When people use the term “storytelling” as a marketing tool, they are referring to the practice of using narratives or stories to convey a message or promote a product or service. Storytelling in marketing is about creating a logical, dynamic narrative that captures attention, reminds customers of themselves, and makes them feel emotionally connected to the brand. That last part, the emotional connection part, is the most important and where the true power lies.
Effective storytelling in marketing involves deeply understanding the target audience and crafting a narrative that speaks to them on an emotional level; to their needs, desires, and values. By using storytelling techniques, marketers can create a more memorable experience for their target audience, which helps build what we like to call brand affinity. People choose to support brands they feel emotionally connected to and great storytelling creates and nurtures these connections.
Storytelling in marketing is not just about authenticity, or sharing anecdotal, real-life examples. It’s a deeper understanding of the human experience and how we build a shared sense of identity, values, and belonging. Storytelling in marketing is a powerful tool for brands to differentiate themselves, stand out in a crowded market, and connect with consumers on a deeper level. But it’s nothing new.
So Aristotle Teaches Us
The origin of storytelling as a means of connecting with one another and cultivating a shared sense of values goes all the way back to the beginning of human existence. Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, may have been the first to identify it for what it is, and to write about the mechanics of it specifically, though it has been around since cave drawings.
Aristotle’s Poetics is one of the most influential works on storytelling and has had a significant impact on Western literature, theater, and film. Here are his most relevant ideas:
- Plot: Aristotle believed that the plot is the most important element of a story. He argued that a good story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and that the events in the story should be logically connected and lead to a satisfying resolution.
- Character: Aristotle believed that characters should be believable and consistent. He argued that characters should have a clear motivation and that their actions should be consistent with their personality and beliefs. Great storytellers create characters that remind the audience of themselves.
- Catharsis: Aristotle believed that good storyteller should evoke an emotional response in the audience. He argued that a good story should create a sense of catharsis, or emotional release, in the audience, and that this can be achieved by depicting the struggles and triumphs of the characters.
- Language: Aristotle believed that language is a key element of storytelling. He argued that good storytelling should use language that is clear, concise, and appropriate to the story being told.
- Imitation: Aristotle believed that storytelling is a form of imitation, and that good storytellers should strive to imitate reality in a way that is both believable and emotionally engaging.
Overall, Aristotle’s insights into storytelling have had a profound impact on the way we understand and approach narrative in literature, theater, and film. His ideas continue to be studied and applied by writers and storytellers today.
But how do I apply Storytelling In Marketing?
We’re getting there. But, first, we have to understand and define the key elements of an effective story. If there was a recipe for a great story, these would be the ingredients.
- Exposition: This is where the story begins. The audience is introduced to the setting, characters, and situation. The exposition sets the stage for the rest of the story.
- Rising Action: This is where the conflict or problem is introduced and the story begins to build momentum. The rising action typically involves a series of events or obstacles that increase tension and create drama.
- Climax: This is the high point of the story, where the conflict comes to a head and the outcome is decided. The climax is often the most dramatic and emotionally charged moment in the story.
- Falling Action: This is where the story begins to wind down after the climax. Loose ends are tied up, and the audience sees the aftermath of the climax.
- Resolution: This is the final part of the story, where the conflict is resolved, and the story comes to a close. The resolution often includes a moral or lesson that the audience can take away from the story.
It’s worth noting that this structure is not always linear or chronological. Some stories use flashbacks, nonlinear timelines, or multiple perspectives to tell the story. However, even in these cases, the basic elements of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution are still present in some form.
Story Structure In Marketing
Here’s how the basic storytelling structure above can be applied to a marketing message:
- Exposition: The exposition of a marketing message sets the stage by introducing the audience to the brand, product, or service being marketed. This can include history, legacy, background information or brand values.
- Rising Action: The rising action of a marketing message builds momentum by describing the challenges or obstacles that the target audience faces and defining the stakes, or the risk of inaction. The character (your customer) wants something, but has to overcome challenges to get it.
- Climax: The climax of a marketing message is the high point where the product or service is positioned as the solution to the problem laid out in the rising action. It can include features, advantages, and benefits of the product or service. You, the brand, can solve their problem and get them what they want.
- Falling Action: The falling action of a marketing message begins to wind down by addressing any concerns or objections the audience may have and providing additional information or reassurances. This can include social proof, guarantees, or additional information about the product or service. If you’re using a testimonial, this is where the audience sees how the product or service has solved their problem and improved the life of the customer.
- Resolution: The resolution of a marketing message is the final part where the audience is presented with a call-to-action or a next step. This can include a request to purchase the product or service, visit a website to learn more, join a mailing list, make a donation, and so on.
By applying this basic story structure to a marketing message, you’re engaging the human brain in a hidden way that is universal and powerful. Really, it’s a matter of the heart. By telling a story that resonates with customers’ values and beliefs, brands can build a deeper connection with their audience and create a more meaningful, lasting relationship. That is the magic that effective storytelling in marketing produces that is just impossible any other way.
It’s nothing new. And that’s why it works so well. It’s as old as we are (if you are a human).
For numerous examples of this technique in action, watch our video storytelling work.