The power of storytelling is not a revolutionary idea — people have been using storytelling to impart information and convey meaning since the dawn of humanity. But even though storytelling has a long history as a valuable communication technique, brands are recognizing that its potential as a marketing tool is magnified in the digital age. The reason is that there are so many more avenues for storytelling than there used to be. Where once we only had print and television ad formats to tell brand stories, we now have social media, digital video, brand websites, digital audio, and more at our fingertips. Opportunities for brand storytelling are everywhere.
Millions of pieces of content are created and shared every day. People are drowning in information. This makes it easy for branding or marketing campaigns to blend in and get lost within the noise. Cheril Clarke is an expert at storytelling. She is both a novelist and a business communications specialist that founded the company PhenomenalSpeeches.com. She says, “Before we did anything the way people communicated and relayed stuff to each other was through telling stories. … We still remember a good story before we remember any statistic.” A good story can make a company stand out. It can make it memorable.
Storytelling is not a one-off exercise but a matter of consistency and adapting to evolving human needs, although sometimes specific actions and initiatives can seem to have that one-off dimension. However, everything you do, always fits in that broader narrative: from events and content to campaigns. Finally, note that storytelling is also per definition channel-agnostic and people-centric.
Just like a fairy tale, a captivating brand story must have three acts that set up the situation, chronicle the conflict and offer a resolution. However, business stories are unique because they require a fourth element – a call to action, which is often indirect. The ultimate goal of marketing is to inspire, whether it motivates change, encourages the buying of a product or draws people into your store, regardless of the timeframe. Your desired outcome in the end drives the direction of the story.
How do stories do such a good job of captivating potential customers? Stories have four attributes that help attract readers or listeners:
Repeated studies have shown that decision-making is more emotional than logical. Our brains act like stories are real and they evoke real emotions. Having a positive feeling toward a company predisposes one to favor that business.
Stories are an attention getting tool because they constantly create and release tension. The reason this works so well is that our brains crave certainty and closure. A good story draws people in and once immersed, people want to know how it will end. They will continue to pay attention until its conclusion.
When people engage with your stories, you can literally create beliefs by showing them how you came to believe the same thing. Some scientists even believe that stories can activate parts in the brain that make listeners feel like the story was a part of their own experience. This means you can take what you know and believe about your business and transfer that into the mind of others. Then purchasing your product or service becomes a foregone conclusion.
As Cheril said earlier, we simply remember stories better than we do other types of information. There are many reasons for this, but the basic idea is that stories engage much more of our brain than do logic or facts. This memorability trait can help a business stand out in a crowded field.
Any medium can be used to tell a story, including blogs, film, print, social channels and multimedia. Each medium elicits a different reaction from your audience, so stories must be tailored to fit. The key to success is knowing which story to tell in which medium. Short, snappy messages work best on television and the Internet, while online conversations, conferences and seminars provide a personal connection.
In order to be a good storyteller, you must listen to your audience so you can genuinely understand their desires and concerns, their beliefs and attitudes. You must continue to listen as your story unfolds so you can gauge the reactions of your audience. Let this help determine how your brand evolves. As your objectives and goals shift, you must plan new initiatives that propel the story forward and inspire renewed calls of action.