Content Marketing and Storytelling: 6 Reasons Why Stories Matter

Published: Apr 02, 2020
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Web viewers are drowning in content. On WordPress alone, users create 70 million new blog posts every month. In an environment such as this, how do you create compelling content that stands out and reaches your target audience?

You need to tell a story.

Even if you don't consider yourself a reporter, novelist, or master storyteller, you can learn to create content that grabs attention, compels action, and converts buyers. It's work that's worth your time, and we'll give you six reasons why.

How do content marketing and storytelling connect?

Corporate content is often declarative. We tell people what we do before we entice them to do something in return. The company is the center of a piece like this.

Storytelling is different.

Compelling stories share key elements, such as:

  • Characters. Some stories have one clear hero. Others share the load among many different protagonists. But every story is about a person or a thing.
  • Journeys. All stories involve movement or progression.
  • Conflicts. A challenge propels the narrative and must be overcome. A problem has to be solved.

Telling a story in marketing means centering your words on one character, one journey, and one conflict. You still have a marketing goal, but the focus is leading your reader to that goal rather than expressing it outright.

You can't make up stories out of whole cloth. Savvy customers, especially Gen Z folks, are on alert for fake news, and they will call you out for inauthenticity or phony behavior. Instead, dig deep to uncover the tales your customers want to hear. You'd be surprised at the raw material sitting right in front of you.

Every company is packed tight with stories, including those you could tell about:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Founders
  • Impacts
  • Locations
  • Products
  • Suppliers

These stories matter.

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1. Stories Showcase Your Company's Origins

Every company has an origin story, which can also be thought of as a brand story. Your tale is exclusively your own and gives you a unique opportunity to humanize your organization and build strong brand relationships. But tell it the wrong way, and you'll blunt your impact.

Consider two origin stories side by side:

  • Traditional: "We were founded in 2010, and we have been serving customers with quality products ever since."
  • Storytelling: "The rest of us had similar experiences, and we were amazed at how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave our wallets bare. Where were the options?"

You’ve read the first example somewhere before. It’s bland, cliché, and a surefire way to join the crowd of businesses that all sound the same.

The second example comes from Warby Parker's history page. It has punch and verve, and you're ready to read more. You might even nod your head in agreement as you read along. As you do, you become aligned with the company’s origin story and goals, and you haven’t even made a purchase yet.

2. Stories Let Your Customers Do the Selling

Explaining who you are and why you're amazing gets tiring for writers and readers alike. User-generated stories let customers talk to one another, and they could be some of the most compelling pieces you will ever publish.

An ideal customer story explains:

  • A problem. Why did your customer go searching for a product or service?
  • A solution. Why was your company the perfect fit? How does the customer use your product?
  • An emotion. How does the customer feel right now because of your company?

Stories like this build brand loyalty through authenticity and emotion. Consider the stories campaign from Airbnb. Reporters sit down with people like Michael and Tessa and let them explain how making money through the platform changes their lives.

Imagine being on the fence about renting your home and reading this quote: "The most profound thing I think is what Airbnb means for humans. It’s an evolutionary leap, to reestablish trust and a sort of intimacy with people you’ve never known before."

Wouldn’t you be more likely to take the plunge after reading this, as opposed to reading content about low overhead fees and high occupancy rates?

3. Stories Describe Your Work (Without Cheerleading)

Talk about your company without explaining how terrific you are. It's difficult, right?

We're all tempted to describe who we are and what we do in glowing terms. We think we can tell people about our amazing company, and everyone will believe us. That's not always true. Instead, tell a story and let your audience come to that conclusion independently.

Consider Google. At the end of 2019, the company compiled data about searches run on the platform. A traditional year in search roundup might’ve included metrics such as:

  • Daily users
  • Searches run
  • Use per country
  • Spikes in particular search terms
  • Dips in terms popular in 2018

Google created a document just like this. But first, the team pulled together search terms and related content involving heroes. The result is a tear-jerker year in search 2019 video watched more than 1 million times.

Stories like this demonstrate how people use a product and how a product inspires folks and makes life better. Viewers get the feel-good message about the product without the hard push from marketing.

4. Stories Inject Intrigue Into Boring Subjects

Let's face it: The work many companies do can be less than thrilling. You can talk about manufacturing lines, efficiencies, and productivity at length. But consumers won’t feel engaged. Stories are different.

A story about how your product works, why it's important, or how it's made holds an element of intrigue. And that will keep your audience wide awake with wonder.

Land Rover used this approach in 2018 with the Land of Land Rovers campaign. Owners talked about how they use their vehicles and videographers captured the trucks climbing up impossibly steep hills.

Without outright telling you, this video shows you that Land Rovers are durable, reliable, and long-lasting. Stories lead you to these kinds of conclusions in ways that blog posts about manufacturing never could.

5. Stories Spark Emotion

Researchers say consumers use emotion, not information, to evaluate a brand. Bombard a reader with facts and figures and they'll walk away. Make them feel something and you'll begin to develop a brand relationship.

Imagine you are developing a campaign to limit gun sales. You could:

  • Share data about firearms sold
  • Create charts about gun fatalities over time
  • Highlight donations made by gun lobbyists
  • Conduct a poll about gun rights

Or you could try what March for Our Lives did. In the Generation Lockdown video, adults gather in a room to learn about school shootings from an "expert." Their teacher is a young girl.

The audience becomes part of the story. As she speaks, the adults react with tears. The result is unforgettable.

Sadness isn’t the only emotion you can elicit from your audience. Joy, anticipation, fear, and exhilaration are all powerful emotions you can trigger with your story.

As another example, Burt's Bees draws inspiration from the company's iconic, somewhat cranky, co-founder. In one three-minute, six-second video, you learn about the founder's love of nature and simple living. And you get to chuckle at a few one-liners too.

Stories like this humanize otherwise massive, intimidating companies and entice consumers in ways traditional marketing materials never could.

6. Stories Inspire Trust

It’s hard to gain trust from your customers. A recent study found that only 50% of consumers have confidence in the brands they do business with. But stories can help.

Stories are intimate by nature, says content marketer William Serto. We don't share tales with just anyone. We pick our audience carefully and we trust them to listen closely. Sharing displays vulnerability that inspires trust.

Telling the right stories will demonstrate how consumers have trusted your company and maintained their belief in it.

Minnetonka Moccasin shares a story like this. Their history page is cluttered with archival images, old advertisements, catalog clips, and product samples. Scroll through the page and you’ll be shown how the product has inspired and helped generations of customers.

Create Amazing Storytelling Content

Your company is as unique as your thumbprint. Your stories should make that clear.

Get inspired by what others do to share content that inspires and motivates, but never forget that exceptional stories are personal.

Scout for exceptional content marketing storytelling ideas via:

  • Interviews. Sit down with your founder, your CEO, company board members, and fellow employees. Ask them to tell you why they love their jobs or the company.
  • Photographs. Dig into the archives for snaps that make you smile. One image could be the kernel of a great story.
  • Customers. Peruse reviews and feedback, and reach out to enthusiastic customers. Ask your fans to share their thoughts or experiences. Follow up on the stories that seem the most promising.
  • Trends. Dig into the data and look for connections between points. A story could be hiding behind the sea of numbers.

It will take time and practice to hone your storytelling skills, but the tales you’ll tell will take you, your company, and your customers on meaningful and rewarding journeys.

This article was written by writer Jean Dion.


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