Using Storytelling in Content Marketing

Storytelling is an ancient form of art of telling stories as a way of social and cultural expression and activity, often accompanied with improvisation and/or theatrics. Stories have been shared for generations in every culture as a means of entertainment and education about cultural and moral beliefs and values.

Starting from Mahabharata, Odyssey by Homer, the 1001 Arabian nights tales, to the emotionally moving plays by Shakespeare, all of these masterpieces have something in common – they are timeless stories that stick with the readers long after they finish reading them.

Brands recognized the potential of storytelling – the lasting impression it makes, the benefits it brings them, and are now using it in many domains, such as movie making, book writing and as of late, branding. Slowly, it has become an essential marketing technique that has the central place in content marketing strategies. It has pushed the product in the back, making the story the main protagonist. But why do inspiring stories play such an important role? There are three main reasons for that:

  •         Our brains are programmed for stories. Dating back to caveman times, and evolving to today, it’s in our nature to positively react to stories. Research shows that different parts of the brain are connected and firing up when people are engaged in a story.
  •         Great stories can break down barriers. With the help of stories, we can understand each other more easily. They can help us connect better, have compassion, even change our opinions and attitudes.
  •         Stories build lasting relationships. Our tendency to embrace stories, along with the connection they help us feel, influences the relationships we build, making them strong and lasting.

First thing to remember is that stories can take many forms, from long episodic epics to ten-word sentences. Stories have a narrative structure which describes an event or sequence of events. They allow the viewers to participate, or passively absorb them, when read, seen or heard.

But how do you create stories that stick and engage the audience in a digital environment? How do you get your audiences’ brains to light up when they engage with your content?

The principles are closely related to word-of-mouth, social sharing and brand perception, and are important success factors of content marketing. This means that storytelling needs a strong focus on what people want to hear, read and share. Great campaign stories are not only well-crafted, but are based on four key elements:

#1 A beginning and an ending. Every writer can tell you that the key to hooking a reader is by getting her emotionally invested in the story as fast as possible. Very often, for marketers the proposed problem can be sold by the product you sell, so the beginning and ending can be placed in one element (one video), or stretched across a whole campaign.

#2 Emotional connections. A story that provokes emotional reaction, such as sympathy, empathy, envy or intrigue pulls the audience in, and creates emotional memories about the product. These connections, which are far more powerful than stating facts, are committed to memory. That way, as the narrative unfolds, it’s easier to move the audience from one emotion to the other, thus increase the connection.

#3 Authenticity. A great story is also authentic and speaks a truth, to the brand and its audience. It is very important to keep your authenticity throughout the whole campaign because people respect and trust honest brands. If you lose your authenticity, you might lose your audience, and customers.

#4 Relatability. The previous three elements lead to the last and most important one – relatability. If people can form an emotional connection with your brand, they will be more likely to buy your products. Make sure your story has a connection to the customers, and they can identify themselves with it. It can be the problem your product can solve, the characters that are featured, or the time period which is highlighted.

Storytelling is a powerful and significant tool, but is not a magic wand. It is crucial for businesses that want to make a difference, and stand out from the crowd in the digital age. But it has to be done right. Beside having a beginning and end, and creating emotional connections through authenticity and reliability, stories need to be nurtured, shared, and refined. The simplest three-step process of content marketing storytelling goes like this:  

Create content that tells compelling stories for each stage of the buyer’s journey. First, address shared interests and values. Then, talk about your company, product and customers, and lastly turn to stories about the product/service.

Connect with your audience via select channels – your web site, email lists, social media or webinars. Make a choice based on what you prefer to achieve – brand awareness or conversions.

Optimize the content you created based on its effectiveness metrics. Learn what engages your audience and refine content pieces according to the audience’s preference.

With good research of your product, your customers, your proposition to them and the media you intend to use, you can get the insight that will allow you to achieve the necessary breakthrough which will have a lasting impact on your audience. Use a great content marketing strategy and storytelling within it to create loyal long-term customers and brand advocates. Over time, that translates into increased sales and revenue for your business.