Storytelling Marketing: The Only kind We’ll Remember

It’s no new news that we’re in a market saturated with content. The messages that get heard are the ones our brains find more interesting than all the rest, and – psychologically speaking – those are always going to be stories.

Humans are hard-wired for story

Lisa Cron, the author of Wired for Story and former story consultant for Warner Brothers, puts it like this:

“You may feel like you’re hitting your head against a wall, wondering why laying out the advantages of your position, using clear-cut facts, doesn’t seem to work. At all. As we’ll see, that’s not because the people you’re trying to convince are stubborn; it’s due to how our brains have been hardwired… Given the new kind of tribalism we often find ourselves smacking up against, it’s increasingly clear that facts alone don’t persuade” (Lisa Cron, Story or Die).

There’s a lot of brain science behind this – and that’s a whole other blog in itself – but suffice it to say that storytelling has been linked to increased oxytocin (which correlates with generosity and empathy), dopamine (learning and excitement), and neural coupling (mind syncing and reciprocity). In short, it induces a cocktail of cognitive chemicals designed to get our brains to react – and it’s effective.

Hey, wake up! I’m talking to you!

As Lisa so eloquently puts it (again), “Throw facts at us, we duck. Personify those facts in a story, we lean in.” While facts hit the prefrontal cortex – our executive functions – the complex decision-making process is influenced heavily, and nigh inextricably, by the amygdala – our emotional center. To illustrate the comparison between narrative and data delivery, we’ll take another page out of her book:

  • Attention is scarce, so we only focus on facts we think will immediately impact us.
  • Even if a fact is true, we won’t pay attention to it until we know why it’s relevant to us.
  • People are biologically reticent to change.
  • Once we believe something is true, we defend it as part of our identity.
  • Storytelling is what circumvents the brain’s natural defenses to change and allows it to process new information in a non-threatening way. (Lisa Cron, Story or Die)

Notably, she concludes, “A story is about an inner realization that leads to an external transformation.”

This is exactly what we want to accomplish as marketers. There’s something the vendor realizes that is usually ingenious, insightful, intuitive, and even genius in scope. The trick is to get it from the development line to the customer base without losing that spark. And the key to doing that is approaching the customer from the inside and then showing them why what you have is the perfect ending to their story.

To do that, it helps to nail down answers to a few core questions:

  1. What does your audience want? How do they want to see themselves?
  2. What mistaken assumptions do they have about how to get what they want?
  3. How does your solution uproot those mistaken assumptions and provide what they need?

Once you can fit your offering within the scope of their story (and hey, make yourself the hero), you’ve got not only their attention but the legitimacy to keep it.

People aren’t buying your product; they’re buying you

Interesting though it may be, the point of a good story is that the audience knows the moral at the end of it. They know why you told it, and if you told it well, there’s a good chance they’ll agree with you. The bonus (and this is big) is that they’ll also know you. Let your tone of voice come out. Have a tone of voice. Find a company, a writer, or a super-charismatic guru that can define what “you guys” sound like, and do the same thing, every time, across the board.

Imagine getting to know someone, and each time you went out, they acted a different way. One night they’re the life of the party. The next buttoned-up. The next a didactic mix of know-it-all and bravado. Hard to get to know them, right? Safe to say, the relationship might be short-lived.

People want to figure you out. With so many “somebodies” out there, people are looking for what’s real. Authentic. Someone they can see through and like what’s on the other side. In essence, this all boils down to trust, and you can’t trust someone you can’t get to know. When creating your content, defining your strategy, and writing your materials, you need a consistent (and compelling) tone of voice, or your collateral is doomed to be drastically less effective than it could be. Period.

A spoonful of sugar helps the marketing go down

A couple of great industry examples are Geico, Progressive, and State Farm. Who knew insurance could be so fun? Well, it’s not. They just have genius storytellers and a lightning-rod spokesperson/gecko who can communicate likability with a little humor. This isn’t to say we should de-factualize our marketing takes, especially in this industry, but buyers are getting younger, savvier, and (hate to say it) shorter in attention. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and your best facts and figures should be communicated in a style that will make them stick. You owe it to yourselves.

It’s the marketer’s job to take the ball into the endzone. The whole team – engineers, executives, HR, sales and development, that IT intern – has worked tirelessly to get your offering to this point, and you’re all proud. You should be. Now that you’re on the five yard-line, the last thing you want to see is a lackluster pass that doesn’t get those six points on the board. This last step CANNOT BE WRONG.    

The best decision you might never make

That’s why picking the right storytellers is so important. Choosing to tell a story is the most important choice you’ll ever make in your marketing strategy. But choosing who will tell your story is also the most important decision.

If you drop the ball there, this article and all your good intentions are about as good as a 15-minute break. Not a waste, but not an investment either. The right content creators will turn data into drama, stats into stickiness, and facts into unforgettable anecdotes your sellers will share around the water cooler (or LinkedIn). Who doesn’t want to be the bearer of interesting news?

Can you grab that guy over SEO and train him to do it? Sure. Can you just sit down and think more creatively? Yep. That all works, but if you want a way to get it done now, not to waste the marketing bullets you already have lined up in your gun, it’s a competitive option to go with a specialized content marketing agency.

It’s your vision, and you want it communicated in the most interesting, most compelling, and most memorable light. A team of content strategists that can fit your offering within the narrative of the industry landscape will angle you competitively in the marketplace and give your ideas the polish they need to shine. Ultimately, your ability to communicate your vision translates directly into your ability to survive; those that can cut through the jargon will be the ones who impact the industry story for years to come.

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Storytelling Marketing: The Only kind We’ll Remember
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