52: How to Use Storytelling in Your Marketing Without Any Framework, Template, or Guide

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Storytelling has gained popularity for a good reason—it works. But the ways many teach us how to use storytelling in messaging and marketing is overly complicated and lack specific examples. I’m here to break down a simple approach that will help you use storytelling in your business today—
no course needed.

On this episode, I share:

  • Why storytelling is an effective communication tactic,

  • The difference between brand storytelling and your brand story,

  • A common mistake businesses make when sharing stories,

  • Four places in your business to mine for stories, and

  • The three things you need for any story to work.

WHY STORYTELLING MATTERS

Here’s a bit of a fun fact. Earlier in my career—when I was working in international development—I was a bit obsessed with data storytelling.

I worked with a bunch of highly technical people and even though they produced wonderfully insightful work, hardly anyone read it.

Take the World Bank. They publish hundreds of reports every month. And yet, it’s estimated, that a full 1/3 of them have never been downloaded—even once!

There’s a lesson in quality over quantity there. But I also think it’s a lesson in understanding your audience.

Storytelling has the power to solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages. And even if you’re not a researcher, I’m willing to bet you’re so deep in your work that you forget the way you speak and share information can sound foreign to others.

Today I’m here to chat about digital storytelling. But this isn’t a chat on storytelling like you’ve probably heard before. I’m not going to give you a ten step process for fitting your message into a framework.

I’m going to help you incorporate storytelling in the way that you think, so that each time you go to share something with your audience, you’re thinking about it in a new and natural way.

What do you say? Should we get to it?

STORYTELLING LIGHTS UP YOUR BRAIN

An obvious place to start is with the word storytelling itself.

It’s gained quite a bit of popularity recently, hasn’t it? I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. People are inundated with information at a level and pace we’ve never been before.

  2. More choices are available to consumers than ever before.

  3. It works.

 

Storytelling is 22x more memorable than facts or figures alone.

Your neural activity increases 5x when you’re listening to a story.

Stories light up the sensory cortex in our brains, allowing listeners to actually feel, hear, and supposedly even smell and taste our story.

They’re also engaging. Who doesn’t love some good suspense. I mean, binge culture didn’t just come out of nowhere.

Storytelling can blend facts AND feelings. Think about documentaries. If they were just focused on the facts, they wouldn’t be interesting. But there’s always a main character. There’s always struggle. There’s always a win/culmination of the struggle.

That’s what holds our attention.

And brands have started paying attention.

The smart ones are using story to get their audience to engage more and linger longer with their brand content.

Refinery29 is doing a really great job implementing storytelling strategy on their Instagram channel. I found myself scrolling last month and they had a video on a woman getting micro bladed. I clicked to watch more of the video on IGTV and sat there for over 5 minutes. Afterwards I looked forward to the next. This is a marketer’s dream!

STORIES THAT MAKE PEOPLE CARE

Maybe it’s helpful to see a comparison of non story-based marketing vs. story-based.

There’s a popular video by Power of Words that shows a homeless man on the street with a sign that reads, “I’m blind. Please help.”

Then a woman comes up and changes the text to read, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”

That’s a story narrative.

But you may not think about it as a story because there’s a lot out there about how to craft a good story.

This chatter weighs heavily on the hero’s journey and the multiple phases within. It’s a theoretical conversation, that often requires books and courses and certifications to master.

I’m not about that.

And honestly, I think it creates too much of a burden to allow people to WANT to change up their messages to be more story-based.

Why else do I think we aren’t using story more in our messages?

We’re so caught up in the content creation, funnels, optimization that we forget to humanize the message we’re sending. We’re humans and business is personal!

However, this requires us to shift our mindset from selling to connecting. And for some of us that’s a big leap to make.

When you think about content marketing, it’s mostly focused on the WHAT that you’re selling. But when you use storytelling, you can shift to the WHY and the HOW.

One mistake I see company’s making is making their brand storytelling all about them.

STORYTELLING VS. STORY

Brand storytelling is different than your brand story.

Your brand story is a narrative about your existence - why did you found the company, what do you believe in, what are your values?

