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Mastering the Art of Storyteller Marketing

Mastering the Art of Storyteller Marketing
Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Want people to purchase your product or pay for your service? Don't tell them to do it; tell them a story, instead.

Good marketers know they only have seconds to capture a potential customer's attention — and storytelling is the most effective way to do this, said Molly Phillips, a senior account manager at Greenroom public relations and marketing agency.

"By allowing us to empathize, imagine, relate and emote, stories efficiently help us to connect with, harness and retain information. If you can sear an image or emotion in someone's psyche, it is far more likely to be retained long term," she said.

"Stories inform, illuminate and inspire," added Carmine Gallo, a business storytelling expert and author of "The Storyteller's Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don't" (St. Martin's Press, 2016). "Thanks to neuroscience, we've learned [that] no rhetorical tool is more effective than story. We know why stories work, how they work on the brain and, best of all, we know the formula." [See Related Story: How to Create an Effective Marketing Plan]

So what makes a marketing "story" resonate with consumers? The first thing you need is a logical sequence.Every story has a beginning, middle and end. In traditional storytelling, such as in books, films, TV shows, plays and even short video/radio ads, you have a little bit of time to set up these three sections. But what about still images or social media posts?

Gallo described this beginning-middle-end formula in terms of the "three-act" transformational approach of a classic story:

  1. Act I: The status quo. Set up the current state of the market or the world your customer lives in.
  2. Act II: The conflict. Present a problem your customer is facing, or will face in the future.
  3. Act III: The resolution. Explain how your product or service will solve this problem.

"Believe it or not, good storytelling marketing still has a classic three-step plot arc, even if it's just a tweet," Phillips said. "One of my favorite ways to do storytelling marketing is through a single image taken from the middle of the story arc that forces the audience to imagine the beginning and the end."

Phillips cited this Dr. Scholl's tweet as an example of a whole story built around one simple image:

Credit: Dr. Scholl's / Twitter.com

"What's the beginning here? It's Monday; you're dragging [and] you don't want to get out of bed, let alone work out," she told Business News Daily. "What's the middle? You put on Dr. Scholl's Abyss sneaker. What's the end? You suddenly feel more energized and empowered to tackle your workout and your day."

The other important element of a great story campaign is a clear target audience, said Joe Anthony, principal and president of financial services at Gregory FCA public relations firm. You can have the greatest story in the world, but if you're not delivering the message to the right people, the campaign will fail.

"Imagine one particular member of your target audience and visualize his or her experience with your product or service," Anthony said. "Describe how they might appreciate the benefits of what you are selling."

Phillips agreed, noting that it's important to understand the cultural and demographic nuances of the audience you're targeting.

Our expert sources shared their advice for creating a successful story-based marketing campaign.

Phillips said it's better to link your brand to the story through integration, rather than association. Telling a beautiful story that has nothing to do with your brand and simply flashing your logo at the end won't help audiences make the connection, she said.

"Make your brand ... a character in the story," Phillips said. "This tactic is what made the [2011 Super Bowl] Volkswagen commercial with the little boy dressed as Darth Vader such a success. The car became a part of the narrative, not just a bystander to it."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that's especially true in marketing. Visual marketing is highly effective, and providing a clear image of how your company can help a customer will tie the "story" back to your brand in a consumer's mind.

"Storyteller marketing should illustrate how a product or service can be used, when the target consumer needs or should purchase it and how they can obtain it," said Anthony. "Insurance companies will show images of [drivers] safely out of harm's way after a car accident, talking with their agent on how to get repairs. That's a good example of showing how a need [is met] in one quick visual."

Nothing destroys credibility faster than an inauthentic story, Gallo said. Some of the most effective marketing campaigns use firsthand experiences of real employees or customers with real stories about the company and its product or service. Gallo also noted that true "rags-to-riches" stories can also work well for marketing.

"We are wired to find meaning in adversity," he said. "It's why we never get tired of hearing Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran talk about being fired from 20 jobs, working as a waitress and turning a $1,000 loan into a real estate empire."

If someone in your company has had to struggle and overcome challenges to get to where they are — and can apply those lessons to the current market — that's marketing gold, Gallo said.

"It's a story worth telling."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.