Getting Started with Storytelling

Storytelling is a hot topic in marketing—here’s how to get started. Posted on Friday, July 14 in Building Your Brand.

​Three young men, William, George, and Nathan decide to take a road trip on a whim one evening, bored with their video games and exhausted of their Netflix accounts. They live just a couple of hours from New York City and feel certain there’s something lively happening there.

Shortly after getting on the road, they stop for gas and snacks. A young man, similar in age, sits on the curb of the convenience store parking lot, looking lost and downtrodden. He’s playing with a set of keys and leaning against a large duffel bag.

George and Nathan get back into the car without paying much mind to him, but William stops and asks if he is ok. The young man looks up, pauses, then shares that he’s run out of gas, his phone is dead, and he’s not sure what to do.

William offers to let him use his charger and give him a ride back to his car. The young man smiles broadly and jumps in the back seat with Nathan, slinging his duffel back in between them. Nathan and George immediately begin texting one another—questioning William’s judgment and the hitchhiker’s intentions.

A few minutes into the car ride, the rider starts rifling around his bag in a cryptic way, clanging and banging what sounds like tools or pipes. Nathan tries to sneak a peek into what’s in the bag, but it’s shut abruptly.

“Hey man, you want to use my charger?” William asks, holding up his cable.

“That won’t work for my phone,” the rider answers, dryly, then reopens his bag.

Nathan and George become increasingly uneasy with the rider’s suspicious actions until Nathan can’t take it anymore.

“What’s in the bag?” Nathan asks.

“None of your business” the rider snaps, and shuts the bag. But before long, he’s opened it again and started rummaging. George looks over his shoulder into the backseat and asks, “Seriously dude, what’s in the bag?”

“I said none of your business!” The rider barks.

By now, even William is beginning to sense something is off. George and Nathan begin texting one another feverishly, and when William stops at a stop sign, Nathan opens the backseat door, pushes the passenger out of the car, and George orders William to drive off. The hitchhiker tries to chase the car, but before long he’s out of sight and only his bag is left in the car. Nathan leans over, opens the bag and . . .

It all begins with a story.

We’re built for storytelling. Long before we could turn pages in a thrilling novel or binge on a Netflix saga of compelling drama, we were gathered around listening to one another tell stories. We moved from beginning to middle to end in a climactic and cinematic fashion to captivate audiences and immortalize stories of legends and myths.

Certainly, we love stories for entertainment. But what does storytelling mean for your business? Really, is there a place for it in your marketing mix? Absolutely.

So how do you utilize the power of storytelling? First, start by scrapping everything you’ve ever done. Ok, maybe you don’t completely throw it away, but consider working with a blank canvas. Who are you? Where have you been and how did you get to where you are? What do you mean to your customers? How do you enrich their lives? Why are you different than your competition?

Here are a few tips as you begin to craft your story.

Get rid of jargon—at least sometimes.

Of course you want to be viewed as a professional who knows their industry well, but there is a time and place for impressing customers with your deep expertise. Engage them first in a conversational and authentic way. How do you talk about your business with family and friends? Being conversational doesn’t mean being inappropriate and unprofessional, it just means talking like a normal person.

Be authentic.

Don’t fabricate stories or scenarios to build a narrative. Consumers are incredibly savvy at sniffing out phony stories and false accounts, and they’re eager to expose them. Look to your customers to help build your story—they can be your best muses! If you’re a new business or if you don’t quite have the customer base that lends itself to first-person accounts, it’s ok to be aspirational about who you are and where you want to be. Just be realistic and honest.

Get emotional.

Emotional doesn’t mean sad or depressing—rather, it means tapping into the emotional side of your customers. Remember, people are both rational and emotional beings. The rational side wants a good value, great product, and sensible choices. The emotional side wants to feel good about purchasing decisions and is engaged through humor, joy, passion, security, excitement—and, yes, fear, sadness, and anxiety. In general, you want to be positive in your marketing and branding, but there are times and places for the inclusion of negative emotions. That said, utilizing negative emotions can be tricky, you don’t want to come across as fear-mongering or preying on sadness, pain, and vulnerability (think of the notorious ads that showcased needy and hungry children in third world countries in an effort to solicit ongoing contributions). Avoid being bawdy, once you cross that threshold, it is difficult to bring your taste level back up in the eyes of customers.

Get inspired.

Still not sure if you can tell your business’s story effectively? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out how these brands utilized storytelling to showcase their products and services and to bring their business to life in an authentic, compelling way:

  • Google
  • Johnnie Walker (This was a spec ad done by a film student, but it is an excellent example of how you can use negative emotions in a powerful, beautiful way.)
  • Nissan Maxima
  • Dove

Video the most modern medium for telling a story, but you can utilize other platforms effectively, too. Think about how stories come to life in print, on billboards, in social media, through content, and on your website. You can view your marketing communications as an anthology where all of the stories come together.

Storytelling in marketing is a hot topic, and you can find plenty of TED talks about why storytelling is so important. Here are a couple if you’re interested in learning more:

We can help.

And, if you’re ready to bring your story to life through a comprehensive creative and marketing strategy, contact us today.

So what was in the bag?

… still hanging on for the end of the story? What was in the bag?

None of your business.

Contact Us