Not long ago, I published an article that took issue with “story” in marketing. While my position hasn’t changed—your value statement is far more useful than a brand story—I want to dig deeper into the concept of story in marketing.
You see, story does have a place in your marketing, so it’s important that we don’t toss the entire concept out the window. My concern is that so much of the talk about story in marketing isn’t real-world marketing practice. It’s just a new way of talking about what we do.
So I emailed a few of my colleagues and asked them how they use story. Based on our collective answers, here are 5 bottom line things that story can for you.
1. Story humanizes your brand
“Human-to-human connections are the heart and soul of business. At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people — your company is solving problems, alleviating pain points, and providing delightful customer experiences. Revenue is something that happens as a byproduct of a sound business model and a positive customer experience.” Neil Patel and Ritika Puri, The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing
People want to do business with people. Not brands. And there’s no better way to break down that barrier than to tell a story. Why? Because stories are deeply human.
Stories help you describe what you do in a way that keeps the focus on your customers. They turn a marketing message into a conversation, something that’s social and believable. They make you more tangible and more likeable.
2. Story gets attention
Before writing this article, I called on a few friends to give me their input. I particularly liked Ian Rhode’s take on it. Here’s how he explains the attention-getting properties of story:
“In everything I have written there is always one invariable intention, and that is to capture the reader’s attention”. A rule that worked for novelist Joseph Conrad in 1923. A rule you should be applying to creating content for your business website in 2014.
“The mechanism that will allow you to capture attention is story. Placing your ideas, your purpose, your shared values in the context of your reader’s lives. Whether that be their personal or business lives.” Ian Rhodes
Simply put, we’re wired for stories. If you start storytelling, people are going to listen.
3. Story builds relationship
When you meet someone new, you get a feel for who they are simply by listening. Their personality and priorities are expressed by what they talk about and how they talk about it. It’s no different from you.
Most content marketers like to use the story framework as a way to develop your plan. I can see what they’re doing, but in my opinion, it complicates things. The real value of story is in building relationship, not building your marketing plan.
“There’s too much talk from marketing quarters about heroes and villains and the history of story. Sure, it worked for the stone-age man and the inquisitive toddler. What I care for is the fact story builds a relationship in the here and now between your business and the reader.” Ian Rhodes
4. Story helps you broaden your reach
Let’s be honest. People don’t share sales pitches—not unless it’s a bargain-basement deal or ten-cent sale.
But people are eager to share heartwarming stories. If you have a story worth telling, then by all means, find a way to tell it.
“It allows you to broaden your reach. Story resonates with a mindset rather than a particular persona at a particular time in their buying journey. A shared mindset is a brilliant objective of your approach to storytelling.” Ian Rhodes
5. It makes your followers come back for more
A great story makes you memorable. And if you become known for your stories, you can actually achieve some celebrity status. Think Homer and Shakespeare, whose stories are still acted out on stage and the silver screen. Think Oprah and Ellen, whose heartwarming stories are shared regularly on social media.
People never outgrow stories. They help our children go to sleep at night, and they help us understand the world as adults. So it’s only natural. When we find a great storyteller, we return again and again to get our fix.
You won’t find a better tool for engaging your followers and capturing their imagination. But you have to do it right.
- Start thinking like a journalist.
- Look for the stories that are worth telling.
- Hone your storytelling skills.
The key is to dig for the human interest in your business. Then spin it into a story that’s worth sharing.
Where your story intersects with theirs
We’ve talked a lot about how valuable stories are to engaging and building relationship with your followers. But as I mentioned in my first article, don’t worry too much about finding evocative stories or figuring out what your story is.
What matters most in marketing—the thing your customers care most about—is what your product or service does for them. So keep your focus there.
“There’s what I call the ‘second story’ which is the narrative that is going on in the potential customer’s head when they go through any given piece. Ideally, when I write, I have the first narrative which puts all the pieces together like we’ve talked about, which puts together a cohesive piece, but I also try to get the “second story” down where the person reading is saying to themselves ‘yep, that’s me. Yeah, that just happened to me. I totally understand. Woah wait, so that’s how it works? Cool, I can do that!’ Etc.
“Really, the story isn’t about the brand, but rather the character that the brand plays in the customer’s story.” Tommy Walker
Put your customers first. Take care of them, and the stories will evolve. Here’s how Neil Patel says it in The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing:
“Brand storytelling is more than what you write on your webpage to your customers. It’s more than your blog posts and about pages. It’s how you communicate your messaging. It’s your values.”
In other words, your story is already being told. So don’t sweat it. You don’t need to create some narrative to spoon feed your audience. They’re way smarter than that. Trust them.