In part 1 of this series, we talked about the need businesses have to produce great content as a part of their marketing effort. And we listed down some basic rules you can adhere to if you want to emulate the success of top marketers and businesses globally.
If you haven’t checked that out, here is a link to the story:
Today, we are going to look at #1 in that list. The need to tell a great story.
Which one of us isn’t guilty of wanting to hear a good story? Storytelling has been leveraged by people in power for as long as you can remember — it is used by brands to connect with their customers and increase brand loyalty, it is used by politicians to get their electorate to favor them over their opponents. We all use storytelling in one way or another, most of the times to just engage the listener in a better way than we could have otherwise. Brands use it to capture the attention of their consumers and increase revenue.
If you take a moment to think of some of the best commercials you have come across, chances are brands like Coca-Cola, Johnnie Walker, Nike would feature on that list. Why is that? You may think that it is the extremely large coffers these brands have that sets up the stage for these successful campaigns, but that’s not entirely true. While the large budget certainly sets a nice foundation, but that’s not the main reason. If you look at their campaigns, you will notice a universal common elements in all these campaigns — they all tell a story. Nike paints a picture of people doing the impossible, something that gets your blood pumping. Johnnie Walker has always been about ‘keep walking’ — a message that dates back as far as John Walker starting the legendary brand. And the power storytelling has over our lives starts from a very early age — right from the point where parents and grandparents try to teach their kids the lessons of life via stories.
A good story is always engaging, and holds the power to capture the attention of its audience from the very beginning to the very end.
And that is what grants storytelling the foremost importance in our content marketing series. It has the power to hold the attention of the audience.
We are all storytellers, and those of us who aren’t, they wish they could be.
Someone who can hold the audience when he is telling a story is able to be the life of any social gathering. The audience is holding on to every word he says, following his hand gestures and changes in his facial expressions. Essentially, a good storyteller is the life of a party because he has a complete command over the audience.
Tell me if you don’t want everyone in your marketing team to have that impact over your target audience?
There is a reason why I encourage every startup I mentor to think of their whole team as marketers. If nothing else, I want them to write whenever they can.
Because when you are writing, one of the first things you ask yourself — How do I present this topic in a way that someone would be interested in reading about it.
You don’t want it to come across as dry and/or bland, and neither do you want to make it funny just for the sake of being funny. And that is exactly where you would find the vast majority of content today. It is either too bland, or it is trying too hard.
Storytelling is not an inherent trait, anyone can work at developing that skill. Sure, some people are born storytellers, but that is because they have put in effort to understand the range of human emotions and motivations, and they leverage the psychological edge it provides them in their storytelling. There is no reason why you can’t do that as well. Once you have an understanding of what makes the other person tick, you would be in a better place to create a content that communicates with them in an authentic yet engaging way.
When you create any content, always ask yourself:
This content. What problem is it solving for my audience?
Also, is that a problem that my audience wants to address. :-)
Apple ads have always been about challenging the status quo. And they have always tried to highlight pain points their target audience have found themselves struggling with. Battery backup, weight, cable woes, poor camera quality. You name it, and they have done it, and done it beautifully.
If you want to get better at storytelling, let us learn from the storytellers.
Feature films produced by Pixar have won countless awards, including fifteen Academy Awards, nine Golden Globes and eleven Grammys, and their storytelling formula has received so much acclaim that an actual course on Khan Academy exists for this. (It’s available for free, so go ahead and check it out.)
Remember, the power of a story exists in the fact that it is able to connect with your audience on an emotional level.
Talk to any successful old-school advertiser and they will tell you that the most they get to communicate with and engage a customer is 30 seconds. What that essentially means for the advertiser is that they lay utmost importance on identifying and isolating the single most important idea that they need to convey and communicate to the consumers. Their entire advertising is tethered to that.
With the shift in the technology landscape to digital, the criticality of having to communicate your idea in a easy-to-understand crisp message evolved to a series of compelling stories that had both the propensity and the ability to drive a much deeper engagement that can last longer. And any marketer who has had to shift from the old-school ways to the new-world digital landscape will testify to how hard they ultimately found storytelling to be.
Today, identifying better content through storytelling has become a key marketing imperative for most of the successful brands and their marketing functions. So, why is storytelling often touted as the best way for marketers to engage their customers? Let us look at some key reasons behind storytelling being so important.
As we discussed before, storytelling is a fundamental human experience that connects two people on a deep psychological level, driving stronger and lasting connections. There is a reason your kids want you to tell them stories; they feel more connected to you while going through the process.
Storytelling isn’t exactly a new concept. Think of the last campfire you were sitting around, and you will remember some interesting stories that people sitting around narrated to the group.
Do you really think cavemen didn’t do the same to connect with the community? Sure they did; they didn’t have Snapchat, Facebook, Youtube or Tinder to keep themselves occupied.
Whether it is Coke’s campaign around sharing warm, fuzzy feelings by sharing a bottle of coke, or Suburu’s ads that position the car brand as a symbol of caring for those you love — the ads end up being more about what the brand represents to their target audience than the taste of the beverage or the horsepowers the engine holds.
