If you’re a business owner or marketing executive, chances are you’ve probably heard at least one rumor about the importance of storytelling when it comes to communicating with your audience. It’s easy to nod your head and file a note away in your mind to add “storytelling” to your already very long to-do list, but it’s much more difficult to actually put the dang thing into practice.
But never fear, that’s where I come in. Hello, if we haven’t already met yet, my name is Melissa and I am a copywriter and content writer for purpose-driven brands just like yours. And yes, I know storytelling. I’ve been a copy and content writer for over a decade, I write fiction in my spare time, and also when I’m not working with freelance clients, I hold the position of Storyteller at a local independent school.
Needless to say, you’re in good hands. I’ll walk you through what exactly storytelling is, how it plays into consumer psychology (AKA why you should use it), the four components you need every time you tell a story, and offer up my nine favorite ways to use it to drive change in your audience.
So, whether you’re a regenerative farmer who wants to drive change toward more responsible cattle farming, a naturopath who wants to change consumers’ minds about what truly makes up a healthy diet, or something else entirely, this blog post is for you. If your brand is looking to spark change or make waves in the name of your mission, storytelling is a great tool to have in your arsenal.
What is storytelling?
Let’s start with what storytelling is not. Storytelling is not reading picture books to children at the local library. It is not making up lies to tell people. And it is not sitting around a campfire with your closest friends telling spinning old tales. Of course, storytelling can be all those things, but those aren’t what we’re talking about today.
Storytelling in marketing is using a narrative format to communicate an idea about your brand, product/service, mission, values, or business/organization. It organizes your thoughts into a narrative structure and plays into your audience’s emotions.
A few real-world examples might include a non-profit organization sharing a story about one of the people who benefit from their mission, a non-toxic cleaning brand using stories about how they make the lives of busy moms easier, or a conservation group telling a story about one animal and their family.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a story is worth a thousand data points. But we will get into that in the next section—why you need to use storytelling.
Why you need to use storytelling
You can share all the data, scientific studies, research, etc, but none of it will be quite as powerful as taking that information and weaving it into a story. In short, storytelling is how you get consumers to care about what you do, why you do it, who you do it for, and why it’s important.
Storytelling plays into consumer psychology to create messaging that drives behavior, is more memorable, increases the likelihood of brand advocacy, and builds trust in your brand—all things that support your business or organization’s mission. Storytelling happens at the intersection of fact, emotion, and messaging, and creates a kind of magic that’s hard to replicate.
Here’s why storytelling works:
- Storytelling connects with audience emotions:
Would you be more likely to cry about a spreadsheet that documents the dwindling numbers of African elephants or a documentary that tells the harrowing tale of one elephant family and their journey to safety? I don’t know about you, but a documentary would definitely play more into my emotions than an Excel file. Playing into your audience’s emotions helps them understand your mission and your brand much more effectively than a bunch of facts or numbers.
- Storytelling makes your message more memorable:
For thousands of years, storytelling has been how people passed down information, and the idea behind this holds true even today. Research from Professor Jennifer Aakar at the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. When your audience remembers your brand and what you stand for, they’re more likely to buy from you or support you.
- Storytelling increases the likelihood of word-of-mouth advertising
A radio-advertising study showed that using stories can have a positive effect on the consumer’s intention to share the brand with their friends and family, also known as word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising. WOM can be a great way to build trust in your brand as consumers often trust the opinions of their friends and family
4. Storytelling builds trust in your brand
Stories help build relationships between your brand and your audience. When you use emotion to involve customers in your brand story, it’s easier to get them to buy into your mission and to trust that what you promise will actually happen. They begin to associate positive emotions or experiences with your brand and that leads to trust.
The 4 crucial components of storytelling
Unless your brand is creating a film or documentary, your storytelling likely won’t be as long as your favorite flick, but there’s still a lot to learn from movies when it comes to the crucial components of storytelling. Here are four main components you need when using storytelling in your marketing plan:
Every time you tell a brand story—whether that’s on social media, email, your blog, or somewhere else—you need to define a main character. This can be the consumer themselves, a group of consumers, someone that benefits from your business or organization, or even an employee. Choose the main character that makes the most sense for the action you want your audience to take after hearing your story.
