About this course
All businesses know that marketing is an essential ingredient in growing a business.
Storytelling, woven into your social media posts, email, blogs, videos, podcasts, Facebook Lives, etc. is a powerful way to connect with clients and potential clients.
With careful thought and planning, you can build on the story/stories you want to convey.
This eight module course provides guidelines and examples that will help you in creating powerful marketing pieces that will capture attention.
"After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."
- Philip Pullman, British novelist
Research shows that likeability is one of the main drivers behind consumer purchase decisions. While there are many ways to make yourself ‘likeable’, a good story about yourself or your brand is one of the most distinctive and memorable methods. As the quote from Philip Pullman points out, people crave stories. And, the likeability created by a good story has a bigger influence on the customer than any other factor. Studies show that it does this by a factor of 3 to 1 for television commercials and 2 to 1 for ads.
A good example is Subaru's "They Lived" commercial. It opens with hunks of a scrapped car. Seeing this footage, the viewer naturally assumes that the passengers perished in the crash. But each image ends by saying, "They lived." The emotions and especially the suspense created by the video lead the viewer to form a psychological connection with Subaru.
“A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action.”
- Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stories engage a number of parts of the brain. In addition to areas dealing with language and logic, they also activate areas related to sensory stimuli. A study by the Emory Institute in Atlanta in which participants read the novel Pompeii and then had MRI scans found that the novel's story led to increased activity in the left temporal cortex, which is one area highly associated with language. It also found that just thinking about an action triggers the same areas that performing the action does.
Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study, said, "The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist."
Compare this to what the brain does when it takes in facts and data. When looking at data, the language areas of the brain light up, but not the emotional and sensory areas. These are triggered only by stories. This means that your story engages your audience in ways data can't. In addition to thinking, they're feeling and experiencing the story.
People forget statistics and facts, but they don't forget a good story.
This is especially true if your story conveys a message related to things your audience cares about deeply. According to Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, "Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone." Further, she says, "Studies show that we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures. However, when data and story are used together, audiences are moved both emotionally and intellectually."
Stories are memorable not only because of the emotional connection but also because they stand out. Amid all of the content clutter of the internet, a story gets attention. Think for a minute of the many articles you can find online that offer X number of tips for doing something. They're all fairly generic. But what if you found a compelling story that ends with a list of takeaway tips? That's something you'd be more likely to pay attention to.
Because of the explosive growth of social media and content marketing, stories are more important and effective than ever. Online, we're not broadcasting advertising messages as we did through traditional media like TV and print. Effective online marketing doesn't sell but informs and entertains. After consuming your content, your audience naturally thinks of you when they need your products or services. Stories offer an even better way to do this.
Your stories create an emotional connection between your target market and your product or brand. They have a psychological effect that adds tremendous power to your marketing and the ultimate growth of your company.
While you may think that good storytelling is only for people with a born ability, there are tricks and processes that will make it easy for anyone. That’s what we’ll be discussing in this course.
"Doubt is a question mark; faith is an exclamation point. The most compelling, believable, realistic stories have included them both.” ― Criss Jami
Later we're going to look at story formats and the elements of a good story. But first, let's discuss what kinds of stories you can tell.
This is the story of your company or brand. Stories are very important for your brand because they contribute so much to your brand's image. A company story usually involves how the company came into existence and grew to its current state, often told personally by the founder or first employees. Through the company's story, you convey to your audience the values and culture of your company. It also offers many opportunities for you to include the formats we'll discuss later (rags to riches, conquering the monster, etc.).
A good example of a brand story is the story of Nike's waffle-tread shoes. The story says that Nike founder Bill Bowerman one day, in a fit of inspiration, poured rubber into a waffle iron, thus giving birth to the waffle-tread. What this story tells you about the company is that it's innovative and not afraid to try out crazy ideas that could possibly revolutionize shoes as we know them.
A personal story is a story from someone's life. It could be how they overcame difficulties or how they reached the place where they are today. It could be something as simple as a scene the writer observed a few days ago that has relevance to their topic and their audience.
Many personal stories involve overcoming difficulties. For example, you might write a story about a time when you couldn't manage your time well. You were always busy and had many things to do, but no free time to do what you enjoyed. This is the setting of the story. You then discovered a very simple and handy technique for managing time better, which helped you get more done and have more time to yourself.
You can tell stories that relate to products. Your story could be how the product was developed, why it came into existence, a problem the product makers had to solve, or how a customer used it in a creative way.
A good example of a product development story is the one about the origin of the idea for the Sony Walkman. It started with a Sony executive who liked to listen to classical music on his long flights overseas. However, he hated dragging around a cassette player. He asked his engineers to create something smaller and more portable – and the Walkman was born. This is what gave us not only the Walkman, but also, by extension, all of the pocket-sized portable music players we enjoy today.
