All over the world, nesting birds are looking after their young. Hungry beaks stretch out for a tasty morsel, comfortable in the safety of their nest. But on a nearby shore, a duckling struggles, picking his way through the toxic ooze of an oil slick. His small body is blackened and weighted down by the sticky residue, there’s no way he’ll last long like this.
“Even a mother can’t protect them from oil spills.”
But here they come, the kind hands of rescuers. The little duckling is washed clean of the oil and set free to frolic with his relieved mother.
Sounds like part of a nature documentary, right? But this is one illustration of the power of storytelling for a brand. This is actually a synopsis of a popular Dawn detergent advertisement, one that illustrates their message well—a powerful yet gentle cleanser.
Storytelling is a powerful technique to engage followers and build brands. Cleaning the dishes is boring, but changing a life is transcendent.
If your brand can effectively use storytelling as part of your marketing, you can transform how people see your business. Customers are no longer just customers, they are invested in your story and become loyal fans.
Why Storytelling Works
“For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.” Leo Widrich – Buffer
Storytelling is hard-wired into our brains. Neuroscience backs this up, with research finding that when we are being told a story, parts of our brain light up as though we were actually experiencing the events of the story. On the other hand, when we are processing cold, hard facts, only the regular language-processing parts light up.
In short, storytelling is a much more engaging process for our brains.
People don’t become fans of your business; they become followers of a culture, ideal, or person because the stories of that brand resonate with them.
Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch that your product could save a life like the dishwashing detergent, but what stories can you share which bring your brand personality and give it some life outside of the bare facts?
Show, Don’t Tell
Companies make a lot of statements about how great their products are, but consumers tend to be increasingly jaded as they are bombarded with messages daily. They’re not going to take your word for it, especially when 50% of Americans say that don’t trust what they see, read, or hear in advertising. If your target audience tends to be well educated, your job is even harder, with 65% of post-grads saying they don’t trust advertising.
What else can you do? According to a Nielsen survey, trust is earned through trusted sources through earned media. This includes:
- Recommendations from family and friends.
- Online consumer reviews.
- Mentions, shares, and reposts.
Storytelling plays a huge part in earned media; do you share the image of someone doing the dishes? Or the story of the duckling who was rescued from the oil slick?
Seven out of ten people share things because they help cultivate their image or define their identity; the boring facts don’t do that but an interesting story does. If you can tap into the identities of your target audience with your stories, you will resonate with them on a personal level. This is what transforms people from customers to loyal fans.
“Show, don’t tell” applies to reviews and recommendations too. When you look at consumer reviews, which ones do you find the most helpful? “Product X is great because it has ten widgets” or “Product X has changed my business. Here’s what happened…”
As we saw earlier, your Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of your brain processed the information about the ten widgets, but if the second review was a story that you can relate to, your brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Product X became relatable and your interest was piqued.
Apple is a great example of a company who has not only told people about their innovative products, but have created an entire culture around being smart, fun, and sleek. People queue for hours when they release a new product because they have bought into that culture.
“Apple is the rare example of a company that doesn’t market itself as a tech company but as a solutions company. They sell the emotional connection with consumers.” – Carmi Levi, CNBC
Your company culture is part of your storytelling and how you develop that emotional connection; Apple is seen as bestowing status upon users, another reason why people will wait in an insanely long line for hours.
The important part is that when you espouse a certain culture, you need to back that up by demonstrating it. Apple delivers on sleek innovation. Tom’s Shoes enhances a culture of caring and responsibility by sharing stories of how they give back. Develop your company culture and the stories behind it—bland doesn’t get fans, and espoused culture without stories to back it up soon gets outed as a fraud.
What If I’m In A “Boring” Industry?
I know what you’re thinking. “But my product is nowhere near as sexy as dishwashing detergent or an iPhone, how can I tell a story?” Fair enough, it may be a bit more of a creative stretch, but there are plenty of examples of businesses in unsexy industries who have nailed it with their storytelling.
Let’s look at a few examples:
A CRM tool does not ignite excitement in most people, but by introducing customer stories rather than focusing on its utilitarian nature, Salesforce manages to go from bland to buzz.
This is a very simple strategy which most brands could find a way to mimic; what are the true stories behind how your customers use your product? In this way, Salesforce has set itself up as a driving force in the B2B community.
Ok, some people might get excited by a search engine, but usually it’s not because of the tool itself, it’s because of the possibilities that the tool opens up. Rather than simply saying “you can search for things”, Google has brought real stories to life such as this example showing a grandfather being able to meet his childhood friend for the first time since 1947.
H & R Block
Ok, when did taxes become popular? H & R Block has a Facebook page with over 393,000 fans and receives a high level of engagement across their posts. Apart from helpful, timely advice for the tax season, they tap into the psyche of their audience with posts that provoke thought, such as their “Battle of the Budgets” series.
Visual storytelling is very effective if you can pull it off with a good strategy. Think being a B2B company on Instagram is difficult? CBRE are in commercial real estate, not the most scintillating of topics, yet they have almost 8,000 fans and are getting a lot of post engagement.
Just check out the description for their Instagram account:
“The buildings, spaces and people that inspire us to transform real estate into real advantage.”
Their visual storytelling uses high-quality images of stunning cityscapes and buildings.
This is an example of a company who does a great job of conveying stories about their company culture. When a business does this successfully, it naturally draws in fans who want to be a part of its culture. Whether that includes your fun office environment, how you encourage innovation, how your staff are able to work remotely and snowboard during regular work hours, or how you are giving back to your community, find the stories that will resonate with your customers.
Air New Zealand
Ok, the airline industry itself is not really “boring”, but one of their most important pieces of content often goes ignored by bored passengers—the safety video. Air New Zealand has become well known for turning its safety videos into engaging, often amusing stories which draw the attention of the audience. What necessary pieces of content do you have that could be spiced up through storytelling?
Storytelling works because it is more engaging than hearing about facts, statistics, or the bare features of your product. A well-told story provokes an emotional connection which can make customers truly resonate with your brand.
If you would like to build your own tribe of loyal followers, find those stories that will impact them and show, don’t tell. Your stories can be across any platform where your audience is found and in any medium. Try blog content, video, visual storytelling, audio, or short clips on social media which pique interest.
Most importantly, be that story which you put out to your clients. Engagement will come when the interaction is genuine.