One of the latest trends in marketing isn’t so new after all—as Forbes writer Steve Olenski points out. It’s storytelling—and it’s as ancient as humankind itself.
The world’s great religions, after all, used story to get their point across, as did ancient philosophers—like Socrates. So did cave people, as drawings uncovered by archaeologists reveal.
Done well, story is one of the most powerful ways to convey a message. A business can put storytelling to good use as it creates its brand identity, tells its brand story, and tells customers how its products and services can help them solve tough challenges.
In other words, just what the world’s wise men and women have been doing for time immemorial. Here are some ways you can leverage the power of storytelling to market your business.
Define The Brand
A brand has what Olenski calls a “personality.” That which makes it unique. That which attracts others to it. The company culture as others see it.
Use stories to weave your company’s personality into your advertising and marketing strategy. Look to some of the most successful brands on the globe to see how they’ve woven story into their marketing.
- Progressive Insurance is a quirky, yet customer-centric company that has catapulted from its tiny Mayfield, Ohio office to become a force to be reckoned with throughout the U.S. Through clever ads starring their spokesperson, “Flo,” they create humorous scenarios that show them helping their clients recover after near-disasters.
- The Celgene Corporation, makers of Otezla®, an oral psoriasis medication, create commercials that feature people who—before they took the medication—feared to go swimming, wear sleeveless clothing, and do other activities that required them to expose the affected areas of their skin. With few words, the story is powerful. A mother taking her daughter to the swimming pool for the first time. A woman trying on a beautiful dress.
- My Pillow, a startup manufacturer based in Minnesota, creates ads that not only tell the story of how its founder, Mike Lindell, developed his product to help him beat his own insomnia, but also how his pillows help others get better sleep.
These are, of course, only examples—but show how powerful storytelling can be when a company uses it to stamp its brand with its unique personality. Spend a couple of evenings watching TV for the ads, and you’ll find plenty of inspiration to create your own.
Create Stories that Put The Brand, Products in the Hero Role
You may not think of your company as a superhero, but to the customers that it helps solve their most pressing problems, it is. Look at all the ways the company helps its customers and craft a marketing strategy that tells these customers’ stories.
- Liberty Mutual Insurance, a company who offers accident forgiveness to people for their first auto crash, features ads that tell their customers’ stories—from a teenage boy who assured his parents that their rates wouldn’t go up from his fender-bender to the husband who brags to his wife that their insurance company was more forgiving than she was. Liberty is your hero—is the consistent message that emerges from every piece of content the company puts out.
- Coca-Cola has done the impossible—making a soft drink into a hero—with ads dating back to the iconic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to today’s ground-breaking ad. In it, a woman sees a thirsty woman at the end of her Ramadan fast, buys two Cokes, and as the sun sets, they enjoy the energy-boosting, thirst-quenching power that can build cultural bridges. And diffuse temper tantrums. Their 1979 ad featuring Pittsburgh Steeler star “Mean Joe” Greene shows the athlete about to blow a gasket after a bad game. A little boy offers him a Coke. Tantrum diffused, Super Bowl-bound athlete refocused—all because of a Coke.
Let your brand be the hero—and watch the dollars pour in.
Use Emotion-Driven Stories to Drive the Point Home
A company can, of course, create marketing materials that describe their products flawlessly, point out all the benefits, yet miss the mark entirely. That’s because their ads are yawnfests.
Pull the audience’s emotions into the ad, and the same company can discover marketing magic.
Instead of listing ingredients and telling how, for example, a certain brand of makeup can cover skin blemishes, tell a story everyone can relate to—something that tugs at the heartstrings.
A teenage girl. It’s prom night. A pimple erupts.
Which of us over the age of 16 couldn’t relate to that? We’re hooked.
The girl, of course, applies XYZ brand foundation, the pimples disappear, and it’s love at first sight when her crush meets her at the door. Emotion. A powerful force that sells.
Here are some real-life examples:
- UPMC has one of the most powerful ads on the market today. A line of people, standing in the rain, waiting for liver transplants—in other words, waiting for a donor to die.
- Another person comes along, takes the hand of one person in line—leading him away from the waiting line. Soon, another comes along. Cut to surgeons performing an operation. The narrator explains that there’s a new procedure—living donors. UPMC, of course, is one of the few hospitals in the country who specialize in this procedure. The story, of course, ends with the donor and recipient, holding hands after the surgery in which part of the donor’s liver is transplanted into the recipient’s body. Kleenex-worthy.
- Shriners Hospital, too, is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the heartstrings. Who wouldn’t melt at tiny Alec Cabacungan, a charming, squeaky-voiced teen with brittle bone disease? Looking much younger than his age, Alec read “The Night Before Christmas, changing up the words a bit to fit the narrative as the camera panned around the hospital, showing all the kids donors’ gifts helped. His squeaky voice, plus his million-dollar smile, helped tug on the heartstrings over the holidays, bringing in donations galore to the charity hospital as he told story after story of the hospital’s success.
Stories. As old as the hills, yet more effective than almost any other marketing strategy. Tell your company’s story—and watch your customers grow.