Once upon a Time in Marketing Land… Why Narrative is Key to Customer Engagement

In a saturated marketplace how do you make your content stand out, make people take notice, and get involved?

Fortunately, gone are the days when content was limited to magazines and snail mail newsletters. Now it covers a whole gamut of media, including blogs, emails, social media, videos and ebooks. And the best part about this transformation is the scope it offers for the most powerfully persuasive marketing method there is – storytelling.

Why Storytelling?

  • Storytelling is a proven way to develop identity, build your client base, and increase sales.
  • Stories immediately focus on engagement, experiences, and emotion – central tenets that are catnip to customers.
  • Narrative makes your message relevant and memorable through personalization.
  • Through narrative, you can create campaigns to challenge the big players, even on the most thrifty of budgets.
  • Storytelling conveys to customers, the media, and investors the information, hard facts, and dry data they need in an easily digestible way.
  • Creative narrative is guaranteed to get people’s attention and keep your business front of mind.

So, narrative can be extremely powerful. And guess what?

It can do great things for YOUR business. Even if you don’t think you’ve got anything interesting to say!

The truth is that every business has a story to tell – even if they don’t know it – and that’s where this article steps in to give you the nudge you need to find yours. Here are four narrative elements that will make your marketing stand out from the crowd, plus some inspirational examples:

1. What Makes You Special?

What’s your angle? What uniqueness can you exploit to make you more visible, get people’s attention and give them something to relate to? Giving your business that personal touch and building your narrative around it will make it truly memorable.

Take the Mast Brothers. If you haven’t heard of these guys, you will soon. They make chocolate. But they don’t just produce it – they love it. They craft it and pour themselves into every step of the process. And it shows. They are quirky with strong personal style. And, more than any other chocolate manufacturer, they are totally dedicated to producing top quality, luxury, handcrafted chocolate. They made this video to tell the story about themselves, what they do, and how and why they do it.

The video ticks all the boxes: it demonstrates their uniqueness, it’s beautiful to look at, it shows personality, it’s engaging, and it takes the audience on a journey. And I, for one, couldn’t wait to get hold of one of their chocolate bars after seeing it.

2. Be Creative

Be dynamic with your storytelling. Nothing is more important to narrative content than imagination, so give vivid descriptions and use emotional hooks and humor to get people fully engaged. Be creative, not only with words and images, but also with the methods you use to convey them. Don’t be traditional. Be edgy.

Take “The Waffle Shop” in Pittsburgh, PA. Part of a trend to support performance art within the urban core, it is run by college students. The shop brought together people from all walks of life united by the draw of their live streaming talk shows and their waffles. The shows were shot in the middle of their busy restaurant and included “Waffle Wopp” for teenagers with live music and fun interviews. Anyone could take part in these shows. The aim was to produce a creative non-profit and for-profit combination model with social impact to stimulate local public dialogue, while simultaneously generating revenue to sustain itself. They had runaway success, too, so much so that the experiment became a permanent fixture for four years running.

Develop your narrative in ways and formats that appeal to your target audience and make it easy for them to share. Take advantage of the full range of media with potentially global reach that the internet has to offer. Think apps, videos, audio, and images for high level engagement, and ALWAYS give your audience the opportunity to share easily with incentives and social share buttons.

Whatever techniques you use to tell your story, always factor in the nuances of those particular platforms, as the things an audience expects and how they interact differ vastly depending on the arena.

3. Get People Involved

As entrepreneurs of the modern age, we are blessed with a plethora of creative ways to convey our message and get people involved. Interactive content offers a much more open-ended platform through which to tell stories and get people highly engaged.

Your audience can be involved in the stories you create as part of your narrative. They even can be the central characters. This can be seen working particularly well across social media where campaigns often seek to involve individuals in this way.

Ask your audience members to tell their own narratives, and then intertwine them with your own. This makes them feel valued and also gives something back by involving them as part of something bigger. And it gives them a place to return to on your site again and again. Let them share their experiences with your brand through product usage ideas, advice and tips, and, of course, success stories.

A great example of this kind of strategy can be seen at the Google website. Google wields the awesome power of their customer success stories with style. Their “Google Apps for Business” webpage (below) features a photo collage of happy customers. Through sharing their stories, Google’s clients actually are doing all the marketing legwork for them, enticing new customers to be part of their exclusive Google business community full of real people who have experienced real success.

gone google

Click on any of these images and a window pops up, complete with quotes and some blurb on the ways Google Apps has benefited that particular business (see below). But the most powerfully persuasive feature, by far, is the accompanying video where those aforementioned real business owners give glowingly positive testimonials by sharing their own unique stories. This highly engaging technique offers potential customers solid and believable social proof, while simultaneously emotionally involving them in the personal stories of people similar to themselves. Formidable stuff.

philz coffee

The potential for social proof that customer success stories like these can generate is phenomenal. And that’s a key ingredient for small or start-up businesses that need to demonstrate their value as they struggle to compete with major players. Your audience is much more likely to socially share these kinds of stories, thereby exponentially spreading and endorsing your message and increasing your exposure. A boost in your social proof also will significantly improve your Google rankings.

