“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
J.R.R.Tolkien, The Hobbit, Gandalf speaking
What is “timeless” in our mind, as humans? What stays unforgotten, down through history?
The Bible. J.R.R.Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Leo Tolstoy. William Shakespeare. Emily Bronte.
These are familiar names that are correlated with stories. Some of the greatest stories, of all time, ever written. And you know what? Nearly 90% of us (I bet those of you reading this post) know those names.
That’s pretty incredible – they’ve stuck that well through years and years of history.
Let’s turn from the world of unforgettable authored storytelling and look at a few marketing stories. Some aren’t boring, luckily.
If you were to sit down right now and turn on the television, what would you see?
Far too many commercials. And all these commercials have one thing in common: a story.
Regardless of whether they’re advertising a drug or a new car, commercials are one of the most easily identifiable instances of storytelling in marketing today.
The best commercial is the best-told, most-shared story.
Take, for example, the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial of 2015:
At first glance, you wouldn’t think that a Clydesdale and a yellow Labrador puppy have much of anything to do with beer, but this commercial did storytelling so well that it went viral with emotional connections (some shed tears).
So what is it about these brands and, more specifically, how are they getting their consumers to relate, love and appreciate their story—and immediately gain that connection?
All with the use of a great story?
And will this grow a lot in 2016?
Let’s find out.
Storytelling & Content in 2016: Why The Brain Loves Stories
It goes without saying that storytelling in marketing wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is if our brains weren’t ravenous for stories. It’s been estimated that we spend roughly 1/3 of our lives daydreaming, which means we’re constantly searching for an entertaining tale. What’s more, we consume upwards of 100,000 digital words on a daily basis, mostly in the form of advertisements and web copy, and the majority of us (about 92%) want to be able to internalize those words as a story.
For an example of this, consider Budweiser again. What sounds more appealing to you, personally: a list of ingredients including water, barley malt, rice, and yeast or a “best friends” tale of a little dog and a big horse who found friendship on the Budweiser farm?
The answer is obvious.
Budweiser opted for story over facts because the human brain loves stories much more than it loves lists of boring details. In fact, it’s been proven that storytelling in advertising actually activates interactive portions of the brain. For example, if a person reads a list of facts, only the language center of the brain is activated. If a person hears a story, though, the language portion of the brain lights up alongside other portions of the brain that are connected to personal experience.
In other words, experiencing a story makes us feel a personal connection. This is why storytelling in advertising is so incredibly effective: when a brand can tell a story that triggers an emotional connection in the consumer (like Budweiser did when I cried at their advertisement), that story has a higher likelihood of being remembered. This is due in large part to the fact that the brain releases dopamine during intense storytelling experiences, and this, in turn, leads to sales and conversions down the road.
Storytelling also engages the phenomena of “mirroring” in the human brain, which means that people listening to a really great story will share emotions with other viewers, but also with the person telling the story. To put this another way: if you can tell a story that fully underlines how life-changing, unique, important, and special your product, good, or service is, consumers are likely to agree with you.
5 Tips for Finding The Pot of Gold (Your Story) With Content In 2016
If you’re unfamiliar with brand storytelling or you’re simply interested in getting better at it, there are five key things that you can do to outshine your competitors and ensure that your stories are ones that customers want to engage with. These will hold strong in 2016:
1) Get real
Would the Budweiser ad have been as moving if it featured, say, an intergalactic alien duo? Probably not. The reason for this is that regardless of where you are at this exact moment in your life, you can probably relate to the cuteness of a puppy, the bond between friends, and the love of pets better than you can relate to life in outer space.
In other words, the Budweiser ad works because it is authentic.
Over the past several years, authenticity in content marketing has risen to near-epic levels of importance. This is at least partially due to the fact that there are more than 80 million millennials living in the U.S. today and 43% of them rank authenticity as more important than content in everything from news to blogs. With that in mind, it’s clear that the hokey advertising blasts of the 1950s-60s are dead and that a new wave of advertising has entered the picture. Not only does this advertising have to tell a story, but it has to be an authentic story.
For an example aside from the Budweiser ad, consider Rand Fishkin. Founder of Moz and SEO guru extraordinaire, Fishkin has built an Internet empire and is widely regarded as one of the key influencers in the industry. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, Fishkin almost went bankrupt in the early years of his career and he talks about it openly in a 2011 blog post titled “Just Keep Going.” Now, why would a successful guy like Rand espouse on his near-catastrophic early failures? Because it happened, it is authentic, and it helps people connect with his brand in a real and personal way. When it comes to storytelling, it doesn’t get much better than that.
