Storytelling. You may have thought that you were done with storytelling when you left infant school. But, storytelling has become a major force in the way successful businesses market their brand.
You have a story, right? There’s a reason you set yourself up in business. Something drove you to stop what you were doing and launch yourself down this path, instead. Well, that’s your story.
There’s a reason customers should come to you instead of the competition. That’s also your story. The benefits you can bring to your customers’ day - that’s your story, too.
Storytelling - the origins
Simply put, storytelling is the best way of passing on information to people, in a way that makes them want to know. You’re not delivering a lecture, you’re telling a story. Storytelling is a great way of coating a selling message in sugar, so it’s easier for customers to swallow.
When we lived in caves and wanted to warn our children about the bears in the forest - we would gather round the fire and tell them a story about a child who wandered into the woods and got eaten. Indeed, one could argue that we developed spoken and written language specifically so we could tell such stories to teach each other important life lessons.
Receiving information in the form of a story creates identification and empathy, it makes your point more compelling and greatly increases the likelihood that your audience will remember and respond.
Now that we don’t, generally, live in caves, we use storytelling for different purposes. First and foremost, stories are our preferred form of entertainment; and they’re still a great way to pass on knowledge. Even the items on the news are called ‘news stories’. They’re a common form of conversation - we all know those people who love to tell stories to their friends, whether that be to brag about their successes, or to share an amusing incident.
Finally - and most importantly - we can use stories to sell!
If you want potential customers to understand how your product or service can improve their day, tell the story of a happy customer; or you can create a story which features a common problem being solved by you.
Storytelling - how can my business use it?
Storytelling is, in and of itself, a vague term. What does it mean?
Well, any content that you create to market your business is a chance to tell a story. Your blog posts can be stories. We’ve previously offered some advice on how your product descriptions can be stories. Facebook posts can be short stories. Tweets can be (really) short stories.
This customer came to me with (a problem). I used our (product or service) to sort them out. They went away happy. The end.
You could make a selling message into a story:
Frustrated by your old (product or service)? We can offer you a shiny and new (product or service) which will make you happier.
If you are bored with your situation, our (product or service) can enhance your life and make your situation more exciting. A better future starts with (our business).
These are all fairly crude examples but, hopefully, you can see that they demonstrate the way your business can solve problems and improve lives. If you show potential customers that your business can solve their problems, that has real value to them and it’s a far more compelling selling proposition than just telling people your product retails at £29.99. A price without perceived value is a hard sell. Price with a value is a much softer sell.
So, show potential customers how valuable your business can be, with stories.
Storytelling - the elements
Famously, a story has a beginning, a middle and an end - usually in that order. There are also three key ingredients:
- Characters: The story has to happen to at least one person. If you want people to feel involved in your story, you need a character they can identify with. They will put themselves in this person’s shoes and go on a journey with them.
- Conflict: From a storytelling perspective ‘conflict’ doesn’t necessarily mean a fight. It means there is an obstacle to overcome or a problem to solve. The conflict is the struggle to defeat that obstacle or problem. The greater the conflict, the greater the satisfaction when it is resolved.
- Resolution: Not every ending has to be a happy ending - but, if you’re selling your products or services, it’s probably a good idea to show how your business helped bring about a satisfying resolution. After that, your call to action is you stretching-out your hand to your potential customer and saying, “Now, let me help you, too”.
Okay, so you have your simple structure and your three basic ingredients - which can carry you through anything from a 30-second radio ad through a three-hour movie to a 600-page novel. These magic ingredients are very robust and versatile.
Storytelling - best practice
To make your story compelling, there are some questions you need to ask yourself.
Is it entertaining? People need to stick around until the end, otherwise they won’t hear the call to action, and won’t buy your products. They won’t hang around, if they’re not entertained.
Is it educational? Does it tell people something they didn’t know; something that’s in their interest; something that will encourage them to buy from you?
Does it have universal appeal? Is it a story that a lot of people can relate to? Does it deal in situations that many potential customers will face, and deal with emotions many people will feel?
Is it specific? While you want to talk to as many people as possible, you don’t want your message to be bland or generic. So, deal with a specific problem or a specific obstacle. Customers are wise enough to work out that if you can solve problem A, you can probably also solve the similar problem, B.
Is it memorable? When people encounter the problem you solve, will they remember your story and, therefore, your name?
Is it real? One of the bits of advice writers are always being told is, “Write what you know”. At first glance, this can seem to be quite limiting - but think about it: You’re a human being - and so are your customers. You’re a customer, yourself; you probably have a family; you’ve been younger than you are now - you know a lot about life. Well, so do your customers. So, create stories that relate to the real problems real people have to overcome in their real lives. If you do that, real people will want to come to your business and spend real money.
Storytelling and your brand
It’s important that the stories you tell are consistent with your brand. So, choose stories that emphasise what’s great about your core services. Tell stories that focus on why you are different and how you are better.
Do your research into the wants and needs of your customers and make sure that your stories address those wants and needs in some way.
You also need to make sure that your stories complement your brand voice. If you are working in a serious area, where qualifications and regulations are important, then the tone of the stories you tell on your website and social media will need to reflect that. So will your stories.
If, on the other hand, you’re in a business which is more focused on creativity and community; then your stories will need to reflect that.
You see, whilst the basic ingredients of a story might be simple and universal, the specific details and the style of presentation of a story offer infinite options and possibilities.