For better or worse, ‘storytelling’ has become a major buzzword over the past couple years.
While it’s been one of, if not THE, most powerful and influential methods of communication in human history, it’s recently been a focus of business and marketing strategy. Some companies and brands have done an incredible job of leveraging the power of storytelling to achieve a number of goals and some have completely missed their mark.
3 Misconceptions About Storytelling In Marketing
1. Storytelling Is A Strategy – WRONG. It’s a tactic. It’s one element of a bigger strategy used to accomplish a goal, and every single goal you try to achieve require a different application of any tactic.
2. Storytelling Is A Trend – WRONG. Storytelling has been one of, if not THE, most powerful and influential form of communication in human history. It’s the best way to draw out emotions, influence decisions, and inspire actions.
3. Storytelling Is Easy – WRONG. Talking is easy, communicating is much harder. Storytelling is an art and a science and requires an element of mastery to be applied effectively. It’s not as simple as going from Point A to Point B and it’s much riskier than other tactics you might be used to using.
There’s a common element in great storytelling called the hero’s journey. In marketing the hero changes based on the end goal of your efforts. Early on you may put the spotlight on your own business to help establish the foundation for the brand and then down the road your goal will be to make the customer the hero of your story. There are two great explanations of the hero’s journey and they’re both based on Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With 1000 Faces’. One is linked above and the other is embedded just below.
Being The Hero
The modern brand needs to be much more than visual consistency, it needs to be human. The hardest part about this for new businesses is getting your audience and potential customers to understand what and, more importantly, who you are. Storytelling can be a way to help your customers connect to the human side of the brand early on. Keep in mind this isn’t where you should be talking about your customers or your product but the brand, the story behind it, the people behind it, and what it stands for.
Making your brand the hero of the story doesn’t mean that you’re self-centered, it just means that right now you’re goal is to connect. Here are a few different ways to tell your own story.
The People Behind The Brand – To take the human element to the extreme, you can talk about the focus of your brand and the people who keep it on track. Panera does a great job of this with their ‘Ode To Bakers’ series. Panera’s focus is bread but in this case they highlight the people who make it happen. They show their hard work and passion for what they do. This makes the viewer and the customer feel a lot better and think a lot harder about their daily bagel.
The Purpose Behind The Brand – Building loyalty around a mission or cause offers a high reward along with a high risk. Doing it wrong can essentially turn half of your customers against you while doing it right can exponentially raise awareness and increase your customer base. Chipotle did a great job of this a couple years back with their ‘Back To The Start’ video. They addressed the move of traditional farming into industrial methods and took a pledge to work with smaller farm operations.
The Product Itself – Some products are fun to talk about and some are not. All products can find context inside of a story, this creates relevancy for the product in the eyes of the new viewers and current customers. Even if your story doesn’t make the product extremely relevant, it can create and drive interest and attachment to it. Blendtec does an incredible job of making a seemingly boring product incredibly interesting. You can also highlight a feature of a product in a story without ever saying a word. Here’s a good example. You may think that because there’s no narration or direction it doesn’t count as a story, you’d be wrong. There’s a start, a finish, a hero and a triumph.
Be Warned: Having an interesting product doesn’t make the storytelling any easier. You still need to create something your audience can experience and connect with.
I highly recommend checking out a book called ‘Winning The Story Wars’ by Jonah Sachs as he does an incredible job of walking through the elements of a great story and applying them to modern marketing. You can also check out my interview with him here.
Disclaimer: In no way does reading this post or any other post on storytelling make you an expert on the subject. It’s a skill that requires practice and application. I highly recommend adding that skill to your arsenal of marketing capabilities.