“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
This quote coined by inspirational speaker Simon Sinek perfectly explains the power of storytelling in marketing (which is why I’ve used it).
We all love stories. Nothing gives us the feels quite like stories do.
Fascinatingly, people remember stories better than they remember most things.
Storytelling is such a potent tool for building authentic relationships, connecting with customers, and creating memorable brand experiences.
The reason being, it’s part of our nature; humans love hearing, reading and telling stories.
This is why it’s essential when you’re thinking about your brand’s marketing to remember to consider the story behind your service or product.
A story will connect your audience to your business. So let’s dive into using storytelling in the marketing world.
Table of Contents
The science behind storytelling
Storytelling is a complex human activity that engages various aspects of science, psychology, and communication.
Stories have a significant impact on our brains. When we listen to a story, we activate various areas of our brains:
- First, we engage the language processing centres to understand the words and sentences.
- Next, we engage the motor and sensory areas as we mentally visualise the events and actions described in the story.
It’s this neural engagement that helps us immerse ourselves in the story’s narrative.
Brands like yours can use storytelling to captivate your audience. You can create an immersive narrative through text, audio, and visuals, or by combining all three.
The most powerful benefit of telling a story in your marketing – it activates emotion.
Connect emotionally with your customer
Emotional moments deepen connection. This mesmerising experience leaves a lasting impression and helps to improve brand recall.
Empathy is an emotion triggered by immersive storytelling. This emotional reaction is the result from the release of chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and oxytocin.
When a story triggers an emotional response, we remember it better than we would had we not experienced an emotional reaction. This is because emotions serve as a powerful memory cue.
When a story evokes emotions, we become more engaged, focused, and attentive. This heightened focus makes us more likely to remember the details of the story.
Psychologists refer to this concept as “emotional tagging.”
Emotions effectively tag the information associated with them in our memory. This means that the emotional context of a story becomes linked to the details of the story. So when we experience similar emotions in the future, the story is easier to recall.
Stories have a specific structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Involving emotions makes them part of the story’s structure – so we remember the story not just as a sequence of events, but as an emotional journey.
Elements of an effective brand stories
To create an effective brand story, you need specific elements:
As we mentioned, a great story has a defined beginning, middle, and end.
You must paint the picture and introduce the scene. This is where you show your audience your brand’s message. The middle gives depth to the story, and the end of the narrative should leave a lasting impression.
This could be a call to action, a reflection on your brand’s values, or an emotional connection with your audience.
A well-structured brand story ensures that your audience remains engaged and retains the essence of your purpose for a lasting impact.
Real-life brand example: Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere” campaign
Beginning: The campaign starts by highlighting travellers seeking unique experiences beyond typical accommodation and emphasising their desire for authentic connections.
Middle: Delving deeper into stories of hosts and guests, they showcase genuine and diverse experiences that Airbnb enables, which adds substance to the brand’s message.
End: The campaign concludes with a call to action, inviting viewers to join Airbnb’s global community of travellers and hosts. This emphasises the brand’s core value of creating a sense of belonging worldwide.
To buy into a story, the characters must be relatable and authentic. Well-drawn characters have depth, aspirations, and challenges that mirror real-life experiences.
Let’s look at a fictional example (seeing as this is a blog about storytelling):
Say a sports clothing brand aims to connect with its audience on a deeper level. They create a marketing campaign called “Everyday Heroes.” The characters however are not professional athletes; they’re everyday people.
In doing so, the brand shows how characters with depth, aspirations, and challenges mirroring real-life experiences make the storytelling more compelling and relatable.
Including conflicts in stories creates a sense of drama. In the context of branding, conflicts represent the challenges, obstacles, or pain points that your audience faces.
These conflicts should align with the problems your product or service solves. By highlighting these conflicts, you demonstrate an understanding of your audience’s needs and pain points.
Real-life brand example: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign
The campaign addressed the conflict of societal beauty standards and the accompanying self-esteem issues created for women. Dove highlighted this conflict by showcasing real women with diverse body types and appearances in their adverts.
By addressing the conflict head-on and promoting the message that “real beauty” comes in various forms, Dove effectively connected with its audience’s concerns about unrealistic beauty ideals.
The message that Dove understood the body image pain points and challenges aligned with the products they offered to promote self-confidence and self-acceptance.
This storytelling approach resonated hugely with Dove’s consumers and contributed to the brand’s success.
Every compelling story has a resolution. A way to address and overcome conflicts. And in your brand’s narrative, this is where your product or service comes into play as the solution to your audience’s challenges.
