Does storytelling work for business marketing?

Over the years, in meetings with business owners, Iíve discovered many donít consider storytelling to be an important part of their marketing and communication strategy. That is, they think itís a nice idea, but would rather focus on analytics, conversions, and other elements of a successful brand that are easier to measure and optimize. The underlying message is that storytelling is for kids and abstract Super Bowl adsÖ not companies that need to show hard results from their online and offline messaging.

In fact, there is a growing mountain of research that indicates storytelling is crucial to helping customers understand what you have to offer, and toward making everything you do more memorable and accessible.

If youíve been skeptical about storytelling in the past, I want to share a few important ideas that might change your thinking. And, I want to give you a few tips for putting them to good useÖ

Why Storytelling Works

There is a lot of neuroscience around the area of storytelling, and specifically why narratives are more emotionally powerful and memorable to humans than raw data. There are many different ideas and interpretations, but the core message seems to be that we are all natural communicators, designed to absorb stories with a logical flow and message, more than pieces of information that donít necessarily fit within our everyday context.

Simply using the concept of mental imagery makes your marketing communications easier to identify and retain. If you can combine that with actual images Ė which are processed by the brain hundreds of times faster than words Ė you will make an even stronger emotional impression.

Storytelling works because it takes ideas that would otherwise seem as if they werenít pertinent to us as individuals, and presents them in a format that we can reliably process. For something thatís often considered to be soft or abstract, thatís a pretty concrete benefit.

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Which Stories Should You Tell?

Once you accept that storytelling works, the next challenge is to decide what kind of message or narrative you want buyers to receive. Thatís going to depend a great deal on the type of brand image youíre trying to build up, but there are a few things you should keep in mind.

The best stories are the ones that separate your business from the competition, create emotional attachments, and bring customers back again in the future to learn more or find out about the outcome. Strive for those elements in your campaigns and youíll come up with more storytelling hits than misses.

How to Tell Stories Online

There are counteracting forces at work when it comes to storytelling online. On the one hand, you have more tools to keep a customerís mind moving than ever before. On the other hand, there are countless distractions and diversions that could pull them away.

If you decide to use storytelling, you should do it in a very specific way. Make sure the story is one that is relatable to your prospect. Talk to them on their level, in their language, and be as vivid and engaging as possible.

Neuroscientists have found that when the images or descriptions are strong enough, the language centers in our brains light up along with other regions associated with experience. In other words, you can make someone feel as if they are immersed in the story you are telling, if itís woven in sufficient detail.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Science of Storytelling

Make the Story About Them, Not You

The classic mistake in storytelling as a marketing tool, is to make the narrative all about your business and its products or services. Thatís not nearly as emotionally connective as a story about the reader. Itís not about the fact that you offer sliced bread, but the idea that they could use it to have the perfect piece of toast in the morning.

The marketing group OneSpot estimates that the average adult in the U.S. is exposed to 100,000 words of text online in a given day. Itís only natural that they are going to gravitate to the messages that speak to them personally, and tune out all the ďnoiseĒ that seems extraneous to their immediate goals or concerns. Buyers care about their wants and needs, not yours. Remember that, and make your story about them.

Share Customer Stories, Too

As we all know, itís more persuasive for a customer to say good things about your company than for you to say great things about your company. One quick and easy way to infuse storytelling in your marketing campaigns is to solicit customer stories and feedback. Get them to share their experiences, and to talk about the positive things that have happened as a result of working with you.

Studies have shown that customer stories are more impactful than many other stories, because itís easy for readers to put themselves in the shoes of another person just like them. Besides, people tend to give more weight to what they read about you than the information they get from you. So, customer feedback can be perfect for building credibility while you also take advantage of other storytelling benefits.

Storytelling is a great way to build up your brand, make your messaging more noticeable, and make customers and prospects feel a stronger attachment to you and your business. Why not give them more stories about yourself, the history of your company, and the people you serve? By sharing compelling narratives, you might just write the story of a better, more profitable future for yourself at the same time.

The Takeaways

  • Stories are more memorable and emotionally engaging than direct marketing messages.
  • When possible, tell your companyís story with vivid text and images.
  • The story should be about your customers, not your company.
  • Get satisfied buyers to share their stories.

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