Good digital marketing is about telling stories

Reading Time: 7 mins

It began with a story…

Branding with Stories in Digital Marketing

Before computers, before telephones, before the printing press…before everything that made us feel so much cosier and closer to one another across space and time, there was word of mouth, there was (cue *drum roll*) the story. Sorry, that’s the STORY.

Capital letters because it’s that important. The STORY is pretty much to thank for who we are today. What we know about our past, and even some of the beliefs our distant ancestors held are thanks to an almost global tradition of storytelling. From Bushmen paintings and the Old Norse Sagas, to myths, legends and fairytales, stories have passed from generation to generation, colouring and shaping our visions of the past.

It sounds like an introduction to Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe, or perhaps to one of David Attenborough’s nature programs. But stop for a second and think – isn’t there a reason they script the programs that way?

When you’re done reading this post you should be able to apply your knowledge of storytelling and do some seriously appealing digital marketing, email marketing, video marketing, social media marketing or whatever other medium takes your fancy.

Marketing and Storytelling

Let’s get to the crux of things: what can you learn from stories and storytelling that has anything to do with marketing?

The answer: practically everything.

Marketing is about positioning a product/service in the customer’s mind and making them think they can’t live without it. It’s one thing to tell them they can’t live without it, but it’s an entirely different thing to make them really believe they can’t live without it by appealing to their weaknesses (those 7 deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride). That means you’ve got to make them feel some sort of emotion. And what better way to make someone feel something than to tell it like it’s a story – to really rope them in with all the juicy details and vivid imaginings?

Done well, marketing truly is storytelling.

If you’ve any doubt, take a look at Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Factory” – video marketing done seriously well. This was an advertisement that captured and entranced both the media and the public. It was an advertisement that people were really able to connect with and that, as a result, went viral. Mind, you’ve got to have about 7 minutes to watch it. There’s a shorter version without all the song and dance.  It’s one of those epic Superbowl ads and you know how good some of them are. Get on it.

What are stories good for?

Digital Marketing Stories

Stories are engaging

There’s a reason novels still exist. They transport you into an alternate dimension. No matter how dull, exhausting or tough your life is, stories offer you an escape. Films do this too, though perhaps not quite as well – they allow you to watch passively, without having to engage on a deeper cognitive level. When you read a novel you are required to use your imagination. Characters and places may have been described, but you have to fill in the blanks, plus in a story, you get right into someone’s head. In films it’s a lot harder to know what someone is thinking without ‘voice over’. In my opinion, watching films is the lazy version or reading novels. Yes, they both allow you to escape, but not in quite the same way. In films, all the work is done for you – character, setting, tone of voice. It leaves a lot less to your imagination. Films do still have the power to transmit messages, especially to a mass audience, and quickly. That is exactly why television advertisements are still successful.

Stories make people feel

Emotion, when it comes to buying is pretty important. Have you ever bought anything without first feeling something? Probably not. Chances are you felt you really wanted something, or that purchasing a particular product would make you feel a certain way – prettier, more popular, fitter, hip…the list is endless.

Stories transmit valuable information

It’s much easier to learn about the Cold War when you’re reading it in ‘fiction form’, or perhaps through a movie? Yes, you do get really boring and badly told stories, but good stories can teach you a heck of a lot about the ‘real world’ and the way people think. Maybe even better than the cold hard facts will do?

And what about fairytales? Many fairytales were originally written as moral/cautionary stories to be read to children. They were a warning – the world is not as good as it seems, and not everyone is out there to help you (think of Little Red Riding Hood). And you probably don’t know this, but many of the happily-ever-after fairytales were not originally written with happy endings. Some of them are quite unpleasant.

Stories let you sample another life without committing to it

Ever wanted to be a detective; or perhaps a palaeontologist on a world famous dig in the Colorado Desert? Authors like Michael Crichton have made this possible by creating a life-like, albeit fictional world in which dinoasaurs do exist, people can travel back in time, and killer gorilla’s do roam the forests of the Congo.

Novels, stories, scripts, and films let you delve into a world and become someone else – live another life, do things you wouldn’t normally do, be another person. The value of this when it comes to marketing is obvious. If you want someone to buy something, show them the lifestyle they’ll live – if they purchase the property you own, if they buy the electronics you sell – give them a glance into ‘your world’.

If people can sample your product before buying it (via the medium of stories), they’re more likely to buy it as they will already feel they own it or live it.

Apply it now you know it

It’s all very well knowing the theory behind why stories work and why you should use them, but now you’ve got to do the practice. Here are a few places where you might like to give it a try:

  • In your email marketing
  • In video marketing (YouTube marketing)
  • Social media marketing
  • Radio advertisements
  • Television advertisements
  • Blogging