Storytelling 101: How to Use Powerful Stories in Marketing to Make People Care

Storytelling 101

How do you get people to feel something and relate to what you’re selling?

And no, I don’t mean a cute puppy video that makes you go “Aww.” Puppies are another chapter but trust me, they will only get you so far.

The answer is: a compelling story.

At our recent workshop, we asked what comes to mind when you hear the word “story”. Apart from the usual suspects, like emotion, context, and experience, someone said (excuse their English): bullshit.

Sadly, that’s a result of misusing the concept like a band-aid for anything related to marketing. How can I connect with my audience? Storytelling. How can I sell more? Storytelling. How can I grow my brand? Storytelling. 

The thing is, powerful stories really do sell (hear me out, skeptic). It’s not the answer to everything, and not everyone’s a good storyteller. But a compelling story can really elevate your brand and get your audience to buy into your vision and purpose.

Here’s a story (just kidding) our two cents on why stories are important and what a good story looks like.

Why is storytelling important for marketing?

Telling stories has always been a useful way of passing down knowledge. People used it to share the lessons they learned. Coming together to listen to stories around a campfire helped people create a sense of togetherness, community, and a shared culture.

So, why does storytelling work so well in marketing?

It’s simple: our brains are wired for stories.

Let me get a little scientific. Thanks to neuroscience, we know that good stories make us remember things by lighting up different parts of our brain. Especially information that triggers a strong emotion, good or bad, tends to stick in our memory.

We also know that stories make us care by triggering the release of oxytocin. They make us feel things. And emotions that move us have the power to drive us toward action.

That’s why brands that use storytelling well are able to produce an emotional response, connect with their audiences, and get them to buy into their brand purpose

It’s more than just writing about facts and features. It’s about adding “heart”.

To achieve this, you need to tell compelling stories that your audience can relate to.

Here’s how you can do that.

What is a story (and what it isn’t)

Some brands and advertisers call everything a story nowadays. However, it’s important to distinguish what one is and what it isn’t.

A listicle is not a story. A sales pitch is not a story. A compilation of feature descriptions is not a story. A full basket of statistics is not a story. 

So, what makes something a story then?

Typically, a story comprises of a number of key elements.

Key elements that make up a story

  1. Character: someone who is authentic and relatable, with needs and challenges that your audience can identify with, e.g. your core persona or someone who is like your target customer (CEO of a large corporation).
  1. Setting: the context in which the story occurs that’s familiar to your audience, e.g. a post-covid world of virtual meetings where companies had to move everything online. 
  1. Plot: the events or actions that happen in the story, this should be simple and clear to make the story easy to follow, e.g. what your character does, how they do it, what works and what doesn’t work, what happens after they do that.
  1. Conflict: the tension around the business problem or challenge that your character faces, your audience’s pain points or struggles, e.g. employees complain about a lack of transparency in the top-down communication but the character (CEO) decides to let it slide, as there are other burning issues.
  1. Crisis: the decision or dilemma your character faces when the challenge escalates and is at its very worst point, e.g. the character’s employees start leaving the company, team morale breaks down, and things get out of hand.
  1. Climax: the turning point in the story and the most important event, when the character’s challenge reaches its most pressing point, e.g. the character faces the problem head on and starts resolving it by talking to team members to find a solution.
  1. Resolution: the conclusion of the story when the character finds the solution to his problem, e.g. the character opens the previously closed leadership doors to employees and opens a two-way communication where employees are heard.
  1. Morale, lesson learned or key takeaway that comes and the end with a clear call to action, e.g. what worked and how you can avoid such situations in the future.

Good storytelling builds on all these elements. It is weaved through with a narrative that is aligned with your brand voice. If done well, it will stick and people will remember it.

Do you need help with crafting your story?

The 10 key attributes of compelling storytelling

Now that you know the building blocks of what a story is, let’s look at some best practices of what makes a story powerful. Here are the ten attributes that every good story has:

  • It’s simple. Don’t overcomplicate it. It’s the simple stories that tend to stick.
  • It’s captivating. It grabs and keeps the attention and gets people to care. 
  • It’s moving. It creates an emotional response and makes you get the feels.
  • It’s authentic. The best stories are genuine and believable, they tell the truth.
  • It’s relevant. It speaks to your audience, addressing their pains and challenges. 
  • It’s actionable. It motivates people to do something or make a change.
  • It’s educational. There’s a clear lesson learned or a takeaway for the reader.
  • It’s shareable. Once people read it, they want to send it to all their friends.
  • It’s memorable. People remember it, and that’s how they remember you. 
  • It’s universal. It describes experiences that are relatable and applicable to many.

What is the goal of your story?

How you write the story will depend on what type of story you’re telling and why you’re telling it.

For example, a brand story will have an overarching narrative that will translate into everything your brand does and how it feels. 

On the other hand, a customer story will be a snippet that shows your audience how your customers who faced a certain problem found a solution (thanks to your product or service). 

Your goals with the story will also inform your call to action (CTA). Do you want to raise awareness, use social proof, build a community, or educate the users of your product? 

That’s why it’s important to think about what your goals are when crafting a story. According to Hubspot, you’ll be able to determine what kind of story you’re telling by figuring out how you want the reader to feel or react after they’ve read it.

If your palms are itching to start writing the next story, think about my final three tips:

  1. Have a clear point of view (don’t just summarize facts, show your opinion)
  2. Get out of your comfort zone (otherwise, you’ll struggle to say something new)
  3. Be specific and use examples (the more detail, the more relatable the story is)

Once you crafted your story’s narrative, that’s when facts and figures come in. They will serve as the evidence or proof that adds credibility and relevance to your narrative.

Wrap up

A good story will keep your audience on their toes. It will make them feel emotions and compel them to do something. As a result, your story will stick in your target customers’ minds and help them remember your brand, what you stand for, and what you say.

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