A good story often includes some form of structure. The easiest structure to start with is a beginning, middle, and end situation. You can also start with the situation, lead into the goals at hand, discuss the action taken, and then follow up with the results. Pay attention the next time you watch a movie or read a good book. How do films or books create suspense? How do they hook you into the story and make you keep watching/reading? How do they organize the events of the story? How can you apply the same thing to your storytelling?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Good storytelling needs an emotional edge. Emotions are a common human experience and are a great way to bring your audience into the story. How did the main character feel about what just occurred? What emotion comes up, and how does this emotion drive their action? How do they feel at the end after the results?
Data and facts
Backing up your story with select data and facts can be a way to pack that one-two punch that leaves your audience deeply involved with your brand and your mission. You don’t need to share every relevant number with them, instead pick a few key data points or facts to include opportune moments so that the points you’re making are really driven home.
Nine ways to use storytelling to drive change
You made it! All the way to what the headline promised—nine ways your purpose-driven business can use storytelling to drive change.
- The origin story
Share the history behind your business. Tell your audience how and why you were founded, what values and purpose drive your mission, the problem that you aim to solve, and the impact you hope to make.
- The personal narrative
Feature stories of individuals who have been positively impacted by your business or cause. And yes, animals, landscapes, and other natural phenomena count as the main character here! Use emotions to humanize the story and connect with your audience.
- The customer success story
Showcase stories of customers who have experienced transformation, achieved their goals, or changed their lives through your products, services, or support. This is a great place to bring in some data or numbers to back up the emotional side of your narrative.
- The partnership or collaboration
Highlight successful partnerships or collaborations with other organizations that have helped you advance your mission. Provide details on the collective effort toward driving change and what made it such a great experience for both sides.
- The visual story
Stories don’t always have to be words—photos, design, and video also make a great medium for telling stories. Use images, infographics, and videos to communicate the tangible impact your brand is having. Visuals are powerful tools for evoking emotions and making your mission more relatable and understandable.
- The case study
Create detailed case studies that outline the problem, the action taken by your organization, the overall solution, and the results. Include the measurable impact achieved. This is another great spot to weave in data and metrics to use quantitative evidence to back up your experiences.
- The employee experience
Show your audience how employees are actively contributing to the mission. Showcasing their passion, dedication, and the role they play in driving change is a great way to build trust and relationships with your audience.
- The behind-the-scenes look
Offer glimpses into behind-the-scenes moments at your organization. Show how your operations and day-to-day activities align with your values and support your purpose. It’s always a good idea to highlight things like sustainable practices, company culture, community involvement, and ethical sourcing.
- The user-generated story
Storytelling doesn’t have to be one-sided. Invite your audience to share their own stories, experiences, and testimonials related to your brand or your cause. Gathering user-generated content can demonstrate the collective impact of your mission and create a sense of purposeful community.
Storytelling is pretty darn important
In case this entire blog post didn’t convince you that storytelling is pretty darn important, I’ll leave you with one more piece of evidence.
Storytelling is one of the best ways to stand out from the competition.
Let’s face it, with the rise of the digital world and the interconnectedness it brings to our communities, most markets are saturated with options. The health and longevity of your organization and your ability to create a long-lasting impact rely on how well you can stand out from the crowd. Do you know what sets you apart and does your audience understand it as well?
Storytelling is one of the best ways to impart a sense of what makes you unique. Other organizations may offer similar products, services, or outcomes as you, but it’s unlikely they could tell the same stories as you. Make the most of storytelling in your marketing plan if you want to have a real shot at turning your dreams for a better, brighter future into a reality.
Go out there and tell your stories! Or, if you’re too busy changing lives and saving the world to do a deep dive into narrative structure and main characters, let me do the storytelling for you.
Contact me here to get started.