Storytelling In Business Part 3 – Using Storytelling In Marketing

Image with blue paper with storytelling is the best marketing written underneath.

There are more advertising channels than ever. More platforms to sell your products and services than anyone in history has ever had.

But what is the one thing that has not changed in marketing? The only constant?

No prizes for guessing that the answer is storytelling.

In part 1 of our storytelling in business series we talked a bit about basic narrative structure. In part 2 we looked at using storytelling on your website and product/service pages. This week we will talk about storytelling in marketing. 

Let’s begin!

Image of a whiteboard with audience written on it.
Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash

Who Is Your Story For?

Concepts such as buyer personas and target markets are like kryptonite to storytelling. Storytelling itself is an art. It is an exercise in creativity. But in marketing, knowing your audience is essential.

So how do you get the right balance?

The key is to use practices like buyer personas and target markets to help you pitch your story to the right customers. They help you to find out who your story is for. Personas and things like demographics help you to see the pain points of your customers and what they might respond to.

These pain points can be part of your story. You just have to remember to keep it human at all times. Knowing your audience is not a bad thing. But audience data should be used as a guide rather than a creative driving force.

Image with "your story" written in 80's retro font.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

What Story Will You Tell? 

Deciding what story to tell is going to be your biggest battle. Later in this post we will talk about storytelling mediums but deciding what story to tell is a bigger question than, for example, debating over text or video. 

Whatever medium you choose, deciding what story you will tell is the foundation of all your storytelling efforts. It is here that you will need to decide what you want your audience to feel. How you want them to react and what you want them to do.

You will also need to decide what you want your core message to be.

Deciding A Core Message & Core Action

You might only have a landing page to tell your story, or a 20 minute YouTube video. Whatever medium or length you have to work with, you need to decide on your message before you do anything else.

Are you selling a product? Or a service? Maybe you want to tie an issue to your brand? Whatever the core message for your story, it has to be clear.

A useful exercise for this is trying to sum up your story in 100 words. Then cut that to 60, then 40, then 20 and then 10 words. When you get down to 10 words, you have a core message that you can use.

The core action that you want the audience to take flows from this core message. After you have the 10 word summation of the story, the action that you want the audience to take should be self-evident. This action has other uses too. You can use it to refine your “call to action” copy in your marketing campaign (more on those later). A core action is the thing you want people to do when they have digested your story.

Eliciting An Emotional Response

We talked about basic emotional structure in part 1 of the storytelling in business series. But to refresh, here are some of the basic emotions that you can elicit with a story.

Try to narrow your focus down to one or two emotions that you want the audience to feel.

Humor – That’s funny!!

Anger – That Makes Me Angry

Awww – That’s Cute

Amaze – That’s Amazing

Crazy – That’s Crazy

Eureka! – That’s Made Me Get It

Finally – That’s Made Me Feel Seen And Agreed With

Empathy – That’s Made Me Feel For You

Great! – That’s Great News For You And For Me

Remember to stay human, authentic and keep to your core message. Universal human themes are used in advertising for a reason. Whatever your market, whatever your product or services, universal themes work. They bring out the biggest emotional responses and people will remember your brand because of them.

Image of an old camera.
Photo by Matt Bero on Unsplash

The Medium Matters 

In an omnichannel, multimedia landscape story planning is essential. It is also vital to nail down the right workflow. For example if your marketing is just copy-based, you will have a smaller workflow than someone who is telling a story across a video, a landing page, social media ads, paid search ads etc etc.

There are also very few story-based marketing campaigns that are just text these days.

The medium (or mediums) your story will appear in are crucial to the planning and structure of it. Different channels will mean different planning, different lead times and so on. All of this has to be taken into account, after the initial ideation stage.

Because we live in a digital world we are going to assume here that you will be telling a story across text, image, video and even offline graphic/point of sale (POS).

Story Planning & Workflow

You have your core message, desired action, the emotions you want to elicit and a story.

It is time to plan the “telling” part of your story on your different channels.

Each medium has different planning challenges. But they should all be aligned around the core message, core action and the emotions you want to elicit.

For an omnichannel marketing campaign using multimedia content; some channels have to have priority. For example, if you are planning on using POS material, you may need to order that first. In that case, you will need your design team fully briefed and aligned on your story so they can send that out (or create it in house if you have that function).

At this point you should develop storyboards and scripts for video, wireframes for web pages, mock ups for POS and draft digital ad copy. Call to action text, or prompts, must be aligned in each medium where appropriate.

Lead Times

Generally digital channels (video aside) have the shortest turnaround time. Physical and offline advertising needs a long lead time. So by the time physical assets are ready, your webpages, video, digital ads should also be ready. 

This means that your message and story are consistent on every touchpoint. Call to action prompts must also be consistent on each channel. For example, your physical ad/POS may lead someone to watch your video on your website. With this approach, story and actions are aligned and focused at each step.

In an o2o, omnichannel world, this will help stand out from your competitors.

Image with "do it now" spelled out with wooden scrabble tiles to represent call to action text.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Call To Actions

Call to action (CTA) prompts, usually in text form, are one of the easier components of your story to align but also some of the hardest copy you might have to write.

Your CTAs must always be consistent to your story. They should also be true to the emotional tones of it. If you are telling an empathetic story of struggle against the odds, having a button at the end with the text “click HERE FOR OFFERS LOL” is going to destroy the emotional response you have tried to create.

Whatever form your CTA text, buttons and other prompts take, they have to be tonally aligned to the story. Do not, under any circumstances, undercut your story with bad CTA prompts. It is like running a world-record marathon, then lying down 50-centimeters from the finish line and waiting for everyone else to jump over you.

Storytelling In Marketing Actions

  • Know your audience, but don’t let data dictate your creative instincts
  • Try to write a 10 word summation of your story, that’s your core message
  • Your core action should flow from your core message. If it does not, work on your story until it does
  • Pick one or two emotions you want people to feel
  • Universal human themes always work
  • Align all creative teams around your story to optimize workflow
  • Do not undercut your hard work with a bad call to action that does not reflect the tone of your story

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Need help aligning your stories and purchasing experiences? Want to adapt to an o2o, omnichannel world? Talk to MAQE. We have been designing digital experiences in different industries for a decade. Get in touch via [email protected].