Buyer Centricity / Modern Marketing Culture

Once Upon a Time

One major trend that many organizations are integrating into their marketing transformations is a deeper focus on storytelling. This may be because of the value storytelling seems to bring to brands. One study, for example, shows that brands using storytelling improved their annualized revenue growth rate by 70% and their annualized share price growth by 227%.

What is storytelling? It’s hiding a moral about not talking to strangers in a memorable children’s story about a girl in a red hood. It’s skipping a list of reasons why your product is technically the ideal choice and, instead, letting users talk about how your products have been part of the story of their lives, even though they’re just clothes. Of course, while you do that, you’re showing off how well made your clothes are, but in a way that’s much more likely to be recalled and have positive associations.

Many traditional marketers (who come from the world of advertising, public relations, etc.) will find it easier to work with stories than digital marketers. However, every member of your marketing transformation needs to understand how to harness the power of storytelling to make your marketing more effective. There are several, key aspects of storytelling marketers need to consider.

Requirements of Good Stories

One reason storytelling has been so successful may be due to how human brains respond to storytelling, according to researchers. However, to be effective, stories used in marketing have to be authentic, relevant to the buyer you’re targeting, creative, and have an emotional hook. These are basic concepts that you hear about all the time in storytelling articles so I won’t delve too deeply into them. However, I do want to point out one additional requirement that often gets lost. The story has to fit the goal you’re trying to achieve.

Patagonia’s story is at the brand level. During a recent trip, we just listened to a podcast interview with Patagonia’s founder that expands upon the video link above and shows how the brand’s story has expanded into other ventures its getting into besides clothes. The fact that they didn’t have to alter their story to accommodate new elements of their business shows that their brand story achieves the goal of being a framework for a business’s corporate life rather than something made to fit a situation. Think about the goal for your level of storytelling.

Visual storytelling, which is growing increasingly popular, has additional requirements. The most important of these include design appropriateness and share-worthiness, since so many visually-depicted stories are intended to be shared via social media. Visual storytellers in particular have to remember not to get too caught up in what they produce (since their’s is often so visually appealing) and be ruthless when self-assessing to ensure their work meets the marketing criteria.

Story Arcs

As any aspiring novelist will tell you, a story has to paint a picture. In the case of a product-related story, you have to paint the vision for the buyer of the situation today, the conflict inherent in the situation today, what he can do to resolve that conflict, and how wonderful life will be like afterwards.

There are so many different types of situations and products/services that the story arc might fit into a variety of story types. Many marketers chose to use heartwarming stories but, so long as the emotion is genuine, you can use fear (think car safety commercials where you see a mangled wreck that somehow saved the lives of the people inside the car) or humor or whatever emotion is truthfully representative of the situation, conflict, and resolution.

The tough thing, of course, is that you have to set up these various “acts” quickly and in a compelling way or you lose buyer interest. For that reason, it may make sense for you to do what a lot of novelists do, map out what needs to happen in each act to move the “plot” forward before you actually being writing the story. This will help prevent you going off track and, when the final product is complete, you can use the map as part of the material you use to brief sellers and other interested parties who won’t necessarily have time to go through the entire story (depending on how long it is.)

Sourcing & Sharing Stories

Once you have found the appropriate story and know that you’ve explained in a strong arc, you have to embed it in all the different formats buyers are likely to use. You also have to spread it across the entire customer journey. The Wunderman agency has a great example of how it told a story (of cheating on your soccer/football club) across the entire season.

One of the key elements of storytelling that you have to come to grips with is that, once your release your story into the world, it will take on a life of its own. It will either be accepted and, perhaps even built upon by the buying community as they share it amongst themselves, or it will not. If the story is genuine and – here is the place where sharing and sourcing connect –  the story originates with your buyers, it will be more likely to be successful.

To find a story that will resonate, talk to support, sellers, other client-facing people to gather inputs for your storytelling. Attend user meetings. Use social listening to see what topics your buyers are talking about and even to use as part of your customer support. Investigate all the options you have available to you to learn how your buyers are really using – and feeling – about your products.

How do you know what stories are ones that will connect with a large portion of your target audience versus being just a one off, particular to that specific customer? Through persona research. See how it’s all just one big, connected web?

Comments are welcome, especially examples of how your transformation used storytelling.

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