Storytelling marketing has been proven to be one of the most effective forms of marketing. But you may not know that storytelling is also a very powerful technique for developing a strong brand.
In this article we are going to discuss how storytelling and marketing work together to be the most effective way to reach your ideal consumers and make your brand stand out from the rest.
Storytelling and the Human Mind
Storytelling – the most ancestral form of human communication. It is what unifies the whole of mankind. Every single culture has a tradition of telling stories. At one point in time, it was the most prominent way of passing on knowledge, and was a vital tool in preparing the next generation for life and carrying on traditions and rituals.
In the world of the Internet, we have access to more data that we can use in twenty lifetimes, and yet “the story” remains the most effective way that we take in information.
Research shows that when we take in facts and figures, only the language processing part of our brain is engaged. When we read a story, however, may other parts of our brains light up as well. The amazing thing about listening to a story is that we experience it as if we are living it – the brain can’t differentiate between fiction and reality. As a result, we are very good at remembering stories, because it’s as though they’ve actually happened to us.
We’re programmed to think in pictures, so our brains are constantly looking for stories. Consider how much time is spent day-dreaming – this is simply a way of running stories through our minds. It’s through stories that we find meaning in the world by associating them with our own memories and emotions. It’s a natural instinct to personalize a story to our own experience, and that’s why stories will always resonate.
Storytelling Marketing – Creating Stories for Your Target Audience
The fundamentals are the starting point for developing a strong brand with storytelling. This means having an excellent understanding of how you have defined and positioned your brand. Telling a good brand story is more than the details you put on your webpage. It’s the essence of how you communicate your values and should be at the heart of your message architecture.
Every time you write any copy or deal with a customer, your brand story should be front and center. Everyone in your company should be able to tell your brand’s story with consistency, but also be able to personify it in their own way.
Telling stories for your target audience means getting to know them. Here are some tips on going through this process:
- A good marketing person invests in understanding their target audience. This takes research and data collecting about your customers to find out why they buy from you, and what they like and dislike about your business.
- You also need to know how they found you and what drove them to search for a product or service such as the one you’re offering. Do you meet their needs and, if so, why are they loyal to you? How is the buying experience for them and what would they like more of?
- There are a dozen more questions like these that you can ponder. Having the answers will allow you to develop a ‘persona’ of your typical customer and will know that person intimately?
- One of the powerful qualities of a story is that it taps into emotions, so you need to know the emotions that your audience associates with your brand. What does your audience really care about? What are their emotional drivers?
- Understanding your audience will also help you identify those brand ambassadors who are already telling great stories about you. Enlisting these promoters to tell authentic stories on your behalf is very valuable.
Having this knowledge about your customers or audience is crucial – only when you know who you are telling stories to can you know the type of stories to tell. Because what it all boils down to is that brand storytelling is not about you or your company. It is about your audience. When they engage with your brand they find value. Their engagement is the story you are looking to tell.
Getting to Know Your Audience with Consumer 360
So where do you start? We understand, this can seem a bit intimidating as some of this material may be new to you. Don’t fret. You have come to the right place. Brand Labs has developed a Brand Strategy Kit that is the perfect tool to guide you in developing your brand story. Consumer 360 is one of the four modules in the kit.
This part of the kit is a proven process that helps you identify your target audience and how to tap into their emotional side. Consumer 360 will help you:
- To unravel the potential needs and wants of your consumer
- To reveal unknown opportunities that will drive your brand
- To be aware of why people like and trust you
Consumer 360 is the foundation of one of Brand Labs main philosophies:
“Know what you are, and be that.”
Of course, to know who you are, you first need to understand your consumer. Consumer 360 is part of Brand Labs’ Brand Strategy Kit, but can be purchased separately on our products page.
Once you’re clear about what you want your brand to stand for, you need to ensure that you stay true to the story you tell. Telling many, random stories without a common thread of consistency will do nothing to build your brand’s image and credibility. Working through the entire Brand Strategy Kit process will create that consistency throughout your organization.
Reigning Over the ‘Content Overload’ Companies
Marketers have been telling brand stories forever – it’s just that with the new inter-connectedness worldwide, the game has gone up a couple of notches. Big Data allows a business to have enormous information about an individual customer and to be aware of the touch points where contact can be made.
Never before has it been possible to build a loyal following through constant interaction – often daily. However, there is a huge difference between a plethora of words and well crafted, targeted content.
The amount of online marketing has increased exponentially and it will grow even more dramatically in the future. You may think that this means much more great content available, but actually the opposite is true.
Skilled content writers are in thin supply, so that many of those putting out marketing content are not particularly good at what they do. There is a deluge of ‘junk’ already online and it’s only going to get worse. This means that it’s going to be even harder to get your good stories noticed, as sometimes an article with the worst content has a catchy title and gathers lots of shares.
As people became “punch-drunk” from too much information, you are likely to experience less traffic, fewer page views, fewer opens and click-throughs, as well as fewer downloads and leads. As a result, you have to be much more creative in order to separate yourself from the herd.
There are some who say that prolific content is the answer to being noticed, but don’t fall into that trap. Yes, you need to put out a consistency of blogs, tweets, webinars, and so on to get your brand recognized and noticed, but it has to be quality stuff or you shouldn’t be bothering with it in the first place. This is why marketing people need to be conscious with every single interaction – even a short tweet – that they are supporting the ethos of their brand and are building a coherent story.
When you work hard to stand out from ever-rising volumes of marketing material, you’ll realize that mastering the art of storytelling is a crucial technique that can make all the difference for your business. It can’t be just another boring and contrived story, or you won’t attract any attention and may even damage your brand. You need to be highly engaging and extremely aware of the audience your stories are directed towards.
