If, at its most basic level, marketing is about inspiration and generating an emotional response, it makes sense to put storytelling at the heart of your marketing efforts.
People make sense of the world through stories. By fitting facts into a narrative sequence, we can increase our audience's understanding, empathy, and engagement.
That's why, for journalists, the most precious commodity is a "good story". It may be a tale about hope winning out over adversity, or the magic of coincidence, or the transformative power of love – but it's the story itself that pulls us in.
In marketing, you are also seeking a connection with your audience. So storytelling should become a critical part of your toolkit.
Of course, that leads to the question of just how you do that. How can you weave an engaging story into the more prosaic requirement of telling people about what your business has to offer: recounting your products' features, and showing how customers can order it?
One way is to use your website to tell your audience how your business was born. The origin story can include the elements of inspiration, hard work, setbacks, and lessons learnt along the way.
The important point is that storytelling in this sense can be used to present your offering within the wider context of your brand's values and what is fundamentally important to you.
For instance, the owner of a developer of an app that assists children with reading could talk about how the inspiration behind the enterprise was their own struggle with dyslexia. Or the principal of a financial advice firm could relate a personal story about how a loved ones' investments were poorly managed, and how this personal experience has informed their professional values.
Whatever the story, the aim should be to build a bridge back from what the company is selling to the experience of the people who built it up in the first place. What motivated them? What experiences formed their lives and values?
Of course, this origin story can be the foundation of other stories, perhaps including case studies from individuals who have benefited from the services offered. What struggles did they go through before they came across your service?
At Ember, we've made a number of video case studies for our clients – such as the example below for the communications tech company, Foehn. These kinds of videos can be critical tools in connecting need to service to outcome. By giving your clients a chance to speak honestly about their experience with your business, case studies make real the value that your offering can bring to people, without hype or traditional advertising.
Storytelling works best when if you let people talk about their experiences in their own way. The varieties of expression and circumstances you offer stimulates people's imaginations and gets them thinking about how you might help them.
It's important that you don't use the story as a direct selling tool. The story has to be real, and it has to resonate with people. The story is what draws them in.
As an analogy, think about the James Bond films. These usually open with a 10-to-15-minute-long chase sequence, often unrelated to the main story. But they serve as an ice-breaker. They grab our attention and they ready us for the main event.
Storytelling in marketing works like that. It puts a frame around your business – a way in for the viewer. It sparks curiosity and connection.
Ultimately though, the story has to lead to a call-to-action. This can be as subtle as a button at the end of a video saying "find out more here", or a simple prompt saying "how can we help you? Download our service guide".
Stories are fundamental to human comprehension. We see it in journalism. We see it in literature. And they definitely have a place in marketing, too.
As the great American journalist and novelist Joan Didion once said: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."