The phrase “storytelling” gets tossed around a lot in the marketing industry these days, especially in social media where marketers are always trying to create new and engaging content. But what do we actually mean by storytelling? Let’s take a closer look at this trend along with some tips on how you can use it to better engage with your audience.
Storytelling and Marketing
Humans have told stories since the beginning of civilization. Even before writing was invented, storytellers shared myths, parables and tribal histories orally. Over the centuries, people have devised a wide variety of formats and platforms for sharing stories from radio to television to the internet. Now many people get their stories from streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.
The question is, how does storytelling fit into marketing? It’s easy to simply call an advertisement or marketing pitch a “story” but this isn’t always accurate. If you really want to incorporate storytelling into your marketing, you need to understand the unique characteristics of stories.
What is a Story?
A story is more than a statement or collection of words. It has certain definite characteristics.
- Characters. A story is about someone. In a novel, this is called the protagonist. It can be an individual, group, animal or even an inanimate object but it has to be about something or someone. In marketing, it could be you, your business or your product.
- Plot. Stories are composed of a series of connected events leading to a conclusion. They don’t necessarily have to proceed in a linear fashion. Many modern stories skip around in time, for example. However, they still have interconnected events.
- Meaning. The reader or listener can derive a meaning from the story. In traditional stories, this often involves a moral lesson or a statement of values. This is an essential point to remember in marketing. A list of features or even benefits doesn’t automatically translate into meaning. It needs to be connected to your audience’s lives in a tangible way.
- Emotional involvement. One of the key characteristics of storytelling is that it involves emotions. Readers, viewers or listeners can participate vicariously in the emotions contained in the story. The most effective ads are good at tapping into our emotions.
Stories are More Than Images
If you leave any of the above points out, you don’t have an actual story. A single photo, for example, can be extremely touching and engaging. By itself, however, it’s not a story. A series of photos or a slideshow can tell a story, though. Many TV commercials successfully engage the emotions, perhaps by showing a group of people having fun at a party or on the beach. It’s not a story, though, unless there’s a context and a series of events with characters we can relate to.
Tell Stories About Your Business
There are many ways to connect with your audience by telling stories about you, your business or products. A fitness blogger, for example, can tell the story of how he or she lost weight, got into great shape, trained for a triathlon or found the ideal diet. Coaches and those selling products related to marketing often tell their own stories on how they developed a successful and independent lifestyle.
If you own a restaurant, tell your customers about your motivation and influences. You can share this story on your website, social media posts and even on your restaurant menu. Many company websites tell the story of their family business. Even if you started your business alone a week ago, however, you can discuss your influences and aspirations.
Storytelling on Social Media
It’s worthwhile to incorporate storytelling into all of your marketing. In this day and age, however, it’s especially important to use this tactic in social media as this is where your audience spends so much time. Here are some of the best ways to use stories to connect with your social media followers.
- Make videos. There’s no medium that’s more naturally suited for storytelling than video. It depends on how you use it, though. You can combine images, words and music to tell your story.
- User Generated Content. UGC is powerful as it means recruiting your customers to tell their own stories. You can request video testimonials from your customers. Contests are another way to motivate people to contribute UGC.
- Tell short stories. Short stories have long been a popular form of fiction writing. The same idea can be applied to marketing, especially when it comes to social media as you don’t generally have much time or space to capture your audience’s attention on social media. Think of concise yet interesting stories you can tell on Facebook and other social media sites. On Twitter, you can turn a series of tweets into stories by creating threads.
- Get personal. Stories taken from your own life can be entertaining, inspiring and instructive for your followers.
- Link to stories on other sites. If you prefer to tell your stories on your blog, Kindle book or anywhere else, don’t forget to link to them on your social media pages.
- Tell stories with images. We mentioned that a single photo doesn’t really tell a story. However, you can make it part of a story by adding text or creating a series of images. Speaking of stories, you can use the Stories feature on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to get more engagement. Slideshows are another option.
- Broadcast Live. Facebook Live is a fast-growing feature that lets you talk to your followers in real time. This interactive type of video lets your audience become part of the storytelling session as they add their own questions and comments.
Just as your business is always changing and evolving, so your stories must change. You can think of your entire business as an ongoing story that continues each day. Keep thinking of ways to turn your latest plans and actions into stories that will captivate your audience.