Here are some of the main points to be aware of:
- A good content story is not about promoting your company. In fact, the story should be aimed at your consumers, and they don’t want self-promotion. You have to provide something that they want, such as entertainment and education. Positioning yourself as the expert in a certain field will be very advantageous in getting your stories heard. It’s a way of demonstrating your value, without constantly referring back to your products and services. The value of your story should link in with your brand, but you almost have to switch off your marketing mindset and ensure that it’s not all about sales.
- Take your storytelling seriously– this isn’t an addition to your marketing plan, but should be at the heart of it. With the proven ability of stories to reach people the way no other medium can, this is an area that requires intense focus and much effort to get it right. Planning and refining your content should occupy a large part of your strategic planning. If it’s an afterthought and if you try to rush off a blog or post a few random tweets you’d be better off doing nothing at all.
- You need to constantly be thinking about what your audience wants to hear, and what they will want to share. Why would this story resonate with them, what problem will it solve, why is it worth thinking about, how is it topical, etc?
- Always be looking for a two-way conversation with your audience. There’s a reason that ‘brand ambassadors’ are so popular today. It is because they’re the best way of getting your brand into different markets, usually with minimum input on your part. In order to build these loyal ambassadors, you need to engage with them constantly and truly make them feel that they’re part of your story. Understand also that, although you have a clear understanding of your brand, your consumers are going to modify this and portray it in their own way. You can make certain that your image stays within certain parameters, but observing how your brand is interpreted and portrayed by your consumers is a huge part of educating yourself about the stories you need to keep telling.
- Keep remembering ‘why’ you’re in business. Too many marketers tend to focus on the ‘how’ of business – the big machines or the stats or the technology. Chances are this is exactly what will turn off your audience. Stories can involve data, but this can’t be the point of the story. Stories are about emotions, so find those that explain why your brand exists. It’s always good to remember that women make up 85% of consumer spending, and they are far more interested in ‘real’ stories than just facts and figures.
- Have a proper distribution strategy– understanding channel marketing can be a science in itself, but why go to the bother of producing great content if it’s never going to be found? As part of knowing your audience and having done your market-research, you should know exactly which sites engage your audience and which channels will find them. Paid channels are also worth investigating, and you can then keep stats to determine what works for you and what doesn’t.
- Measure your results– unlike some media advertising budgets, you can determine the results of your online storytelling content by the feedback you receive. The more you hone your content skills, the more successful you’ll be and the more you’ll want to invest in content. Well-written content has already proved to be dramatically more successful than TV commercials and it promotes much greater awareness. Most important of all, it encourages interaction with your audience, and this is when you can build a true relationship.
- While planning is necessary for good content, sometimes you have to think on the fly. When you’re dealing in real-time, you often have to respond rapidly to whatever is trending that day. That’s when a solid idea of who you are and what story you’re projecting will help you get something great and topical in a short space of time.
- Knowing how and when to tell great stories is not for the faint-hearted and you may need professional help to design the type of experiences that will draw your audience in and help you engage with them. Given its importance, this is something that you should definitely add into your marketing budget.
How Storytelling and Marketing Work Together
Even when you get your content right, there is still a skill to telling a good story, and certain techniques are vital. Here are some pointers to help you compose a really compelling story to support your brand:
- Authenticity is everything– you shouldn’t put out a story simply because it’s topical and because you think it will get you attention. The exception is if it’s really representative of your brand and the message you want to convey. You need to live up to your promises, so your stories must always be grounded in your reality, and the ‘personality’ of your brand should remain consistent. Also, your consumers will spot if you’re being disingenuous and are trying too hard to get an emotional reaction and will be turned off.
- Use appropriate language– you need to be able to connect with your audience. Stories work best when they can be visualized, so try to paint your stories with words that will resonate with your audience. Always be aware of your marketing ‘persona’ and tell your story as if you were speaking to that person. A good tip is to pretend you’re having a cup of coffee and chatting to a good friend. That way your tone will be engaging and relatable and you’ll achieve a human to human heart connection.
- Make your consumers your central figures– in line with the ‘brand ambassador’ approach, having your customers share your story is much more believable than when it comes directly from you. This has always been done by marketing departments who have used ‘experts’ to talk about their products, and often paid actors to discuss their ‘real-life experiences’. The latter isn’t what is required here. You need to find real people who have a genuinely interesting story to tell and to give them a platform. Build a lot of your marketing around these people and you’ll find that your stories are much better received and can often go viral.
- The key components in a good story are ‘the problem, the struggle against it, and the victory’. Ensure that these elements form the basis of all stories you and your customers tell. Put these stories on your website as well as on many other channels (photographs and videos usually work really well here. Don’t use fake stock photographs under any circumstances!).
- Give your employees a voice– another way to tell a great story about your company (but not all about your founding fathers!) is to tell it through your employees. Think about those top companies rated by places like Glassdoor, and you’ll realize that building a brand’s story is very much about what those working there think about the business. Everybody wants to work at Google, Airbnb or Virgin because of how the employees talk about the companies. This is not only great for attracting top talent, but really raises the story of your brand to a more desirable level. These ‘feel-good’ stories are also what remain in people’s minds. Pictures and videos are a great addition to these stories and will appeal to your customers.
Your entire team should be involved in articulating your brand’s message and its story, and your message architecture and brand identity should flow through every part of operations, sales and marketing.With the proven power of storytelling and its profound influence on human behavior, you cannot miss this opportunity to give your brand a powerful voice. When you’re building a PR strategy, having a formalized brand story is the best way to build connections. When you truly get this right, your story will be picked up, passed on, and massively shared. Isn’t that every marketing department’s dream?