I’d say it’s safe to say that we all know the power of stories.
Each one of us has experienced it in our lives at some point or another.
- Whether you grew up listening to your parents read bedtime fairy tales…
- Whether you voraciously adventure books under the covers with a flashlight long past your bedtime (*raises hand*)…
- Whether you have enthralling conversations with your friends for hours about incidents and stories in your lives over food and drinks…
- Or you spend hours sitting in movie theaters watching a fantastic tale play out onscreen…
- Or you binge-watch an entire season of shows in a weekend on Netflix…
Stories are essential in adding color, humanity, life, and meaning to our communications. 🌈
Now, imagine blending a beautiful dose of storytelling into an otherwise bland content marketing campaign.
Tapping into the undeniable power of stories gives your marketing an ability to draw an audience like moths to a glowing streetlight.
You give your content color and life. You make it relatable, understandable, and personal.
Understandably, storytelling is a big topic for marketers. Stories keep people reading, but what’s truly interesting is people remember stories (incidents, happenings) more than almost anything else.
That’s because stories and narratives help construct memories and keep them intact in our minds, according to Jason Gots for Brain Think:
“Cognitive science has long recognized narrative as a basic organizing principle of memory. From early childhood, we tell ourselves stories about our actions and experiences. Accuracy is not the main objective – coherence is. If necessary, our minds will invent things that never happened, people who don’t exist, simply to hold the narrative together.”
A great example:
This article from the Guardian is all about how constructing a story helps with memory. First, they give you a story to read, a strange one about a man named Nigel and his pet squid:
Once you read this tale, the article asks you to close your eyes and recall as much of the story as you can from memory. Then, you’re supposed to write down all of the items/details of the story you specifically remember.
Ready for the clincher? This isn’t an ordinary story – encoded within it is a recipe for a stir-fry with squid and peppers from Nigel Slater:
If you compare the two, it’s easy to see the recipe emerge in the details of the story. 300lb squid = 300g of squid. Lime-green limo = juice of one lime. Sesame Street = sesame oil.
Chances are, if you were asked to remember this list of ingredients on its own, you’d have some trouble. You’d have to read the list a few times, repeat it to yourself, and recite it in a specific order.
When you add the story element, suddenly, the ingredients are much easier to remember. The memory comes together and is held together by the addition of a narrative.
This is just one example of how stories impact memory. Now think about that in terms of storytelling in content marketing.
The possibilities are incredible! If you tell stories in your content, your content (and YOU!) will remain in your audience’s mind much longer, than if you built a content marketing campaign minus stories.
You’ll have a better chance of resonating, of making an emotional impact, and building a connection with your humans. Which means a true (and loyal) brand audience, growth, and ROI!
Sound good? Let’s look at how to do it, including examples of storytelling in content marketing we can take inspiration from.
If you tell stories in your content, your content (and YOU!) will remain in your audience’s mind much longer. Learn how to build your next content marketing campaign with an authentic tale. #storytelling @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
How to Use Storytelling Content Marketing to Tell Powerful Brand Tales: 4 Methods
- Tie in Emotion
- Tell True, Authentic Stories
- Try Storytelling Content Marketing That Maps to Your Goals
- Don’t Be Bland – Get Personal
Let’s get into it!
4 Ways to Use Storytelling Content Marketing, Plus Inspiration
1. Tie in Emotion
One of the simplest ways to implement storytelling content marketing is to add emotional details to your content. If you write with feeling, your audience will have a better chance of connecting with it (and your brand) on a deeper level.
Prime example: The Significant Objects experiment, which looked at how adding story details alongside insignificant objects (junk, in other words) actually made them valuable.
For the experiment, Joshua Glen and Rob Walker bought cheap knick-knacks from thrift stores. They wanted to see if they could resell each item on eBay for a profit by including personal stories in each item’s description.
This creamer cow, in particular, originally retailed for $1. Here’s the item description/story that appeared on its eBay listing:
The creamer, previously worthless, ended up selling for $26.
THAT is the power of story, right there. The emotional details (the creamer may have belonged to Norman Rockwell, the grandmother named it “Norman”, and it was a regular part of family tea rituals) are what made it special and unique, thus giving it value.
In the same way, you can add relevant anecdotes and stories from your experience to your content. Share your failures and successes alike, and share some personal, emotional details that people can relate to.
2. Tell True, Authentic Stories
Remember, never make up stories just to add “buzz” to your content. Nobody likes inauthenticity, and that kind of approach WILL end up biting you in the end.
Never make up stories just to add 'buzz' to your content. Nobody likes inauthenticity, and that kind of approach WILL end up biting you in the end. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Look at Samsung – they made up stories about the kind of photos their phones were capable of taking.
They posted pictures they claimed were taken with the front-facing camera on one of their phone models. However, soon, users discovered that these photos were, in fact, purchased from a stock photo provider and taken with a professional DSLR camera.
Here’s the thing: You shouldn’t have to make up stories, period.
The stories you should be telling are already there – you just need to unearth them.
Here are a few questions to prompt discovering your story angle:
- How did your business get its start?
- What problem were you trying to solve, and how did you (or someone you know) experience this problem?
- What’s your history? How does it influence your present?
- Who is the hero of your story?
- Who are your story’s main characters?
- What are your biggest failures, and how did you work through them?
Look at how the founder of Dollar Shave Club incorporated storytelling content marketing into the company’s product launch. He starred in a video with himself as the protagonist, drawing on his background in improv comedy:
The result is funny, but it also tells you exactly what DSC is about AND makes you want to buy. It’s all thanks to the (true, authentic) story the founder tells as he leads us through his warehouse.
