How to Create a Storytelling Marketing Strategy

Over the last decade, marketers have started to use a storytelling marketing strategy to add monetary value to products or brands. Evidence of the strategy's effect unearthed in 2009, when journalist Rob Walker and brand analyst Joshua Glenn created the "significant objects" experiment. This study asked more than 100 writers to create personal stories about trinkets worth about $129 in total. The experiment added creative stories to the item descriptions when the items sold on eBay. The researchers wanted to see if the stories increased the value of those objects. The experiment was a resounding success. The net profit from the sale totaled more than a 2700% increase over the original value.  The experiment proved the monetary importance that storytelling has on an object's value. 

To increase the value of a brand, product, or service through storytelling starts with meticulous planning and stretches over long periods of time.  To accomplish this pivotal goal, a brand must develop a storytelling marketing strategy.

What is a storytelling marketing strategy?

A Storytelling Marketing Strategy (SMS) is the structure that a brand or service's content strategy will follow by employing creative narratives. The SMS often targets different subjects of the narrative. For example, a brand narrative is different from a specific product's narrative.

  • A brand narrative uses a story to align a brand with customer values.  One example of a brand narrative is Nike's Equality campaign that effectively links the Nike brand with social justice. The Equality campaign doesn't just offer a new pair of kicks. It offers the company as a "force for positive social change."  
  • A product narrative uses storytelling to smooth the consumers' journey through the marketing wheel to their ultimate conversion into a paying customer.  One example is the Lego company that successfully used video to establish its products as educational toys. The 2014 film by Lego and Warner Brothers called "The Lego Movie" is unabashedly a 90-minute commercial for Lego toys. Still, the narrative goal is to demonstrate that the toys are educational and creative. The movie is imaginative, entertaining, and enjoyed by several audience types. That fits the very definition of successful advertising.

So, why is storytelling effective?

Storytelling is an effective marketing tool that relies on a neuroscience concept known as "neural coupling." Scientists discovered that our brain contains neurons called mirror neurons. These neurons fire in our brain's sensory and the motor cortex whenever we read a story or hear a story that targets those sensory and motor cortexes.  The mirror neurons cause changes in our brains that can last for months or years when reinforced through repetition. An example most people can relate to is reading about the phrase "sounded like nails on a chalkboard."  That is enough to make listeners cringe. 

How do you create a storytelling marketing strategy?

Creating your storytelling marketing strategy requires several well-planned and precisely executed steps. These steps are:

  • Define the target audience that you want to reach with the narrative.  This step is critical since marketers are aware that different demographic groups and groups based on psychological characteristics respond idiosyncratically to various narratives.
  • Define the goal of the strategy. Determine what you want the story to accomplish over time. Your goal is to turn the customer into a hero as he follows his journey towards seeing your brand as a solution and ultimately buying your products.  You can accomplish this by using a concept Donald Miller developed known as the StoryBrand Method.  A few goals of the StoryBrand Method are to:
    • spark an increase in sales,
    • encourage an increase in brand loyalty, and
    • develop a change in brand positioning.
  • Decide whether the narrative object is the brand or product.  A narrative can be added to a product (such as in the significant objects experiment) or a brand identity (such as Nike).
  • Choose the appropriate tools to express the narrative.
    • Website content. The prime example of website content as a marketing tool is Warby Parker Eyewear's "About Us." This ad campaign positions the company as the best alternative to high-priced products from the traditional eyewear industry. Moreover, the campaign tells the company story with an anecdote that anyone with less than perfect vision easily can identify.
    • Videos. The prime example of a video used to great advantage is Gillette's "We Believe."  This approach is the perfect example of a company taking a stand on cultural issues while challenging its consumers to be the best that they can be. It's a brave position for an advertiser to take because it can backfire if it rubs the consumers the wrong way. This ad averted those types of issues by appealing to the desire in all of its customers to be the best as parents. 
    • Testimonials.  Testimonials work because a brand's existing customers tell potential customers about their experiences using your product/service or brand. A prime example of a successful testimonial campaign is Tesla's "Fully Charged."  Using the customer's everyday life as a background, the video shows how great Tesla batteries complement the customer's life.

Things to remember

If a Storytelling Marketing Strategy has more than one narrative target (that is, a narrative for a brand and a narrative for a product), both the brand and product narratives must be consistent with each other.

Your SMS should influence all content marketing decisions.  Creating content that creates an atmosphere of inconsistency with your overall storytelling marketing strategy (whether that content is print, audio, or digital) can destroy the gains made.

When pursued correctly, a storytelling marketing strategy makes you memorable and grows your bottom line.

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