How to use storytelling in marketing – complete guide

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There are dozens, if not hundreds, of marketing techniques that we can use to properly promote our product or service. Some of them have become so well established in the consumer consciousness that they evoke reflexive distance. Fortunately, there are alternatives that will help us counteract this “oversaturation” – one of them is storytelling, i.e. narrative marketing.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling (narrative marketing) is the use of selected elements characteristic of literature in marketing content – narrative, characters, creation of the world – in order to arouse curiosity, intrigue and, as it were, surprise in the recipient.

The idea behind storytelling is simple – people love stories, they love the feelings that good stories evoke in them. That’s why literature has been with us for thousands of years, and in cinematography we see a breakthrough almost every year.

Stories fuel conversations, arouse emotions, and are memorable. If we manage to skillfully and unobtrusively weave a subtle marketing message into this ready-made scheme, we are on a very good path to success.

Storytelling – where did this idea come from?

Let’s start with reflection. Every day, on the Internet or on television, we are regularly bombarded with advertising blocks. They take the form of a video, text or image. We’ve probably seen several hundred of them over the last month. And how many of them do we remember? Probably not much.

Despite huge funds allocated to promotion, some campaigns – or entire brands – have disappeared into the depths of history due to ineffective advertising or relying too much on means that no longer make a proper impression.

There are trends in marketing that claim that we have a greater chance of success if we dress our message in an attractive frame or provide value that goes beyond the promotion itself. In other words, we will provide our recipients with something more. An example is native marketing, which presents the product in the environment in which it best fits, thus suggesting rather than speaking directly.

Another concept that uses even more sophisticated means, deeply rooted in the human psyche, is narrative marketing.

How to construct a good story

When starting to work on a campaign using narrative marketing, we must switch to a different way of thinking.

Basically, we are no longer in the advertising field, where the effectiveness of a product or service is confirmed by scientific research or a series of charts filled with data. We are among living, authentic and credible (even if created on paper) characters, with their everyday problems and concerns. In other words, in the field of literature.

So let’s make sure we know the key concepts.

So let’s make sure we know the key concepts.

We give voice to none other than Aristotle himself, from whose work, the Poetics, the following concept comes:

A narrative is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, as well as a main thread connecting them.

The so-called fairy tale scheme, developed by E. Leach and A. Greimas who stipulate that a fairy tale (and basically every story, because we do not have to place our campaign in the world of Alice in Wonderland) contains:

  • hero,
  • the goal he is pursuing; a desire he wants to fulfill,
  • opponent (also general difficulty),
  • additional external support,
  • helper,
  • the person receiving the gift.

Of course, there are many more rules and regulations, as there are separate sections of literary studies entirely devoted to them, but this basic – and effective – structure is enough to achieve the desired effect.

How to create believable characters?

Our reader assumes that he or she is watching an authentic story (and there is no reason for this not to be the case), so we must take care to create both a credible world and characters.

Creating the world may be the easier part – it will most likely be the reality in which we all live. Half the job done? Not necessarily. It’s time for a hero.

A key aspect is the ability of the reader to identify with a given character.

He should therefore be a typical everyman; an average person facing some universal problem. The specific nature of the problem will, of course, depend on the type of product or service we are promoting – it is supposed to be a remedy for the hero’s distress.

Let the plot concern areas that are common to most people – professional, family, personal.

How to influence your audience?

It is also worth making sure that our story is not only properly constructed, but also encourages us to take the action we choose. After all, even if unconventional, we still construct a marketing message whose goal is to sell something.

As Chip and Dan Heath’s Sticky Stories show, the story should be told in such a way that the reader feels an impulse. In our case, it will be an impulse to acquire our product/service. To achieve this, we should meet two criteria:

  • the hero/heroine of our story must be credible and face real, universal problems;
  • his/her actions should indicate a path to achieving some goal or inspiration to make an effort.

In other words, motivate.

Remember that a single individual and his fate are remembered much more than a group or the whole – this has been proven by many psychological studies.

An example of effective storytelling

Let’s put all our recommendations together and consider examples of successful storytelling campaigns.

Although many examples could be listed, let’s take one from our own backyard – the Allegro English for beginners advertisement from 2016. There is probably no need to add anything more, because many people will smile or even feel moved just by mentioning it. Suffice it to say that almost 19 million people have watched it on YouTube to date!

It contains the true essence of this type of marketing: an elderly man (a credible hero) overcoming the language barrier (difficulty) to be able to communicate with his granddaughter (meeting a need). Of course, he also gets a little help from outside in the form of a language learning textbook ordered on Allegro…

According to information provided by Allegro itself, sales increased by 14.5% during the first year of the campaign; immediate brand awareness from 69% to 75%, and spontaneous advertising awareness from 79% to 89%, counting on the last day of the advertising period (source: A. Kalinowska-Żeleźnik, S. Kuczamer-Kłopotowska. Storytelling in the advertising message of the Allegro brand. Management Media, Volume 8(3)2020, p. 215).

This is the power of properly constructed narrative marketing!

What can you use storytelling for?

We already know what features good stories have, which will allow us to build a credible reality and populate it with authentic characters. We also have a few other tricks up our sleeve. All that remains is to act!

In what areas can narrative marketing be particularly effective?

  • Promoting a product – the product that we intend to introduce to the market or the sales of which we would like to increase will play an important role in the story.
  • Promoting a region – from time to time on TV we can find advertisements for Bangladesh, the Calabar or Argentina as attractive holiday areas. Other countries also happen. We do not have to limit ourselves to only one issue (tourism) – areas may also have other types of value (e.g. historical).
  • Personal branding – building a brand for yourself. Stories in which we are the main characters, showing us in a positive light.
  • Corporate and organizational communication – both concern a company or institution that would like to become more deeply rooted in the collective consciousness.

As you can see, the scope of similar activities can be as narrow as possible (product, unit) or very extensive (even the entire country!).

As the above text shows, narrative marketing can be both a versatile and extremely effective tool.

However, balance is key, because the advertising element cannot outweigh the story being told. Our priority should therefore be the plot itself and its skillful construction. It should, of course, be credible, but also enable the neat composition of the product we want to promote. If we do it properly, the results can be spectacular!

Summary

  1. Storytelling is a subtle weaving of marketing content into a reliably told story;
  2. The plot of our story must be well constructed, and to do this, it is best to refer to classic patterns and patterns;
  3. Narrative marketing allows you to promote a wide range of services and products, as well as people, organizations and companies.

Oluwaseun Bakare

l am a Direct Response Copywriter with over 4 years experience in writing engaging and conversion driven content. Apart from writing content for websites such as blog articles and website management, l also enjoy swimming and binging on Netflix films.

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