Storytelling is an essential part of good marketing.
I palled around with a lot of aspiring writers in college. We were a nerdy bunch who loved writing and books and talking about writing and books. We would spend hours waxing philosophical about characters and plots and themes. We’d break down why some writing styles worked and why others didn’t, and we always cared about how the story was told.
Now, almost twenty years later, even though I’m making my living as a writer, I think about storytelling a lot less than I used to. The longer I work as a writer in marketing, the more I’m convinced this is a mistake.
Marketing and Storytelling: A Match Made in Heaven
In my previous life as an English professor, I learned pretty quickly that most people come to college and think that storytelling primarily applies to fiction writing. My students rarely believed they had their own stories to share, and one of my favorite parts of my job was empowering them to tell their own stories — and to take ownership of their value.
Another part of my job was showing them that storytelling isn’t a skill reserved for novelists and fiction writers. Whatever your job, whatever your field, there’s room for a little bit of storytelling.
In his book, This is Marketing, Seth Godin writes that marketers have “powerful, nuanced, and timeless tools at our disposal. We tell stories.” He then argues, essentially, that it’s stories that will change someone’s mind or get them to buy into a new idea or take a new action.
What Godin is suggesting is that marketing and storytelling are a match made in heaven.
How to Use Storytelling in Marketing
In 2016, when Airbnb launched their mobile app, they simultaneously launched a marketing campaign called “Live There.” The idea was to have renters reimagine their travel experiences as if they weren’t just passing through, but might live there, “even if just for a night.”
You can check out this spot Airbnb created for Paris as a part of this campaign.
What Airbnb did was tell a story about how their renters' lives could be different, if only for a night. In doing that, they gave their customers a way to think about vacations differently. And this is our job as marketers—to get our clients and their customers to consider something they haven’t before.
Weaving storytelling techniques into marketing copywriting can be done simply with a few simple tips.
1. Create a narrative to emotionally connect with your reader.
Stories elicit an emotional response from the reader, and research shows that someone is 55% more likely to make a purchase from a brand whose story they love. This can be attributed to brain science and the phenomenon called ‘neural coupling’ wherein the listener’s brain fires in exactly the same pattern as the storyteller’s brain, whether the story is spoken or written down, creating a kind of emotional connection between the two—and making the hearer more likely to respond in the way the storyteller wants. For those of us in marketing, this is what’s known as a “win.”
2. Use real-life stories and examples to demonstrate the benefits of your product or service.
Readers are more likely to respond to real stories about how real people have had success, improved their lives, or benefitted from a product or service in some unique way. These stories bring credibility and authenticity to your marketing and allow you to build trust with your audience. This is likely to prove especially true on social media, where users expect to see personal stories from their friends and family and the brands they love.
3. Incorporate humor to keep readers engaged.
We believe that marketing doesn’t have to be boring, so don’t be afraid to inject humor into your marketing. In fact, 90% of people are more likely to remember an ad that makes them laugh, and 72% of people will choose a brand that uses humor over its competition. We can all think of commercials that we love that have made us laugh, but don’t overlook the success of well-engaged Twitter campaigns to reveal a brand’s sense of humor. Wendy’s, for example, has become the queen of trolling other fast food brands while simultaneously promoting the goodness of their food and their deals and making people laugh. As a result, the brand has not only seen their social media following grow, but their income, too—in fact, Wendy’s net income grew by 49.7% in 2017 when they started using humor as their primary social strategy.
The conversations I have with my pals now about writing and storytelling are a lot less philosophical than they used to be. They have more practical legs now that I’m writing for a paycheck. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one of my goals for this year is to study storytelling with the same vigor I did two decades ago. I hope my college pals are proud.