2) Let your personality shine
There are innumerable companies online trying to sell products, so what’s going to set you apart? It’s likely that the product you sell is also sold, in some form or another, by roughly 742,561 competitors and, in light of that, there’s virtually nothing more important than letting your personality inform your storytelling. Consider Dollar Shave Club for a moment, who is maybe one of the best examples of a company that’s done this exceedingly well.
Dollar Shave Club sells razors, which is nothing new. But the way they’ve gone about it is. In the beginning of the brand’s career, the brand raised $75 million to fend off big name competitors like Gillette. Since the 2012 launch of the company’s now-viral promotional video, starring founder and CEO Michael Dubin, the company has grown to account for 13.3 percent of all razor sales in the U.S., with a subscriber base of more than 2 million customers. Part of that success is certainly due to a great product, but a healthy portion of it is due to creative storytelling that brands the company as unique, quirky, and fresh.
3) Create characters your audience loves
In the days of old, people used to wait months to read serialized versions of novels, all because there was a character in the story that they related to on a personal level. It’s a very powerful thing for a brand to create characters their audience wants to connect with and doing this ensures not only that the brand will be remembered by consumers, but it will also be recommended by consumers.
Consider Progressive Insurance, for example, who has created Flo. Flo is portrayed by Stephanie Courtney. The character has her own Twitter and Facebook profiles and has appeared in upwards of 100 of the company’s commercials.
While insurance companies may all blend together for consumers, it’s likely that even if people don’t remember Progressive’s name, they’re going to remember the company’s advertisements and, thanks to Flo’s quirky, relatable nature, they’re going to choose Progressive over a company with a less effective advertising persona.
To follow in Progressive’s footsteps, create characters that your target persona will relate to and root for. This enhances consumer bonds to your product and ensures that you’ll outshine your competition in 2016.
4) Give it structure
We all learned in middle school that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This holds just as true for brand stories as it does for novels. In the beginning of a story, you should immediately establish the setting and characters. The middle should focus on the conflict that is central to the story. The end should offer a resolution. For a fantastic example of this, consider Amazon’s recent commercial advertising its “Prime” subscriber service.
The beginning of the commercial opens with the main characters (Jessie and his dog Flash). The middle of the commercial establishes the fact that Flash is in a cast and that he can’t romp with the other dogs and, frankly, that he feels a little embarrassed about his current state. The end of the commercial provides resolution when Jessie heads to Amazon Prime and orders a baby-wearing device (with free two-day shipping, of course) to tote Flash around in. The story is wrapped up in a neat little bow, the consumer is happy, and the value of Amazon Prime has been established through the structure of the advertisement.
5) Pace yourself
In storytelling as in life, it’s important to pace yourself and not give everything away at once. An effective storytelling campaign, much like an effective novel, is very careful to build and maintain a sense of tension. This keeps audiences wanting more and ensures that they’ll keep coming back to find out what happens next.
When a brand paces its storytelling effectively, it creates an environment in which the consumer is virtually embedded in the brand experiences. For a recent and timely example, consider the Christmas ads that Target has been running on television lately. The commercials are organized into Chapters (a nod to the novel) and tell the story of several children (all dressed in Target clothing) and Bullseye, the trademark Target dog, who go on an epic quest to light a huge Christmas tree for the enjoyment of the people.
Like the Advent calendars of yesteryear, this storytelling method provides excitement, fun, and anticipation for the consumer. After a consumer has viewed the commercial, he or she is directed to a special portion of Target’s website where the consumer can interact with a virtual storybook and access curated gift lists for kids of all ages.
In addition to promoting Target’s various products, this form of storytelling also borrows a bit from the epic adventure stories we all know and love. In this way, it makes audiences feel involved, excited, and linked to Target’s brand, while also helping people get into the Christmas spirit.
Find Your Story: Tell It
From novels and movies to commercials and beyond, stories have always been deeply ingrained in the human experience and, when they’re good, they’ve always been one of our favorite ways to feel connection to other people.
Marketing has changed by leaps and bounds throughout the last several years and, today, the marketer who is the most likely to be successful is the one who can best establish an emotional connection with clients. One of the most sure-fire ways to do this is and has always been through brand storytelling.
While storytelling has existed as a marketing tactic for decades, storytelling in 2016 promises to be more colorful, more personal, more intriguing, and more exciting than ever. As customers move toward favoring brands that are authentic, innovative, reliable, and unique, marketers can stay ahead of the curve by following these tips on storytelling and ensuring that every piece of content your brand puts out engages your customers through effective, irresistible storytelling.