By communicating the DNA of the brand through stories, businesses find themselves in the unique position where they are able to elevate what the brand potentially means to the customers and better define how they fit into the customers’ lives.
As marketers, we often need to educate our consumers so as to help them get more comfortable with the transactions our business needs them to make. And almost always, we need to increase awareness about our brand, the benefits of using our brand and the product/service offerings. And that is where stories come into play. You can leverage the power of a good storyline to transmit knowledge and meaning, and the inherent nature of a story to convey emotions is what makes those pieces of knowledge stick!
Let us get geeky for a second here. At the end of the day, it is all basic neuroscience. Warm and fuzzy feelings facilitate release of dopamine in our brains, the neurotransmitter most responsible for the sense of pleasure. Now, if you look up the neurotransmitters responsible for forging of memories or those associated with learning, you would find dopamine is one of the common elements in both those cases. That is why you still remember both the “great ad” you saw as a child, and the brand that ad was for.
Let me illustrate the power of relatable stories by using an example. “Garbage bin” was a webcomics being run via a Facebook page. The page was created around the end of December 2011, and in the first month, it had just two likes — probably just the two people behind the page. Two years later, the page had crossed the half million likes mark. Today, they have over a million likes on their page, and each of their strips gets an engagement of ~5k likes, ~250 shares. Why? Because each strip was a short story every Indian could relate to from their childhood days. Here is a strip:
What started as a webcomics helped Garbage Bin become a channel leading brands could use to reach out to their target audience. Why? Because their content was insanely relatable and popular. They were covered by leading media publications for their popularity among the youth, which further helped them enhance their brand’s value to businesses.
The digital media world of today is not just saturated with content, it is fragmented as well. And since there is such an immense media saturation and fragmentation (irrespective of the media type you think of), in order for your content to stand out, you need to disseminate your content in a way that delivers different experiences. You need to answer the question as to why a consumer should give you their time. Why they should prefer your content over others’. Storytelling gives your consumers a different entry to your brand’s philosophy and identity.
One of the primary benefits of storytelling stems from the fact that it is able to list the value your business adds to your audience-base without making a direct and apparent attempt at making a sale. As human beings, we are social in nature, and nothing underscores the social aspect of our personality more than the innate need we feel to hear about other people’s experiences before we go ahead and make a similar transaction. This is the reason why businesses have product ratings and reviews on the product page, and why B2B businesses lay so much emphasis on case studies and client testimonials.
When you keep stories as the foundation of your content marketing, your target audience is getting more than a list of features your product has — they get to understand how your product fits into their lives, and then and only then will they get comfortable with taking that action which brings them a step closer to transacting with you.
A second aspect of storytelling that deals with the social nature of human beings is the relatability of it. Businesses strive to be consumer friendly; Amazon has built its entire empire on top of the “customer first” approach. But that doesn’t make you your customers’ friends. But when you get into storytelling, you end up adding a human element to your content and your business, making people relate to the characters.
It goes as far as awaken empathy in your audience. A great example of this can be found in this ad by Indian food delivery startup Swiggy’s commercial.
The ad highlights an important aspect of businesses like food delivery — people calling the delivery partners, but not bothering to check on the name of the guy they are calling.
(Ask some Hindi speaking friend of yours to tell you the essence of this ad; you will love it.) Do you remember the name of the driver from your last Uber ride?
It was a powerful and quite a touching commercial — one people could relate to. And that is what makes storytelling so powerful; they resonate with you on a level a traditional advertisement wouldn’t be able to.
As marketers, we should always strive to developing an emotional connection with our audience. Why? CTAs man, what else. You want your audience to feel something which would drive them to take an action as soon as they come across the content you have just pushed their way.
Now that we have underlined the importance of storytelling in your content marketing enough number of times, lets get down to brasstacks and start dissecting how to do it the right way:
Loosely speaking, these rules will help you master the game of storytelling. Other than that, there are of course some obvious tips. For example, if you see your audience engaging with a particular story/storyline, it makes a lot of sense to both add to that storyline as well as spend some advertising dollars in expanding the exposure that story gets in front of your target base.
And of course, as always, be honest, sincere and true to who you are at the core of your brand’s values. Be creative and engaging, sure, but don’t fake it. People can spot it a mile away, and the second that happens, you would lose all credibility.
Always remember the golden truth about storytelling:
Facts tell, but stories sell!
Unlike your traditional business messaging that used to spew out ads about product offerings, company news and promotions/sales/discounts, storytelling is dynamic. It focuses on one overarching and broad, expansive theme, thus giving you the ability to craft all your subsequent messaging (irrespective of the content format or delivery medium) around that topic.
The best performing stories would be the ones that aren’t just owned by the brands, but instead a shared narrative between the brand, the customers, and everything in between. Use success and failure, pride and regret, use all your emotions, and portray a more human and a little more relatable image of your business. These are the stories that would stand the test of time.
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