The resolution showcases the transformation or improvement that can be achieved with your brand (and hopefully leaving a memorable impact).
Real-life brand example: Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign
In these ads, Apple displayed a conflict between a personification of a Mac computer and one of a PC. The PC character represented typical issues faced by PC users – such as viruses, system crashes, and compatibility problems.
The resolution they presented was the Mac computer, portrayed as a hassle-free and reliable alternative. By showcasing the Mac as the solution to these common PC-related conflicts, Apple effectively communicated the benefits of their product to the audience.
The resolution shows the transformation from frustration and inconvenience (PC) to simplicity and reliability (Mac). Forging both a memorable impact on viewers and influencing their perception of the brand.
The storytelling process
Of course, writing an effective tale helps if you’re a creative thinker. But you also need something else – a deep understanding of your audience.
To achieve this, conduct research to define your buyer personas and establish what they care about the most.
When you’ve nailed this, you can move on to your core message.
Your core message can be selling a product or a service. It might be educating your audience about an important topic.
Think carefully about the point of your story and why they should care about it.
To help define this, try to summarise your story in six to ten words. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a core message yet. Rinse and repeat until you do.
You can actually tell a story in very few words. This is known as “micro-storytelling”. This concise form of storytelling, often seen in slogans, headlines, social media posts, or even single images, can be surprisingly impactful.
Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard Hemingway’s six-word story?
Here the story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Powerful. Emotional. A poignant narrative in just six words.
Fewer words can be more impactful in the world of marketing and advertising.
If a customer can spend seconds to read your words but the meaning behind those words lives with them for the rest of the day, days to comes, or even months, that’s a powerful message you’ve ingrained in them.
Once you have your plot, then you can think about how to tell the story to your target customers.
Story delivery: Choosing your story medium
Your story can be told in many different ways. In a blog, on social media, in video, or all!
It’s important to choose the right medium for your story, as it will impact its effectiveness.
Take Nike’s “Dream Crazier” video ad, released in 2019 during the 91st Oscars ceremony
The objective was to incite action and inspire change by highlighting gender inequality in sports and encouraging women to break barriers.
The reason Nike chose video as the medium was to leverage the visual and emotional impact of video storytelling. The powerful visuals of female athletes pushing boundaries and defying stereotypes was a runaway success.
Decide how you want your audience to feel as they engage with your story. Do you want to incite action? Perhaps you want a softer approach and just want to communicate your company’s values.
Be sure to align your storytelling approach with your desired outcome.
Stories are everywhere you look
Let’s turn to companies that leverage storytelling to create exceptionally successful marketing strategies:
Disney’s “Share Your Ears”
Disney is synonymous with storytelling, so it’s no surprise that their marketing campaigns are no exception. Whether it’s promoting a theme park, film, or merchandise, Disney’s storytelling is consistently enchanting.
Their specific “Share Your Ears” campaign invited people to share photos of themselves wearing Mickey Mouse ears on social media with the hashtag #ShareYourEars.
For each public post with the hashtag, Disney pledged to donate $5 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
By partnering with Make-A-Wish, Disney tapped into the emotional story of granting wishes to children with critical illnesses and aligned with its brand’s mission of creating magical moments.
The “Share a Coke” TV campaign was first launched by this fizz giant in 2011. What began in Australia was quickly rolled out in many global countries and encouraged consumers to share a Coke with friends and loved ones.
This excellent example showcased both personalisation and storytelling to engage their customers.
Airbnb’s podcast features stories from hosts and guests that give their insights into unique travel experiences and destinations. This approach captures their audience’s imagination and is an absolute winner where engagement is concerned.
This user-generated content campaign from GoPro encouraged users to share their action-packed videos. This concept created a community of storytellers who showcased the brand’s products in real-life adventures.
Need help to bring your brand or product to life?
You need a creative thinker, writer, and storyteller on your side.
Luckily for you, I’m a storyteller as well as a content marketer and strategist.
Although I usually write creepy psychological thrillers, and sometimes bloody horrors under my pen name T. J. Blake, I can tone it down for your brand… unless that’s the kind of story your target customers want to see from your brand!
Get in touch to see how I can bring your brand to life through the power of storytelling.
Professionally Certified Digital Marketer, Tom Blake, founded his content agency, TJ Creative Marketing Limited, back in 2017. Tom has worked with the likes of Sony Music, BSM, and Checkatrade. Tom’s speciality lies within creative strategy, digital content and user experience. Drop him a message with any questions about your content or digital marketing.
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