One way to discover great product stories is to ask your customers to write the stories for you. This is an example of what’s called ‘crowdsourcing’, in which you turn some part of your content creation over to your audience. Crowdsourcing is a highly effective content marketing strategy because it gets your audience actively engaged.
An example of crowdsourced content is Patagonia's Worn Wear campaign. Outdoor clothing designer Patagonia asked its customers to send in their stories of the adventures they experienced wearing Patagonia's clothes. People sent in their stories and these stories were featured online and in YouTube videos.
A customer story is one in which your customer relates somehow to your product or service. This is one of the best types of stories because it emphasizes the benefits of your offerings. When people read about a customer’s own experience with your product or service, they can put themselves in the customer's place and understand directly how your products or services can benefit them. These stories are also great because they're authentic.
A customer story can focus on a common problem your market faces and how one particular customer overcame this problem with your product. For example, if you sell an office filing system, you could ask customers to send in their stories about how their work is different after they started using your system. Even better, ask them to send in pictures of their newly organized files so that you can illustrate the stories.
Employee stories are engaging because they take people behind the scenes and add a human element to your company. Your audience gets a glimpse of the inner workings of your company and how every person involved makes a difference. These stories also help to convey your corporate culture.
An employee story might feature a particular employee and how they've improved a product or service, helped the company reach one of its goals, or bent over backward for a customer in need. It might also be their own history of how and why they came to the company. An employee story is something personal or professional about someone who works for your company and which you feel will resonate with your audience.
A case study is a more detailed and researched story of a person, group, activity, event, problem, and so on. The case study comes from the social sciences but companies also use it for exploring potential problems or situations. One type is the historical case study, which can be used in a similar way to your company story.
The main difference between a case study and the other story types we discussed is the thoroughness of it. A case study includes a great deal of research and organization in order to present every aspect of it. A case study might look something like a detailed retelling of your company's history or the development of a product.
From the description of different story types, which one would be easiest and fastest for you to create? What do you already have content on? Use the worksheet to keep notes on these ideas since you’ll need them later in the course.
"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."
― Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works
Stories are a major part of human life since the dawn of human existence. As soon as early humans developed the ability to speak and think symbolically, stories were told.
Stories from ancient times are only different from those of today in setting and content. What hasn't changed is the storylines. From the first human stories hatched tens of thousands of years ago to the TV drama you watched the other night, these timeless storylines endure.
Why are these storylines so enduring? It's because they speak to fundamental emotions that all humans understand and experience. The themes are those all people face. Using these classic plots in your story planning can help you create something truly effective and emotional for your audience.
The seven basic plots are:
Let's consider each one and look at some examples to help you get ideas.
Conquering the monster is a familiar storyline if you've ever seen a horror or science fiction movie. It goes all the way back to the first known work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh from the ancient Sumerian civilization. In it, the hero Gilgamesh goes on a quest where he does battle with a number of monsters. The storyline is also the format used in many video games like "Super Mario Brothers."
In a conquering the monster story, the hero goes on a journey that culminates in the defeat of a terrible monster. The odds are stacked against the lowly hero, but through strength, cunning and whatever other virtues and resources are at-hand, the hero finally overcomes the monster and kills it.
You've seen this storyline in the biblical David and Goliath story. It's the plot of many classics of literature such as Beowulf. It's the basic plot behind "Godzilla," "The Terminator," the Star Wars Trilogy, and the James Bond movies. It's also one of the main themes in superhero comic books.
The key is that the "monster" doesn't have to be an actual monster. It can be any type of problem or frustration that your audience faces. One great example in marketing is the Allstate "Mayhem" campaign. The character Mayhem is a metaphor for any type of disaster you could face, and you conquer this monster through insurance. Another good example is Nike's "Just Do It" narrative, where athletes overcome the monster (fear of failure, lack of confidence) by "just doing it."
The classic story of the American dream is an example of a rags-to-riches story. Imagine the story of a poor immigrant that finds his or herself washed up on the shores of America, only to pull themselves up by the bootstraps through their own cunning and hard work, to one day become the billionaire on the hill.
You can see this story in the lives of many early 20th century entrepreneurs like Nelson Rockefeller, or in authors such as J.K. Rowling. It appears in classic stories like "Cinderella" and Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Films like "Rocky" and “Aladdin” portray rags-to-riches stories, and it's the story behind many of today's reality TV shows.
Rags-to-riches stories can be used very effectively to tell brand stories, since most companies start out as shoe-string operations in someone's basement. A good example is the story of the app WhatsApp, which was developed by Ukrainian-born Jan Koum while he was on food stamps and sold five years later to Mark Zuckerberg for $19 billion.
