Once upon a time you bought a pack of gum so someone would kiss you. True? Maybe not that exactly. Maybe you bought a brand of lettuce because you wanted to be thinner or a jar of curry because you want to travel. The pitch you bought into wasn’t just a proposition: “Buy this, get that.” You bought into a story. A story of yourself, idealized. And you weren’t wrong to buy into it. We are designed to respond to stories.
Buying Into a Story
Whether it’s a beast of a prince, a geek who becomes prom queen or a ragtag group of tweens who find a portal to a strange world, we all love a good story. It can be a page-turner or a series binge. Bottom line: stories captivate us.
They do this because they are a shinier version of reality. Great stories pull you in because you feel something alongside the characters. Whether it’s dropping by Monica’s apartment or saddling a banshee from Pandora, it’s fun to imagine.
Marketing copywriters have leveraged this reality for generations.
Unlike Don Draper sitting around spinning masterful manipulations, the goal of storytelling marketing isn’t to trick someone but to invite them into an experience. At its heart, this isn’t about a bait and switch or a peddler’s promise. Telling a story is about cultivating an environment in which the teller and the hearer share an experience. And, yes, when the person listening buys into that experience, you make a sale.
Telling a Story to Sell
There are some outstanding and epic examples of how well marketing storytelling has worked. It has worked so well that there is an entire brand dedicated to it. Storybrand made its mark leveraging the niche of storytelling to help brands sell their goods and services.
While social media can feel like a marketing vacuum, it also provides a ready-and-listening audience, 24/7. Storytelling may be your primary tool to stop the scroll in its tracks. There are a few key elements you need to master if you are going to use storytelling to effectively market and sell your brand.
How to Tell a Story in Marketing
If you are eager to capture new customers, tell them a story. There are three important components to using this technique in marketing. First, you need a hook to grab the reader’s attention. Second, you need a decent story with familiarity, humor and meaning. Third, you need to close by inviting the reader to buy in by interacting in some way. It’s important to end well with an actual call to action (CTA). After all, you aren’t just an entertainer. But, entertain them you should. Let’s dive deeper into these three processes.
One: Open With a Hook
Every story starts with a hook. We all know our number of readers drops off with every single word. In as few words as possible, give them a reason to keep reading. You can do this with some simple strategies.
Introduce an idea, “imagine if…”
Ask a question, “have you ever…?”
Evoke nostalgia, “do you remember…?”
A story starts with a scene that grounds the reader. You may want to think through things like,
What is happening?
Who is there?
Is this bad, good, hopefully, funny?
Some classic examples of good hooks are:
“Your man could smell like…” (Old Spice)
“Let’s sip, not guzzle…” (Mini Cooper)
“What's better than this?” (Chipotle)
“What moves you, moves us.” (Uber)
“Need some new clothes to go with that face paint?” (Zappos)
“What comes after 69?” (Listerine)
Once you’ve got them, you have to tell them something.
Two: Tell the Right Story
Because storytelling marketing has become so popular, many brands go for it without really having the right story to tell. Storytelling is not customer reviews that you’ve kind of edited to seem like a narrative. It also isn’t an actual overview of your brand or pitch thinly veiled by using characters.
The goal of storytelling is to really convey something that has meaning. This can be something a customer has said or an element of your brand, but it has to be done masterfully or it will seem artificial and inauthentic.
For examples of great storytelling ads, product reviews provide a straightforward illustration. These include things like:
Gap jeans ads
Restaurants, food delivery services and diet companies also cover the range from wacky and frantic to sentimental and inspiring. Telling the right story requires some good writing, as you need to strike the right tone in as few words as possible. And then, you have to end well.
Three: Happily Ever After… Together
This can’t be overemphasized: a good marketing story has to end with an invitation. Regardless of how you get here, don’t end without inviting the listener or reader to interact with your brand. If a story has been woven effectively, it creates an emotional reaction.
This should segue seamlessly into an ask. It’s vital that any CTA, here or elsewhere, be short and directive. Just like how we don’t trust Facebook “impressions” to generate solid leads, don’t expect readers to respond to nebulous or unclear calls to action. Ask them, right away, to “sign up,” “learn more,” or “buy now.”
Marketing Storytelling for Your Brand
Every brand has a story. Whether it’s your origin story, a story of transformation or your marketplace impact, you should be confident that you have a good tale to tell. The way you tell it matters. But, do tell it. If you need help crafting this narrative, reach out to us for ideas or advice. We are here to help brands succeed in this way.