3 min read

Storytelling is powerful

Storytelling is powerful
Photo by Florian Klauer / Unsplash

One of the most powerful ways to breathe life into your brand has been around for 11,000 years - ever since man first dipped his meaty knuckles in some mammoth’s blood and dragged them across a wall.

One of the main fundamentals of a content marketing approach, storytelling breathes life into your products by translating their history and features into events to be shared and enjoyed. Told right, your target audience will want to be a part of that journey: and that means being inspirational, authentic and creative.

If you want to get technical about it, storytelling is an arm of what they call emotional branding: a psychological type of marketing strategy based on how we act on our feelings. Emotional branding drives essential customer behaviours such as loyalty and positive association as well as the all-important initial sale.

This is why five or six bullets about why your product is so freakin’ awesome just doesn’t work: bullets don’t automatically invoke an emotional connection. Wrap them in a story, that’s when the magic happens: that’s when features become benefits.

Remember your favourite teacher, the one that told you stories about past students or the darker side of history and politics you never knew about? How much of those lessons do you remember compared with any other teacher who’d just watch the clock until the bell rang? I bet the cool teacher is responsible for you knowing the chemical composition of every planet in the solar system, even though you couldn’t tie your shoes until you were 13. There’s a good reason for that: we retain information much better when it’s in story-form.

Which makes stories perfect not only for selling, but for conveying otherwise boring information. Tutorial videos and case studies, for example, often benefit by casting characters in the roles of heroes and pitting them against some insurmountable challenge: whether it’s learning how to arrange elements on a page, or just achieve conversions above 5%.

Just like your favourite fairytale, any captivating brand story must have three acts: a set up, a conflict, and a resolution. Depending on your situation, you might need a fourth act, or curtain call - and that’s the call to action. It doesn’t have to be as obvious as ‘sign up to our newsletter’, although this is the common kind: it could be a subtle message for the reader to follow in the hero’s footsteps, or come as a question such as, ‘what would you do?’

But for a story to truly succeed, it has to get personal. To know what stories to tell  - and everyone has some, so don’t think you’re the exception - you need to think about how your business came about, why you chose to start it, what inspired you and your personal mission and values. The crucial part is to get all this across while still keeping the needs of your audience paramount. That means focusing on teachable moments and benefits... and yes, humour is a benefit.

It should also go without saying that your story should be true, unless you’re deliberately creating fictional mascots for your brand. Those little guys can be a useful proxy, as they distance the viewer or reader enough that they can put themselves in their shoes without too much pressure. Used too often, however, and they can be a little… cheesy. Anything directly pertaining to events that have affected you or your company should be kept strictly factual, unless the difference is so obvious as to be ridiculous: throwing on armour to do battle with some sticky Javascript, for example, or a cup of coffee so hot you reckon it was brewed by Cerberus himself. If these things actually happened, you’d likely have bigger problems than brand management, so you might as well throw in a cavalier turn of phrase into that white paper.

Testimonials are an exceptionally powerful form of storytelling, because they’re the truest form we have: independent review. Of course, this means the consequences of faking them are extra damaging, but you would never do that, right? In order to get excellent testimonials, encourage your customers to delve a little deeper into their personal stories to describe the challenges they had to overcome and how relieved they were when your product or service came along.

In order to be the best storyteller in your field, we only have one tip: shut up and listen. A genuine understanding of your audience’s hopes and fears, their beliefs, attitudes, daily habits and predictions for the future will go a long way in showing you the issues you need to highlight in your stories.

Emotion, humour, authenticity and personal connections - these are the key to stepping into the shoes of that awesome teacher you once knew.


This post is one I wrote several years ago, so it may not be the same kind of content you experience on the rest of this site. I'm posting it here as an archive, and to refer back to if I need.