A young man stands backstage and watches as the school dean goes up to the podium to speak. He draws in a nervous breath – this is it.
The dean mentions his name and a list of academic achievements to them but he barely hears her, only his heart thudding in his chest.
“Please welcome your valedictorian,” she says and turns to him, arm outstretched to beckon him on stage.
Applause greets him as he steps out into the spotlight and onto the podium.
He searches the audience for her, glancing past the bored faces of his schoolmates who are eager for this dreary commencement ceremony to end.
Finally, he finds her, face glowing in a sea of dull expressions.
She’s never been prouder of her son.
His life flashes before her: the moment he came out of her womb, kicking and screaming; the moment he uttered his first word – “mama”; his days as a toddler when they would sit at the breakfast table enjoying their individual beverages – a cup of coffee for her and a glass of Brand X’s milk for him – while enjoying each other’s company.
Now, compare what you’ve just read to this:
Brand X is a great source of nutrients for early childhood development because our milk contains prebiotics, probiotics, nucleotides, DHA…
Which one would you pay more attention to?
Stories are an integral part of our being – it is fundamental to how humans communicate and share experiences with one another. That’s what makes them so captivating and such a useful marketing technique.
Benefits of Stories
Stories humanise your brand
We share stories so that others get to know us better; likewise, we listen to others’ stories to get to know them better. It is inherently human. By telling stories, your brand is engaging in an age-old practice fundamental to building bonds within our species. It is a good way to humanise your brand as well as to build a relationship with consumers.
People are more responsive to emotions rather than hard facts
Imagine you’re in a situation where you have to choose between products of similar quality but one is more expensive than the other. Now, logic dictates that you go for the cheaper one but there’s just something about the more expensive one that speaks to you so you get that instead.
We’ve all been there.
Logic is, quite frankly, not very reliable when it comes to buying decisions. Emotion is the basis upon which all decisions are made – positive emotions toward a brand have greater influence on customer loyalty than other factors. Stories can help create these positive feelings and help you build a relationship with your customers.
Stories make your brand memorable
Stories are useful memory devices that enable us to store and retrieve information. Marketers tend to think that numbers and cold, hard facts are the only factors necessary to win consumers over. However, humans are wired to remember stories better than numbers. A study found that when people hear statistics alone, they retain only up to 10% of the information given. In contrast, participants remembered 70% of what they heard when the same information was delivered in a story. Numbers are important but stories make them a lot more palatable.
All this talk about stories may sound intimidating but don’t worry – it’s not as hard as you think. You don’t have to be J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin to create an effective story, just follow these tips and get your creative juices flowing.
How to incorporate storytelling into your market strategy?
Understand your target audience
You can’t create a story that will resonate with your target audience if you don’t know what they care about. It all boils down to market research, and understanding their pain points and concerns.
If you’re selling milk formula like in the example above, your target audience would naturally be parents. Think about some of the major concerns they might have. What are they most worried about when it comes to their kids? Now see if you can come up with a story concept based on that theme; it should answer this question: what is your story about? Don’t forget to show how your product or service can help them reach their goals.
Follow the basics of story writing
After you’ve come up with the concept of your story, it’s time to develop a structure around it. It should follow this basic story arc:
Check out Budweiser’s Super Bowl Puppy Love commercial and try to identify the three components of the story arc.
A puppy befriends a horse from the farm next door but their efforts to hang out are constantly thwarted by their individual owners.
The puppy is being adopted by a man and has to leave the farm. This threatens the friendship between the horse and the puppy. The horse watches as the car drives away with the puppy.
The horse stops the car with help from the other horses and the puppy gets to stay at the farm and live happily ever after with the horse.
Apart from the emotional journey that it takes you on, another reason why this ad is so good is its ability to balance storytelling and selling. Viewers might not even realize they are watching an ad until the last frame appears with the Budweiser logo. The success of this ad shows that you don’t have to shove your brand into your audience’s faces to be memorable.
Channel your empathy
The best stories are based on universal emotions and experiences so put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Ignore the facts and figures and take a moment to think about how your brand fits into the context of everyday life. How does it relate to human experiences?
A great example of this is another Super Bowl commercial, this time from Volkswagen. The ad centers around a kid donning a Darth Vader costume trying to use “the force” on every object he comes across only to be disappointed until his father steps in with his VW Passot remote start.
The ad went viral. When asked for his thoughts on the popularity of the ad, the CEO of the creative agency behind the ad had this to say in an interview with Adweek:
“But even more than that—people saw themselves in it. I think what made this thing go unexpectedly viral prior to the big game was that so many people saw their own child in the role of little Max [Page, the child actor who played Mini Darth], or saw themselves in the parent’s shoes.”
The ability to put yourself in your target group’s shoes and to read their hearts and minds is key to creating a good story. Thankfully, we are all naturally equipped with empathy and we should use that to connect with our target audience.
So the next time you are crafting your marketing plan, try thinking of it in terms of a story rather than a statistics report or a list of benefits. There are stories waiting to be told in every product and every service, you just have to look hard enough.