How is your customer engagement? Do you have raving fans who share everything you post on social media? Or is your Facebook page starting to look like a ghost town? Maybe your email clickthrough rates are in the toilet, too?
Many brands approach their content marketing by throwing out a bunch of messages to the universe and hoping that something grabs their ideal client’s attention and gets them to engage.
The problem with this type of marketing “plan” is that if you don’t take the time to tell your customers what they really want to hear, they might tune you out.
The good news is that there’s a better way to not only reach your ideal audience but also engage them and create brand loyalty.
You can actually brand build and engage your customers when you utilize the right tools. And just what are those tools?
Yes, it’s really that simple. By adding storytelling into your marketing plan you will engage the customers you’ve got, grab some new ones along the way and best of all, increase that coveted brand loyalty which means your customers do the selling for you.
What Is Storytelling In Marketing?
So, just what is storytelling in marketing?
Let’s start with what it’s not. It’s certainly not a bunch of random stories that have little to do with your brand’s purpose. It’s also not just one set story that you tell over and over again.
Storytelling in marketing is the overarching narrative that you tell potential clients about your brand. It encompasses all parts of your brand communications, including your brand story/origin story, customer journey and will even be recognizable in things like blog articles and social media posts.
Why Build Your Brand With Storytelling?
We are bombarded with marketing messages each and every day. From commercials on TV or our Hulu accounts, to ads showing up in our Facebook and Instagram feeds and interrupting our radio listening, there is no end to the amount of content that is constantly in our faces.
As companies are trying to get more of our attention spans, we’re also tuning them out. The reality is, our attention spans are short and we are picky about what we give our attention to.
Because of this, it’s not ok to just throw a “BUY NOW” message out to the world and expect someone to not only buy, but also engage with our brand. In the hey days of advertising it was not unthinkable that a consumer could be jolted into paying attention with some flashy keywords and phrases mixed with a good dose of scarcity, but that’s just not the case anymore.
We are becoming immune to messages that appear to be marketing messages.
Case in point – think about the last time you were listening to the radio. What did you do when the commercials came on? Did you sit there hanging on the voice over artist’s every word, or did you change the channel?
Contrast that with the last time you heard a juicy piece of gossip or saw an interesting human interest piece on the news. While you can’t recite the 30-second spot from the radio, you can probably retell the interesting story with incredible accuracy, even after hearing it only once.
Why is that? Well, our brains have a little something do with it.
The Brain Loves Stories
The reality is, our brains are hardwired for stories. We actually have a different brain reaction to stories than we do to other forms of communication. Research that was backed by the U.S. Department of Defense found that we are more likely to voluntarily cooperate when we are engaged in a good story.
This is because our brains release the chemical oxytocin when we hear a story that we connect with. Brands that are able to tap into that emotional connection with their audience will experience greater engagement and brand loyalty.
Storytelling is also part of our history. It is the way we have passed down information from generation to generation. In fact, storytelling is such an ancient form of communication that we don’t actually know when it officially began, but it is one of the traits that make us uniquely human.
A Brand Without A Story Is A Commodity
If you don’t tell stories in your marketing then your customers will likely judge you by price alone. This is a terrible place to be because companies that are only traded on price are here today and gone tomorrow – nothing more than a commodity.
You don’t want to be a commodity (even if you think your brand is something that would typically be a commodity based business). Think about the last time you bought something just because it was on sale or the only product in your face that fit your need at that time.
Will you seek out that same brand next time, or will it be what’s available and for the right price when you need that item again?
Don’t Be a Commodity
Coffee is a product that could very well be a commodity. You can buy it at almost any drive-through, gas station, or grocery store.
But, that didn’t stop Starbucks from turning their coffee business into a lifestyle brand. Instead of selling based on price, Starbucks created an experience for the customer. Their brand story includes the idea that having a cup of coffee is an experience.
Everything from the smell of a Starbucks store to the names of their drinks helps to build in that experience from the minute you walk through the doors. If you are a loyal Starbucks customer, it would never dawn on you to ask for a discount or wait for a sale to buy a cup of coffee there.
You remain loyal to the brand because you believe in their vision and brand message.
An Example Of Building Brand Loyalty
Another brand that inspires a lot of brand loyalty from their customers is TOMS. TOMS has a simple philosophy that has engaged customers from the start.
Their One For One Campaign™ simply states that they give a pair of shoes in need for every pair that’s purchased. When you buy a pair of TOMS you are not just getting a new pair of shoes, but you’re participating in something greater than yourself.
It is this story that not only engages customers, but also has turned many customers into brand evangelists. Talk to any person who enjoys wearing TOMS shoes and the majority of them will tell TOMS brand story when you mention their shoes.
This is ideally what every brand wants to achieve – this is the type of advertising that you simply cannot pay for and it is worth the most to your brand.
How Do You Get There
If you aren’t a brand that has a large social component, you may be wondering how you can engender that same type of loyalty that TOMS has been successful at. Fear not, it’s easier than you might think.
The key to connecting to your target market through the stories you tell includes the following elements, which we will break down in further detail.
- Understanding the Customer’s Story
- Making the Customer the Focus of The Story
- Meeting the Customer’s Needs
- Being Likable
Understanding The Customer’s Story
In order to tell your customers compelling and engaging stories, you need to understand them. Who are they, what do they need from you, what dreams and desires do they have? What problems can you solve?