With the quest, the main character and their entourage set out on a mission to discover some place, person or object. They face obstacles and hardships along the way, all of which they triumph over and then proceed on. This is an excellent storyline because it's exciting and keeps people on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next obstacle. The audience travels along with the heroes, experiencing the discovery vicariously through them.
The Arthurian legend of Sir Galahad's quest for the Holy Grail is a classic example of the quest. More modern examples include the Indiana Jones series, Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter Series, "Finding Nemo" and one of the most famous quest stories, "The Wizard of Oz." J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye is the story of an inner quest to find purpose and meaning.
The quest storyline could be used in your search to discover (create) a product that solves the problems and hardships that your audience faces.
From Homer to Luke Skywalker, human cultures abound with stories about a hero's journey into a strange or dangerous world and finally return home. This is a story anyone who has ever ventured away from home geographically or ventured outside their comfort zone psychologically, can easily understand. It touches a real nerve with people and the eventual homecoming offers an emotional release. These stories are particularly popular with children, maybe because the whole world to them is a strange land full of obstacles.
A number of classics fit this mold like Homer's Odyssey and Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. Quite a number of fantasy and science fiction stories use this storyline. Modern voyage and return stories include "Back To The Future" and the miniseries "Lost."
Voyage and return can be used in a variety of different contexts. For example, you may have made a discovery while traveling that inspired you to come home and develop a product. Product development can be a voyage and return story if it involves venturing outside of your comfort zone. This story can also be used to sell travel-related products.
Tragedy stories are the toughest to use in marketing. The reason is that they're all based on some fatal character flaw, weakness or lapse in morals on the part of the main character, which gradually destroys them. Tragedies, like Shakespeare's Macbeth, feature an anti-hero who is haunted and tormented by their fatal flaw throughout the story, and they nearly always succumb to it in the end. For a tragedy, death is the happy ending. Not exactly marketing material.
Examples include "Bonnie and Clyde," John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, "Westside Story," and "Titanic".
Although comedies are funny, not every funny story is a comedy. The term "comedy" is meant here in the Shakespearean sense. In a comedy, the plot revolves around some confusion among the characters, which leads to a wide variety of shenanigans and eventually resolves in the end when it's cleared up and the characters are set straight.
Most sitcoms use this storyline for their episodes. This is because one mix-up offers an interesting plot and many opportunities for humor. Just take a look at any of your favorite comedies in either movies or T.V. series for an example.
Businesses can use the comedy format to reframe a problem into some type of comedic confusion. A business, for example, may have an IT mix-up which it has to untangle. In addition to following this story line, you can add comedic elements to any kind of story to make it more fun for the audience. Humor is a great emotion to trigger and it makes your story more memorable.
Take the story of Mr. W, which won energy company Epuron numerous awards for promoting wind energy. They took the abstract concept of wind, created a misunderstood person, and then revealed the truth of who he was right at the end. Not only did the story have a comedic element, but it was also an example of someone overcoming their own challenges and being ‘reborn’ – even though it wasn’t a real person!
Finally, the rebirth story is one that can be used very effectively in marketing. This is a story in which someone sinks to their lowest, most hopeless point, and then makes a miraculous recovery. The struggle of the main character offers a conflict to the story, and the protagonist overcoming the struggle and rising from the ashes is inspirational to the audience.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge threatens to stop Christmas, but the holiday is saved in the end. There's an element of rebirth in nearly every episode of "Doctor Who" or a James Bond movie where the hero is about to be killed by the villain but narrowly escapes. "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty" are both rebirth stories.
There are a great number of rebirth story ideas in a business context. Your product could save people right at the moment when they're at the very bottom. This plot can also be worked into a customer testimonial. Your brand story could be about your business facing hardship and near bankruptcy until a great idea saves the day. Any personal story about overcoming a hardship or dark time is a rebirth story.
The rebirth story you tell doesn’t even have to do with your company, but can focus just on your own customers. A great example is Gatorade’s Replay series, which told the story of two ice hockey teams who took to the ice 11 years after a game which had involved a near fatal accident for one player. The story isn’t about Gatorade at all. Instead, Gatorade sponsors the game and you only see their products very peripherally in the footage.
As you've undoubtedly noticed from the above examples, an individual story can have a number of these storylines within it. A hero may go on a journey to conquer a monster, only to face a serious and near-fatal struggle from which he/she experience a rebirth, and then return home at the end. You don't have to restrict yourself to only one storyline. Most great stories combine elements of a few.
From the different classic story formats, which would resonate most with your brand? Start jotting down some ideas for what would go into your story.
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