Brand storytelling can include your brand story but its also largely about your customers.

To share that you’ve got to know your customers and their stories. You’ve got to understand how your service or product fits into their lives, pushing back the curtain about to show who this person is and what their mission is.

That feels much more authentic than a talking head on camera raving about how amazing your product or service is.

A brilliant example of this—that I’m sure you’re familiar with—is the Dove Real Beauty campaign. Dove wasn’t selling their body wash in any of these videos. They were highlighting how women feel about their image—how they see themselves vs. how others see them.

As a company, Dove is committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. And these powerful videos hit home for what a lot of women face every day.

Dove effectively told a story about their brand values and vision with the day to day life of their customers.

That makes us feel and it creates connection that results in brand loyalists.

Another example of good story is the Netflix show, You. Penn Badgely stars in it—as you’re likely aware—as a homicidal, obsessive maniac. And yet, people are drawn to him. That’s empathy in practice—understanding someone’s experiences and emotions draws us closer to them.

I’ve thrown out a lot of examples here, but what I really want to give you is a clear pathway to use story in your messaging.

GET STARTED WITH STORY

First of all you need to get REAL clear with what you’re selling.

After all, a mattress salesman isn’t selling a mattress. He’s selling a good night’s sleep.

What is your highest value proposition?

Secondly, what is your brand story?

Why do you do this work? Do you have personal experience with it? Did you see other companies massively underserving your audience? What is it that lights the spark under you? This is going to be your battle cry that your audience can rally around.

Third, how does your product/service fit into your customer’s life?

I don’t mean how do they use it. I don’t mean what are the benefits of it. I mean taking a wide angle to your audience’s life. Who is this person you serve? How do they move through the world? What are their struggles/fears/dreams? What can I connect to?

And last, I want you to use your data.

Facts are proof, but they don’t have to stand on their own. What is the story behind your numbers? Why do they matter?

Whether it’s industry data or data specific to your customers, tell me why I should care.

INCORPORATING STORYTELLING IN YOUR MESSAGE

These four things are things I want you to make sure you have on your side. And they fit into three simple buckets of stories:

  • Who are the people behind your brand? — AKA: Personal Storytelling.

  • How do your customers engage with your service/product? — AKA: Customer Storytelling.

  • How do the facts and feelings line up? — AKA: Educational Storytelling.

 

There’s a great video example of personal storytelling that Burt’s Bees put together and I’ll link it in the show notes. They showed the life that Burt lived, as a hippy, off the grid, depending on the natural elements on his land. This video effectively made the link between the brand’s values and value proposition and the founder himself.

So good.

Reminder: as you’re thinking how to use stories, don’t get caught up in the formal phases of a story. You don’t need the Pixar formula to be successful. You only need three things.

  1. Characters

  2. Conflict

  3. Resolution

 

That’s it.

It’s tempting to overthink it. But if you approach every message with the question, “How will this relate to my audience’s life?” you’ll be in a good place.

I’d like to challenge you today to use story in one place in the next week.

Whether it’s through an email, on a sales call, in a social post, or with your team.

You have the tremendous potential to entertain and inspire, not to mention be more effective with your marketing.

If today’s conversation has you feeling like the concepts are still too pie in the sky for you to grasp, let’s have a chat. I’d love to help nail down your message and connect it in a relatable way to consumers looking for just what you have to offer.

Simply send me a note.

It’s my hope that this episode has brought down the anxiety level a bit about what you “should” be doing with your messaging. Once I start approaching marketing from a story-based approach it felt so much more fun. And I’m all about fun these days.

It’s worth mentioning I’ve also experienced quite a bit higher engagement, even with a small following.

We’re good at spotting a marketing funnel a mile away. And the call to be “authentic” has also—ironically—caused some brands to look like they’re trying too hard to say what their audience wants to hear.

I’d love to know what’s working for you. Join me over on Instagram @pattern_ofpurpose and we’ll continue this conversation. Because you know I could talk about this topic all day.

That’s it for now though. Have a wonderful day and see you back here next time.