What is a narrative story & how can it spice up your marketing?
1-2-3 on how to transform boring brand marketing into a kickass hero journey
The concept of storytelling in business often goes completely overlooked. That can be for a variety of reasons, but typically it boils down to the fact that brands get in the weeds with building a great product, establishing a cohesive team, making sure the lights stay on, keeping the Keurig cups stocked so Evelyn doesn't lose her mind, and all the other crucial business tasks. Within the busy day-to-day operations of having an agency or a company, storytelling tends to fall to the wayside.
This is true even in communications. Marketers are tasked with KPIs, backlinks, SEO, deadlines, email campaigns, scaling, and a bunch of other impenetrable business jargon things that keep them busy, but not necessarily busy telling a story.
So, how can storytelling revitalize your brand? How can it turn your uninspired marketing campaigns into something share-worthy that even an uncaffeinated Evelyn can enjoy? Well, let's talk about the power of narrative storytelling.
We know that stories connect with people. People remember stories, they resonate far more than simple details. Our squishy human brains hold onto stories better and longer than dry, rote facts. Not convinced? Have some numbers.
Simply put, people don't care about businesses. They don't resonate with them. People care about themselves and other people that they happen to like. When writing your marketing materials or artfully crafting your tweets and social posts, keeping in mind that each customer is the protagonist will take your narrative storytelling to the next level.
As a storytelling and business platform, we are keenly aware of the intersection between marketing and telling a compelling story. But how does conventional storytelling differ from business storytelling? I hate to give you an obvious answer, but the main difference is that you're selling something. Ultimately, you want the story to communicate something important, awe-inspiring, or meaningful about your product or service and how it relates to the audience.
Obviously, this makes storytelling a bit tricky. It can make the transition from "folksy form of interpersonal communication" to "smarmy manipulation" if you aren't careful. But, if done right, storytelling in marketing is a super powerful tool.
A company that sells shirts decides to do a new marketing/CSR campaign where the brand will donate one shirt for every shirt sold. They're hoping that their potential customers will see them as nice, humanitarian, and altruistic. But after a few weeks and a number of in-store and social media ad campaigns, sales aren't improving. Eventually they start asking a few customers why they weren't compelled by the campaign, to which one customer shrugs and says, "if you're going to donate, just do it. I'm not sure what that has to do with me."
They review their marketing materials and realize the CSR is… pretty tone-deaf and self-serving. It's all about how the company is so amazing and wonderful for doing this for the… shirtless people? They realize that the campaign needs to show who is being donated to, why it matters, and most importantly, what the customer (aka the hero) has to do with any of it.
So, the marketing team went to work revamping the campaign. The new marketing materials focused on how, for each shirt sold, a shirt would be donated to the clothing closet of a local military veteran's program aimed at helping homeless vets get back into the workforce. Their "buy a shirt, help a veteran" campaign put the customer as the hero. Sales inevitably increased and the lights went down on this hypothetical scenario to thundering applause.
So what's all this about narrative storytelling?
Technically, everything can be a story. Every ad, every billboard, every commercial is telling a story. But often, that story is, "We have a thing and we want your money for the thing, please."
This is not a narrative. Nor is it a particularly good story, full-stop.
A narrative story puts the reader into the role of the protagonist and makes him the hero. This is his story and his narrative. Your brand is simply a tool that the hero uses to continue on his quest to, I don't know, make breakfast. But either way, the narrative is how you present the story, and you as a brand have an opportunity to make it a compelling and daring adventure, or a tragic bore.
Let's look at two examples:
So, what's wrong with this ad? (Besides the design, which is obviously flawless.)
- The ad is about the milk
- The ad is about the company that makes the milk
- There is nothing about the hero (the customer) to compel him to action
Alright, so what about the next example:
Okay, this ad isn't great either! But it does put the audience at the center of the hero's journey. The majority of consumers don't care about where their milk is bottled or how long it's been bottled for. They do care about their bones collapsing into dust. They do want the energy to slay dragons.
As Donald Miller discusses in his fantastic book, Building a StoryBrand:
In its purest form, a story starts with a character who lives in peace and stability. Suddenly that stability is disrupted: a bomb goes off, someone is kidnapped, or a disaster strikes. The hero then sets out on a journey to return to the peaceful life they once enjoyed. Customers are attracted to us for the same reason heroes are pulled into stories: they want to solve a problem that has, in big or small ways, disrupted their peaceful life. If we sell lawn-care products, they’re coming to us because they’re embarrassed about their lawn or they simply don’t have time to do the work. If we sell financial advice, they’re coming to us because they’re worried about their retirement plan. It may not be as dramatic or sexy as James Bond going to Q to grab the latest high-tech spy weapons, but the premise is the same: our customers are in trouble and they need help. By talking about the problems our customers face, we deepen their interest in everything we offer.
In narrative storytelling, the story is not about your brand. The story is about your customer and how your brand can help them tell their story. With this in mind, finding ways to weave narrative storytelling into your marketing strategy is much easier. You don't need your audience to find your story interesting. They just need to see how your brand will make their story better.
For more resources on creating a compelling narrative in your business and marketing, see these cool guides:
- The power of storytelling in business (or, How to make people fall in love)
- Brand storytelling is more important than ever. But what is it?
- 10 Digital storytelling tools & platforms to tell your brand story
- 13 brand story examples that are unique & utterly brilliant
- Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
- Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
- Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire by Paul Smith
Interested in finding out how Prezly, a storytelling platform, can help you tell your stories? Why not try it out for free for 14 days? No credit card is required because the hero should never have to enter numbers before they are ready.
Published September 2022