Why Storytelling Is So Important To Your Marketing

May 26, 2017 , 8 minutes
storytelling marketing

When Apple sell their products, they don’t just list the specifications of each new device and ask you to buy it. While doing so would appeal to the tech types that trawl developer forums late into the night, it wouldn’t resonate with the rest of us.   

Instead, Apple ask us to believe that we’ll be better by using their products. We’ll get more done, we’ll connect with more people and we’ll be at our creative best. 

It’s a story that’s incredibly easy to buy into and a strategy that has seen them win millions of fans across the world. It’s even resulted in them naming their in-store support function, the “Genius Bar”. 

Arguably, they are the real geniuses though, for encompassing such powerful storytelling in their marketing strategy to build an emotional connection with their customers.

Apple aren’t selling us what they do or how they do it, they’re telling us why they do it, which simply put, is to change the world through innovation and technology. 

Storytelling helps you resonate with your audience 

The key term in the introduction was resonate. That is, to strike a chord; to relate harmoniously. 

In marketing, it’s the point where your customers develop an emotional connection with your brand, rather than a logical one. Accordingly, it’s also the point where customers become brand advocates that buy in to the way your product or service makes them feel. 

In a convoluted world of consumer promiscuity and added competition, a compelling story helps your customers remember your brand by creating contrast between the choices that they have in front of them.  This is especially critical in the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey. 

If a customer has a choice between a company that shoes online, or a company that sells shoes online but donates a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a customer buys a pair, their decision is made easier by the human engagement in the latter proposition. 

By creating alignment between you and your customers you make your brand memorable. 

Customers recall stories; they share them too

It’s not a coincidence that the most memorable people at dinner parties are the storytellers. It’s in our disposition to gravitate towards, and be engrossed by, the chief storyteller at the party.  They command our attention because they’re stories inspire us, challenge us, educate us or simply humour us.

And then at the next dinner party, we re-tell those stories as our own.  Craving the attention and admiration of the other guests and fulfilling our desire to exert our respected peer influence on them. 

The same can be said about customers. If a customer has a good experience with your company, believes in your storytelling marketing messages, they are much more likely to repeat them; giving you a positive word of mouth referral.  Rather than simply being customers, they become brand advocates who develop a deep lovemark for your company and its story, helping you to drive referral marketing programmes and leverage off the positive word of mouth. 

How to craft your own unique story

You need to start with your why.  Your story is the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing.  So, start by how you want to Introduce to your customers, your purpose and your brand promise.

Are you supporting a charity?  Did you start the business because of a problem you experienced in your own life?  Or like Apple, are you creating products because you want your customers to change the World using them through innovation and creativity?

Don’t settle at writing an ‘About Us’ section on your website that talks about your dedication to customer service, or a detailed account of your history and your milestones. 

Write about your why, then you can talk about the how you’re doing it (i.e. solving customer’s problems), before finishing with the what (your actual product or service). Use characters, conflict and resolutions, just as a fiction novel does.  

Ask yourself these questions

Starting a business without a purpose is a bit like starting a gym membership with no intention of training. You’ll feel good about the temporary flurry of excitement, but you won’t have the belief that you need to achieve your goals.

Creating a business culture that your customers and your staff believe in starts with a purpose. A purpose is the catalyst for integrity, honesty and authenticity – traits that consumers endear themselves to.

If you’ve already started your business, and you’re worried you don’t have a purpose, don’t worry – you do. You just need to bring it to the surface, and if you’re at the ideation stage, the questions are the same:

  1. How do your customers want to feel when they use your product / service?
  2. What can you do to get them there?
  3. What effect will your business have on their future?

Speaking of gym memberships, let’s look at how a gym might answer the questions:

  1. Motivated. Like the customer is only person working out in the entire building. It’s just them and their goals.
  2. Provide facilities that live up to their expectations; provide support when they feel like giving up; expertise when they don’t know where to start; friendship when the temptation to quit gets too much; vulnerability when the tough love doesn’t work; flexibility to suit their needs not our profits; advice on diets and supplements that is genuinely caring and not a hard product sell.
  3. Health, wealth and wellbeing. A longer, more fulfilling life because with fitness comes confidence, energy and

You’ll see from the example that the fictional gym isn’t prioritising recurring revenue. Nor do they worry about showcasing their state of the art exercise equipment (undoubtedly a plus, but no different to a heap of other gyms all over the planet).

Their focus is on the customer. On helping the customer achieve their goals – no matter what it takes. Because when a customer sees results in the gym, when they get value from every single visit they’ll keep coming back.

That’s their story. Improving the lives, the longevity and the health of their members at every single interaction.

Use the story in your marketing

Once you have a story, share it.

The gym from our earlier example, could offer free protein shakes all-day, every day for members. They could have massage sessions at a subsidised result (because they care about their members). Health checks could be conducted, including blood work if that’s what their members wanted and it would be beneficial to them.

The email marketing could provide reminders, results, recipes and workout routines.

Crucially, none of these efforts have crossed into the realm of advertising or mass market campaigns. That’s because true market reach in the context of a brand story or purpose is measured by the number of people you touch, influence and affect. The marketing impact of your brand story is far more valuable than impressions, clicks or an awareness score.

An example of the power of storytelling

One of the most inspirational examples of a powerful brand story comes from ride-sharing app, and Uber competitor, Lyft.

The founders of Lyft are immensely passionate about sustainable cities (after taking a class in the topic at University). They believe that town planners are erring in designing cities around cars and motorways, and that it’s having a detrimental impact on the environment and the lives of the community.

Citing that approximately 31% of urban land is dedicated to parking, 60-70% of most cities are paved, and that cars are only used around 5% of the time, the company has articulated their story to impressive effect.  

Especially, when you compare their story against their fiercest competitor, Uber, who covets controversy over pricing, politics and a petulant CEO.

And another…

Most know Zappos as the exceptional online retailer of shoes and apparel. However, the founder of the company wants Zappos known as a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.

The company was built around an ethos of customer service excellence and an unorthodox management style. The best examples of this come from true interactions they have had with their customers:

  • A customer whose Mother was unwell and suffering from a numb left foot, spoke to Zappos about the best shoes for the situation. Not only did Zappos find the right shoes, they also sent the customers’ Mother a bunch of flowers and a sweet ‘get well soon’ message.
  • A customer service rep physically went to a rival shoe store to get a specific pair of shoes for a woman staying at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas when Zappos ran out of stock.

Unscripted customer service calls where reps can have fun, use their intuition and delight their customers is the Zappos story. It’s contributed to its success, which sits now, at well over a billion dollars.