Successful story writers/tellers know the basics. You have to have characters and a plot, and that plot has to be interesting enough to captivate their readers. From cave drawings to modern literature, storytelling has evolved from pictures, to words, and now to combinations of words and pictures. Storytellers write for their audiences – sci-fi, romance, mystery and suspense, etc. – and know how to engage their audiences in the plot and in the lives of their characters. Many stories are now told in audio-visual format. And herein lies the beauty and the power of web-based storytelling as a marketing device – visuals and words to tell stories to target audiences.
So, just how does a content marketer take advantage of storytelling? S/he finds ways to make a brand memorable through short stories – stories that can be absorbed in a few minutes and that imprint the brand into a reader/viewer memory. And remember the basics – you need characters and a good plot line.
Here are some tips for crafting great stories that your readers and viewers will love, will make your brand memorable, and will motivate your story readers to share.
When Dollar Shave Club founders, Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, got their idea for a razor blade subscription delivery service, they decided to tell the stories of frustrated consumers who were always running out of blades, forgetting to stop at the store to buy them, and the irritations (not to mention the nicks and pain) of having to shave again with a dirty razor. Their target audience could certainly relate. Rather than put this story into just words, however, they decided to create an explainer video that empathized with the consumer’s pain and provided an easy solution. And they decided to use humor to do it. For $2500, they created a video that went viral, and skyrocketed their company to the success it is today. Access the Dollar Shave Club homepage, and see it for yourself – you will relate and you will laugh.
This is a great storytelling strategy if you have a company with a focus on doing good, even though it may be profit-based. This is a huge draw that will bring to the surface the natural human desire to be good and to contribute to society in some way. Here is how a couple of companies do it:
Headbands of Hope is a company that supports children’s cancer research and that also wants to brighten the lives of children with cancer. For every item that a customer purchases from the company (headbands and other headgear), a headband is donated to a child going through cancer treatment and $1 is donated to research. The entire website is designed to tell the stories of customers and patients, with great photos, captions, and text. Whose heart cannot be touched?
Toms Shoes has a similar one-for-one business model. It donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair that is purchased. Stories of children receiving shoes are told in pictorial fashion, along with members of Tom’s team delivering them. The company has branched out into many other charitable causes, but the stories are all inspirational. Very few words are needed – the pictures tell the stories.
Tell Your Own Stories
How did you come to launch the business you did? What were your motivations? How did you build your company? Every business owner has a back-story, even Bill Gates. Tell your story and don’t stop there. When major events occur in your life (marriage, birth of a child, a new dog) tell those stories too. Online relationships with customers are built by personalizing yourself – they want to know who you are, what do you value, and why you do what you do. They also like stories about your team – feature them on your site, your social media pages, and your blog.
The story of Etsy is pretty cool. In 2005, three friends were living in a Brooklyn apartment barely making it. They were doing web-based consulting work for other organizations, as well as stuff like painting, photography, etc. the idea for Etsy came from some work they did for a charitable organization planning a draft fair and form the understanding that small cottage industry makers of items (jewelry, crafts, etc.) really had no way to inexpensively sell their products, other than traveling from craft fair to craft fair. E-bay’s fees were just too high. Thus, Etsy was launched as a way for the small maker of goods to set up a store and market his/her products online. The rest is history of course. But the backstory is an interesting one.
Now that Etsy is a huge “player,” the back story has been reduced to a single paragraph, but in the beginning, that story struck a chord with lots of people, and helped to grow Etsy into a multi-million-dollar business, now publicly traded.
If Writing Makes You Nervous, Experiment with Lots of Other Media
There are lots of ways to tell stories. Experiment with what works best for both you and your audience. Research shows that consumers far prefer visuals to words. And lots of marketers have learned to tell entire stories with visual depictions and perhaps just a few captions or words.
ModCloth is a great example. It sells casual, career, and formal wear to millennial women. On its site and on all of its social media platforms, it features its customers wearing their purchases in their own environments. It openly solicits photos, so that customers’ “stories” can be told. Perfect, because this is what really interests this company’s audience.
Study the “Big Boys”
If you have watched any television commercials recently (I know, how last century), you will notice that many of them are in story format. Fran from Progressive Insurance always is involved in a scenario that tells a short story. Or how about the Geico gecko? And each of these “mascots” has a Facebook page, where the stories continue. Some of them are even in series form.
Study these story-telling commercials. You may pick up some ideas and some great “storytelling” techniques that you can use in your own marketing.
The Huge Benefits of Storytelling
When you can use the power of storytelling, you will be propelling your brand and creating more buzz. People will share good stories with their communities. Here are two things to remember.
- While many brands are still trying to promote with traditional factual information and CTA’s, your stories will be a way for your audience to connect with and remember you.
- You can create emotional experiences, and those are not forgotten. And your audience can see itself in your stories. That kind of connection is not made with mere discounts, coupons, and product descriptions.
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