Another good example: National Geographic.
They’re already well-known for their photos (as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words). But what takes their content over the top are the stories they tell in the captions.
View this post on Instagram
Photo by @PaulNicklen | A spirit bear settles in for a long sleep after a full day of gorging on Pacific salmon along the coast of British Columbia. Spirit bears (aka Kermode bears) carry a rare recessive gene that turns their black coat white. From the salmon streams to the estuaries to the meadows, the bears rely on an intact wilderness to survive, and in turn, they help feed the land with nutrients from salmon carcasses. I am so #grateful to have this vast wilderness in my “backyard” of British Columbia. #FollowMe at @PaulNicklen to catch a glimpse of the beauty that British Columbia possesses.
In each photo and each caption, the subject becomes the main character. In the above example, we learn about the spirit bear captured. In the one below, an Arctic explorer tells us about his frozen selfie.
View this post on Instagram
Photos by @coryrichards | Yesterday marked the 8th anniversary of the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters), the world’s 13th highest mountain. On February 4, 2011, I became the first and only American to climb an 8,000-meter peak in winter. The selfie I took after surviving a class IV avalanche on the descent (first image in carousel) would later become one of the covers for Nat Geo’s 125th anniversary issue. To see more footage of this historic ascent and the avalanche’s aftermath, #followme @coryrichards #Mountains #Avalanche #Adventure #MentalHealth #Photography
For National Geographic, the stories are about the photos and people they capture. The brand fades into the background to let the authenticity of their subjects shine.
Similarly, try telling true, authentic stories about your customers and audience to really make your storytelling content marketing engaging.
3. Try Storytelling Content Marketing That Maps to Your Goals
Stories are powerful on their own, but if you tie the ones you tell into your goals, they become 10x more effective.
Tie stories to your content goals. Ask key questions, like, Will this story communicate something important and authentic about my brand to my audience? @JuliaEMcCoy on #storytelling in #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
First, define one concrete micro-goal you hope to achieve from a particular story. Ask yourself some key questions:
- What do I hope to gain from telling this story?
- Will this story communicate something important about my brand to my audience?
Maybe the story you tell will subtly hint to your audience how dedicated you are to your customers. Or maybe it will show them the craft and expertise behind your product/service.
A good example of brand storytelling that hits this exact goal (showcasing dedication, hard work, craft) comes from a small candle company called Hearth & Hammer.
The owner/candle-maker regularly takes to Instagram Stories to share a series she calls the “Night Shift”. In it, she records herself dancing around her workshop to stay motivated to keep making candles throughout the night.
These mini-stories are fun and relatable, but they also communicate an essential part of this brand – and that’s big!
Once you have a micro-goal in mind for the story you’ll tell, ask yourself this question next:
- Does this story connect in some way to my larger, overarching goals?
To come up with an answer, look at your main content goals. Try to see if the story you want to tell fits into any of them (or all of them).
If your content goals look like mine, then a story showcasing your brand craft/expertise would fit in any of your goal buckets.
(Learn more about my three-bucket topic strategy.)
4. Don’t Be Bland – Get Personal
Here’s the thing about storytelling content marketing – to do it in a way that invites connections, engagement, and more, you have to actually get personal.
You have to share pieces of yourself with the internet.
You have to show you are in fact a thinking, feeling human.
Let’s look at “about” pages as a good example of what I mean.
On our site, we don’t just share some bland company about page. Instead, we share the story of how I started Express Writers.
On top of that, we show you the names and faces behind our team, including managers, support staff, and featured writers.
Each team member has a bio below their name that tells you a few personal details about them. In this space, we share our accomplishments, our likes, our past jobs, and why we love writing and content marketing.
Now compare our about page to this one, from one of our competitors (we won’t name names):
You may have noticed a few things are different.
First, this is not a designated “about” page. This site doesn’t have one. This tiny section on the homepage stands in for one, and it appears to be the only place that describes this company. (That’s a big mistake and a HUGE missed opportunity!)
Second, absolutely nothing here is personal, relatable, or human. It seems very cold and aloof, like maybe robots are running the show.
In contrast, when CEOs/founders build up their personal brands alongside their companies, it makes a huge difference in storytelling content marketing. It gives your followers, customers, and fans someone to root for and rally behind. Most of all, it gives your company a personal voice people can relate to.
Garrett Moon of CoSchedule, for example, is someone who does this very well. He built his personal brand through guest blogs, article writing, and his Twitter presence, not to mention his book, 10x Marketing Formula.
Hell no, and may God have mercy on your soul #OverheardAtCoSchedule
— Garrett Moon (@garrett_moon) February 8, 2019
Plus, CoSchedule’s about page is personal and awesome (they call themselves “the liger of start-ups”, for heaven’s sake):
People want to connect with people and their stories.
So, this brings me to one of my most important closing notes:
If you’re a founder and aren’t telling your story, you’re missing out.
Case in point: At local networking events, I’ve interacted with people who I’ll look up on Facebook and follow later, only to see they’re using bland company page stock photo options. There’s nothing about them and their personality on their page. Meanwhile, they are the COOLEST people alive. Such a missed opportunity! Don’t be that person.
Use Storytelling in Content Marketing to Have Conversations, Build Relationships, and Add Heart to Your Marketing
Stories are universally appealing.
Not to mention, we ALL use them to help us construct memories in our minds, relate to the world, and tell the world about ourselves.
Any bland, old piece of copy becomes instantly memorable once a narrative is added.
So, the real question is, when are you going to start using storytelling in your content marketing?
Need help telling your story? Check out our Marketing Copywriting services.