Truth be told, storytelling isn’t a new marketing technique. It’s been in place for decades. As pointed out in an AdWeek article, “You think you’re being all clever and original with your brand storytelling. In fact, you’re not. From Shakespeare to Spielberg to Soderbergh, there are really only seven different types of stories, an Advertising Week panel hosted by TBWA suggested on Wednesday. The challenge becomes finding which one best suits your brand, and then telling it skillfully, believably and—if you’re going to invite consumers to join in the story—extremely carefully.”
The masters of literature didn’t have anything on the masters of advertising. Bud Weckesser had mad storytelling skills with classic ads including this one:
Then there is the world-famous “Wall Street Journal” story ad by Martin Conroy that broke conversion records for years.
Stories have been shown in many tests to pull better than other types of marketing messages. Whether you use stories in video, print or online, people have a natural tendency to get into the “plot” and follow along.
Why do stories work?
From ancient theater to modern cinema and even soap operas, people have been flocking to stories for centuries. Whether it’s a novel or water cooler gossip, we can’t seem to get enough. Why? As Dr. Pam Rutledge reveals in her article in Psychology Today, “It is the ultimate mashup of ancient traditions and new communications models.
There have been stories and messages delivered across different media ever since the Cro-Magnon man figured out that mineral pigments like iron oxide and black manganese could be applied to the sides of rocks and caves. Whether chronicling life, communicating with others, or creating an inspirational image, there were stories being told. Media technologies have come a long way since cave painting and have so many new capabilities, that the orchestration of a story across multiple media platforms can be a complex creative endeavor.”
Storytelling Lights Up Your Brain
Gregory Berns from Emory University in Atlanta had students read 30 pages every night from the novel Pompeii. He gave the students MRIs before and after they read. He discovered that something amazing happened.
The area of the brain that connects what you’re reading with actually doing those things was very active. In short, stories act like a drug lighting up your brain in positive ways.
Later MRIs proved that – even after five days – the affects remained.
Here’s my take:
- We’re Curious – Most of us want to know what’s going on around us. Many times looking beyond our own lives and into someone else’s gives us a bit of a release from the day-to-day norm. This is one reason reality TV is so popular. It’s storytelling in real time.
- We’re Entertained – Sometime we just need to escape into a fantasy world that allows us to leave everything else behind for a while. Perhaps that comes in the form of reading or watching a movie. In marketing, it may be displayed in comical TV ads or videos or cute character spokespersons (like the GEIKO® gecko).
- We Relate – Depending on the storytelling method chosen, we can relate to what’s going on in the tale. We understand the situation presented and can connect to it.
- We Empathize – Going beyond relating, we oftentimes can empathize with the story. If the plot is something we have experienced firsthand (or watched someone else go through) an emotional attachment can be formed.
Examples of Storytelling in Marketing
We have a double whammy in this ad: pets and military service. Only pet parents can understand how hard it is to leave your K-9 kids. The fact that Dawn is in the military means a long-term absence from her “baby.” As the reunion is filmed, we get to see the reaction of both Dawn and Rocky as the excitement and tears flow.
IAMS® does a great job of communicating that Dawn chose this food because she only wants the best for Rocky. In just 30 seconds, we have an emotional attachment to Dawn and Rocky and may be prompted to consider IAMS® pet food the next time we go to the store.
How can you use this type of video in your business? Ask your customers for testimonials. Find out if they have compelling stories that you can share with others through video or in writing.
Telling the story of how the Harlem Chocolate Factory was founded and the principles they adhere to gives you a historical look at where they were, how far they’ve come and what’s ahead. You feel the emotion behind the owner’s tale and connect with the path she took to fulfill her new passion today.
How can you use this type of storytelling? About Us pages are an awesome place! Every site needs to have one so make the most of yours.
This SafeLite® TV ad makes quick work of tuning into a parent’s protective instinct when it comes to his/her children. After the situation is set up, we are fed all types of benefits of using SafeLite® instead of other companies that offer the same/similar service.
How can you use this approach for your company? This is a basic problem-solution technique so you could easily create stories based around the common problems that lead people to your company and the solutions/benefits you offer.
Touch and Go
In one sentence, this magazine ad quickly touched on the emotion of aggravation. If you’ve ever been in a car accident where the insurance company tried to jerk you around, you know exactly what this ad is saying.
Liberty Mutual® quickly lets you know that they are there for you.
How can you use this type of story? Graphics for social media posts, PPC ads and banner ads come to mind first.
Short and Personal
With the business owner speaking directly to us through the copy and her smiling face, we’re able to get a personal look at what she needs. Taking the approach of differentiation, the out-of-the-box business owner makes a point of saying she needs a credit card that won’t hold her or her business back. This is a great step in branding because it uses personas to connect specifically with one segment of a target audience so the message is clear and spot-on.
How can you make use of this tactic? Have a look at this article from the Marketing Words Blog for more detail.
The next time you’re planning a social campaign, a TV ad, a video or other types of media, consider what types of stories you might tell. You’ll likely get a better connection with your customers and possibly even go viral in the process!
Want to know more about stories in marketing? Pick up my Storytelling That Sells 6-module video course today!