their situation.
Keep readers’ interest. Once you have your readers’ attention, your objective is to maintain their interest. You want them to go on reading, so unfold the story little-by-little; don’t give everything away at the beginning.
Characters. Characters form the bridge between you, as storyteller, and the audience. If your audience can put themselves in your characters’ shoes, they’ll be likely to follow through with your call-to-action. You have to create a character who needs what your customers need. When they read or hear about the problem your products or services can solve for your characters, they will continue on to see whether your character is able to solve his problem.
Conflict. In general, the conflict sets up a problem, then presents a solution that your product or service provides. Conflict shows how the character encounters, then overcomes, a challenge. Conflict in your story draws on the emotions of your audience through relatable experiences.
Resolution. Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. The resolution wraps up the story, provides context around the characters and conflict(s), and leaves your audience with a call-to-action.
Share Your Story
Creating content is only half of your marketing challenge — putting out there so people can read, watch or listen to it is the other half. Share your story on social media, by email, on your blog, or by guest posting on other publications. Video stories can be shared on YouTube and Vimeo. The more places you share your story, the more likely you are to engage with people who never heard of you before but need your products, or prospects who are “on the fence” about buying from you.
Here’s how Airbnb uses customer stories to promote their brand. Airbnb Storytelling Using the stories of happy customers adds a ton of authenticity to your story.
In today’s digital world, consumers want transparency from the businesses they deal with or ones they are considering. They want to know more about those companies, how they conduct their business, how they treat their employees, how they source materials and handle their products. You can communicate all of those things and more through storytelling.
"Storytelling is part of any strong marketing strategy, but it’s only one part of your content marketing strategy; it cannot and should not stand alone."
Knowing what your business does best and sharing why you’re passionate about your work through storytelling is a great way to win trust. And stories can reach people and connect with them in powerful ways.
Sources used in this article and for further reading: