How to Start Telling Stories
By Mark Evans
On the Web, change is constant.
A few years ago, social media was all the rage as brands were told they had to engage and have conversations with consumers. The rise of social media meant brands were no longer living in an unidirectional broadcast world.
Then, content marketing emerged as brands were told they had to provide target audiences with value-added content to differentiate themselves. As important, content provided fuel for their social media efforts.
Now, I believe we’re on the cusp of the next big thing in digital marketing: storytelling.
The importance of good stories is attracting more attention because the digital landscape is noisy. With so many brands using social media and content marketing, it has become a level playing field.
In many ways, stories allow brands to separate themselves from the pack. Brands that become good storytellers have a golden opportunity to create a sustained competitive advantage because good stories are challenging to create. If a brand can discover a successful storytelling formula, it can gain a major competitive edge.
If brands start to buy into the value of storytelling, here is a logical question: how do we get started? The answer: a four-step process that any brand – big or small – can embrace.
The first and most important step is recognizing that every brand can be a storyteller and every brand has good stories to tell. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong.
As humans, we tell stories all the time. We tell stories during sales presentations and speeches, during dinner parties, and at coffee meetings. Storytelling is an integral part of how people live and connect with other people. Stories (not facts or stats) are remembered. Stories engage, entertain and educate. Stories drive emotional connections. And stories are shared.
Second, brands need to think about their target audiences. It is about stories that meet their needs, interests and goals, rather the things a brand wants to say about its products. Truth be told, consumers probably have a lot of information about a brand’s product. Instead, they are looking for signs that a brand understands and values them.
Adopting a customer-centric approach is a challenge for some brands because it means changing their traditional behavior. For decades, brands have talked at consumers about their products, but that doesn’t work any more. In other words, it is a new world.
Third, brands need to start behaving like reporters. They need to look for story ideas that target audiences find interesting, intriguing, inspiring and thought provoking. Every idea needs to meet a fundamental test: will it resonate and connect with target audiences. If a story fails this test, it is not worth telling.
It is important to remember there is a difference between being a reporter and a publisher. Reporters look for story ideas everywhere and any time. Some of these ideas are published, but it is the ideas that matter the most.
Fourth, storytelling is about simply jumping into the fray. Not every brand will be a good storyteller out of the gate, but, in time, it should be able to find its rhythm and develop a strong sense for stories that work well. As important, brands need to keep storytelling. It is not an exercise that can happen in fits and starts. Storytelling requires continual activity to succeed.
As important, stories can come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the product and target audiences. Good storytelling happens on websites, case studies, videos, social media, infographics, public relations, blogs, photographs…and the list goes on. This is what makes storytelling so compelling and, to be honest, a no-brainer for brands looking for an edge.
The digital marketing landscape moves quickly as new ideas are explored and embraced. The growing importance of storytelling means brands need to begin thinking about their approach and what it will take to tell good stories. Now is the time to embrace the power of storytelling.
Mark Evans is a startup marketing and brand storyteller. To learn more about how to embrace the power of storytelling, buy his new book, “Storytelling for Startups”, at www.storytellingforstartups.ca. You can also follow Mark on Twitter at @markevans and read his startup marketing blog (markevans.ca/blog)