I like to think of marketing and storytelling as the ultimate marketing duo. You can have a story without marketing, but you can’t market anything without a story. If you need a refresher on the art of sharing narratives, their place in marketing, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, click on this link, and meet me right back here when you’re done.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk how you can turn a story into a kickass campaign. But to do this, you need to know story structures. All (good) stories contain several components that tie everything together. Imagine reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to an album without a compelling voice, subjects, or any indication as to why it was created in the first place. How incredibly un-enticing. No matter the campaign’s medium, these are the elements you must include for that story magic:
Know your story structure
First things first. Before you start writing a Pulitzer-worthy storyline, get reacquainted with all the essentials. 19th century German novelist Gustav Freytag analyzed Ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas, and after discovering a few commonalities, developed a handy pyramid that illustrates story structure. Of course, this is just one of many story structure guidelines, but for the sake of this article, let’s stick to Freytag’s version. All stories require a beginning, a climax, and a resolution. A story without a challenge, quest, or pursuit of something, anything, will put your audience right to sleep. And no first-love’s ‘kiss’ will make them fall in love with your brand. Your protagonist should be on some sort of journey, even if the quest is trespassing into the home of three bears, taste testing their porridge, sitting in their chairs, and sleeping in their bed without becoming their third meal of the day. Even the shortest stories need some sort of resolution. Google’s personable reunion video is a 3.5 minute ad focusing on India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan and how—with help from Google — a woman helps her grandfather reunite with his childhood friend after six decades. The ad was so impactful, viewers wrote that “the ad moved them to tears,” and called it “the most beautiful ad” they have ever seen. Not bad for an advertisement! It conveyed emotion, purpose, and authenticity. It had a beginning, a climax, and a resolution. It had interesting characters. It was 3.5 minutes long, and still managed to pull on the audience’s heartstrings. Some of us who watched it, may have even felt a tear well up.
Now back to your marketing efforts…
Follow Google’s lead and give your story some characters. Make your story your own. Get into the details of your brand that aren’t as widely known (what inspired your product, who’s behind customer’s favorite brand, why employees love working for your company, etc.). Include a plot twist and keep the story alive with vivid detail. The point of this is to entertain, educate, and make your customers see the value in your product or service.
Ask yourself; who am I writing for, anyway?
Most writers have some sort of audience in mind when sitting down and typing out their story (hey, Mom). If you’re telling your story to everyone, you’re telling it to no one. It’s your job to understand what your audience values and create content that aligns with their personas. Forbes compiled a list of the most effective ads and why they resonated with customers. And I think you know why (before even looking through the list for some aspiration), why they were such a big hit. We both know that these weren’t ads geared towards one giant homogeneous group. Not a chance. These campaigns demonstrated that brands knew their customer’s values and created campaigns that spoke directly to their target audience. They knew exactly who they were marketing to, and catered their efforts towards those personas.
Fine-tune your voice
Growing up, my father would remind me that the words you use are just as important as how you use them. We all learn not to speak to our parents like we would a friend. Some of us had to learn this multiple times. If your target audience is Gen Z, don’t speak to them in the same way you would 65-year-old retirees. Fine-tune your voice. Know how they communicate. But always be approachable and personable, no matter your audience. Be honest and to the point. Honesty sells a lot better than false advertising, and you won’t make any friends—or keep ahold of your customers—if you mislead them about your product. The interaction should feel more conversational than salesy. Focus on developing relationships with your customers through writing content so engaging, they can’t help but want to check you out. Among other things, Airbnb has mastered the art of storytelling. The cornerstone of Airbnb’s business is to encourage unique travel experiences by providing accommodations that truly feel like home. On their website, they allow customers to share travel stories and connect with other Airbnb hosts or guests from around the world. They know their audience, their interests, and what’s more, they’re letting their customers tell their own stories of wanderlust, which adds a strong layer of authenticity.
With some practice, you can also achieve this feat.
Remember the two ps: personality and pace
Storytelling is a skill; it takes practice and it’s not something everyone is good at…at least not right away. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, especially when you’ve developed a distinct brand personality. And about that personality; the first step towards developing a voice is knowing who you’re addressing. If you don’t know your audience, you can’t develop a brand voice, and ultimately, will have trouble conveying your dazzling personality. So, step number 1: define your audience. Once you’ve identified your customers, don’t be afraid to show some humility. Let your audience in on some of the less successful aspects of the brands. Discuss your failures and struggles. Show that behind your business is a passionate team ready to help their customers. And to state the utter obvious: People want to work with people. Show your personality through every touch point, and you’ll lessen the chances of churn. And we’re not into churn. Now about that pacing. Your pace, which is super important, depends on the medium. You’ll have a different strategy for social than your “about us” page. Pay attention to the medium and the format.
You don’t want to write a 700-word essay as an Instagram caption (unless you want your followers to drop you as fast as their fingers can tap that unfollow button), but you will want to rely on brevity and using amazing images to share your story. On social, you need to get to the point faster and leave out certain details you can include on your website. Get to know your customer, choose the right medium, and keep on writing until you create something that enchants your audience.
Use the resolution or lesson at the end to drive your point home (subtly of course)
There should be a point to every story you share. While the short-term goal may not necessarily be a sale (your aim could focus on educating customers instead), it should be clear why you’re writing the content. Use the lesson to convey a problem or issue your company solves, or how your service will improve their lives. Use the content to make an impact on the way your customers see your product fitting into their lives, but avoid explicitly selling a “moral.” Leave customers with an ending they can interpret on their own. A “the moral of the story ending” detracts from your marketing and won’t be nearly as good if you’re force feeding customers a message.
The final chapter
Storytelling is one of the oldest tools available for captivating an audience, so use it at your disposal. Think back at those ads, or campaigns that stick out to you and why you remember them so well. Good storytelling begins with structure, knowing your audience, and writing, writing, writing, until you hit a goldmine. There once was a marketer who…now you finish the rest.