Personal experience is extremely powerful when it comes to persuasion. Use case studies and testimonials in your narrative to prove your position and success. This will establish your authority within your field and inspire confidence and trust.

Moreover, if you really listen to your customers, you can leverage their stories to drive innovation. By analyzing their stories of how your products and services fit into their lives, you can gain valuable insight into their needs and desires, which can be hugely beneficial to other aspects of your business, like product design and development and ongoing marketing strategy.

4. Think like a Book

Cohesion is vital to successful storytelling. Simply collecting a bunch of stories without much consistency is a quick way to lose the interest of your audience. You must have a strong central narrative theme to tie them all together. The theme should support your core values, goals, and vision.

So what does this mean in practical terms? Well, rather than thinking of each storytelling campaign as an individual tale, think of them as stand-alone elements sheltered beneath a pervasive umbrella theme. In other words, the umbrella is the core narrative that subtly but distinctly unifies all the little pockets and strands of stories built around the experience you want your audience to have.

Thinking of your narrative strategy in this way gives you an incredible amount of freedom with your content. As long as your content follows the same theme, storytelling will bind it together. In the recent “live positively” campaign by Coca-Cola, all of the content is based around the “live positively” theme. The scope for content that fits within that umbrella is endless, which means they are never short of ideas.

coke

Incorporating such a wide range of topics shows their versatility as a brand and gives them a multitude of ways to connect with their audience, thus widening their appeal. In this particular instance, the folks at Coca-Cola also cleverly have positioned themselves as having a very human, caring side. This draws attention away from any bad publicity over negative health issues regarding their products, and instead, develops their reputation and association with positivity and vitality. That’s very sharp on their part, as such a lifestyle choice is something that people relate to and aspire to be part of. As a result, the content and narrative is incredibly engaging and has real impact.

Narrative Worksheet

Here’s a step-by-step guide for bringing out your business’s narrative in your marketing, including some questions you can answer to get you thinking and the steps to take to tie it all together:

Determine what makes you special

  • What made you decide to do what you do?
  • What do you do that nobody else in your industry does?
  • What do you give back to charity/community/the environment?
  • What do you give to your clients that improves their quality of life?
  • How do you want to be perceived by your audience?
  • What are your most important values?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • Can your unique persona make your business stand out?
  • Can you narrow your niche further to become more specialized?
  • Can you combine seemingly unrelated aspects of your business to create something unique? (Make your uniqueness your focus)

Brainstorm creatively for ideas

  • Generate as many ideas as possible
  • Mix independent and group brainstorming
  • Don’t restrict yourself to one idea – have lots of angles

Create a cohesive narrative

  • Tie together stories under umbrella theme

Implement your narrative carefully

  • Research your target audience and learn the most effective ways to communicate
  • Create content that maximizes the unique qualities of your chosen medium (video/email/blog, etc.)
  • Create content sympathetic to your chosen platform (Twitter/Vine/YouTube/Facebook, etc.) for maximum efficacy

Encourage social sharing

  • Engage with captivating content
  • Actively involve with interactive content
  • Promote social sharing and make it easy

Closing Thoughts

Unlike a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end, your brand narrative mustn’t stop. It should be organic and continuous. It should allow audience participation and encourage them to share across platforms and invite others to play a part in your story to carry the momentum to move your business forward.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to crafting quality narrative. It takes a ton of creativity as well as time, patience, planning, and polishing to give your brand’s story sparkle and make it shine. If you don’t think you have the necessary objectivity, ability, and dedication to achieve that, then I recommend hiring a professional. However, if you think you’ve got what it takes, go forth and spin such a wonderful story that it will gently tangle your clients in its sweet, sticky web and keep them enthralled (and spending) until happily ever after.

What story does your business have to tell? Get in touch if you have found narratives useful for your business.

About James T Noble: James makes small businesses bigger. He’s worked with some of the world’s largest brands and companies to market their products and services online – including Disney, Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Virgin, Coca Cola, MTV, and many others. Find out more and read business growth tips at http://www.JamesTNoble.com

  1. I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling as a great marketing tool. People love stories. People live in stories. People love telling about their stories. We live in a world where there are countless of stories. That’s why storytelling hits hard a lot of people because they better connect with storytelling rather than plain old marketing because in reality, they too themselves have their own stories to share.

  2. James, thanks for sharing! I found the Mast Brothers video incredibly inspiring, and I appreciate the concrete examples you provided of companies who have spun wonderful stories.

  3. Yes ! Content should write on narrative way. Content is king and eyes catchs for every readers. So that Meaningful content with testimoinal, data base analysis, story , research base finding can be perfect.

  4. Great points, Thanks for the wonderful post.

  5. You’ve got me thinking about the story behind my business now. How am I going to tell my story? Not a clue. But, I’m going to put something together! Will post up the results.

  6. Great material, thank you. This really makes a smal business owner think out of the box. I appreciate it.

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