One question I like to ask my clients about their target market is, “What keeps them up at night?” By fully understanding who it is that you are intending to reach, you’ll be able to market to them in a much more interesting and engaging way.
The customer’s story is key to getting that engagement from your ideal customers. If you want them to love you, then you’ve got to understand where they are coming from.
Making The Customer The Focus Of The Story
This is where a lot of brands go wrong. When setting out to include storytelling in their brand’s marketing they mistakenly think that the brand is the hero of the story, when in fact the customer is the real hero.
The brand is the helper, or the mentor.
If you make your brand the focus of your storytelling efforts and the customer plays the role of sidekick, you won’t see the engagement that is possible. Make it about them as much as you can. They are the hero.
One way to make sure you’re focusing on the customer as hero is to ask this question from your customer’s perspective, “What’s in it for me?” If there’s not much, then you won’t increase that brand loyalty.
The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell
According to Joseph Campbell, a hero in the world of storytelling (without him there might not be a Star Wars) *gasp*, there is a framework that almost all stories can be placed into.
We’re talking ancient myths to modern classics. While his storytelling formula is a bit more advanced than the average marketer needs to understand, there are some basic elements of this hero’s journey that are applicable to brands as they set out to write stories for marketing.
Of course, if you would like to dive really deep into the world of storytelling you can check out his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The key points of the hero’s journey that are applicable to the marketing story are:
- Your hero (the customer) has a problem
- Your hero (the customer) is invited to a journey toward solving that problem
- Your hero (the customer) meets a mentor (your brand) that helps them with their journey.
- Your hero (the customer) succeeds in achieving their goals.
Meeting The Customer’s Needs
- Certainty – The need for security and stability
- Uncertainty – The need for surprise and variety
- Significance – The need for importance and to have meaning
- Love & Connection – The need to feel wanted and closeness
- Growth – The need for personal, business, or spiritual development
- Contribution – The need to help and serve others
These six core needs are a key to your brand story because ultimately you sell one or more of them to your customers. It’s never just the actual item, software, or service that you provide your client. It’s actually a better version of themselves. That better version will mean an improvement in one of these core areas.
Another way to think about this is to ask yourself the question, “What business am I really in?”.
In my case, as a copywriter, I’m selling words on a page, but that’s not really what I’m selling. I’m selling the ability to make money (growth) the ability to get their message out to the world (significance) and for some of my clients, a way to help others achieve their goals and dreams (contribution).
How do you help your customers achieve one or more of these core needs?
Being likable is not as hard as it sounds and yet many brands struggle to fully understand the meaning behind this storytelling technique. In order to be likable to your ideal clients it’s important to have a clear and defined brand voice.
Now, here’s a little warning: Inevitably when some people hear this they think it means that they have to be neutral and appeal to everyone. Let me just say this: the opposite is true. You only need to be likable to your ideal clients.
That doesn’t mean that you need to offend others, but if they don’t like you, that’s ok. Having a likable brand voice can often be polarizing because you stand for something very specific.
Look at Apple and Microsoft. These two brands have completely different personalities (and target markets). In fact, you are likely a customer of one or the other when it comes to computers or phones and probably not both.
You may remember when Apple launched their “Think Different” campaign. It was a call to rebels and change makers to think differently. This was much different from the more business image of Microsoft.
By taking a stand and declaring a brand story that forced people to take sides, Apple drew a line in the sand and in doing so, they were able to create a very loyal following.
One way to start dialing in on your brand personality is to create a list of adjectives that describe your brand. Are you fun and sarcastic? Or, are you timeless and classic? You can also start thinking about brands that have similar aspects to you. What is it about them that you like?
Another great exercise to get you thinking about your brand style and increase your likability is to take a brand archetype test. Figuring out which archetype your brand falls into will help you start to think about communication styles that you can use to appeal to your ideal client.
You can learn a bit more about archetypes here.
Using Stories To Engage Readers Through Worldview
We all have a worldview and that worldview shapes what we think of the world, including brands that we shop with. Probably now more than ever brands are starting to realize the power of tapping into stories to show potential customers that they believe in the same things.
One brand who does a great job of using story to promote a specific worldview is Dove. Their “Real Beauty” campaign got to the heart of the matter for those in the body love movement. They told a much different story than we see being told by brands like Victoria’s Secret who uses phrases like Bombshell and Angel to promote an unattainable goal for most.
Instead, Dove said let’s get rid of all that airbrushing, false advertising and stereotypical images of female beauty and let’s show real women how beautiful they actually are, which resonated with their customers.
Another brand with a strong worldview is Urban Decay. Their motto is “beauty with an edge” and describe their brand as feminine, fun.
On their website they state their worldview clearly, their products are for women who “relish their individuality and dare to express it.” While not every woman will be a perfect customer for them, they don’t water down their messaging so they attract only the right people to their brand.
Find Out What Your Customers Want
So, how do you know if you’re onto a good story for your customers? Ask them! If you’ve never asked your customers what they want to hear from you in your narrative, now is as good a time as any to ask them through online surveys and interviews.
If you don’t know what your customers really want to hear from you, then your message may not reach them. It’s really simple to create an online survey and send it out to current and past customers to find out what they think of your brand.
I always suggest aligning your story with what your customers want to hear in order to have the biggest impact.