Let the Client Feel Like a Hero: How Storytelling Works
Many people wonder: how do stories work in marketing? What is the secret of effective selling storytelling? When the messages embedded in a selling story align with the customers' values, such storytelling boosts sales.
Advantages of storytelling
Stories are the oldest tool of communication, dating back to the oldest cave drawings 44,000 years ago. Our ancestors used stories to share and preserve their history, etching them onto durable stones. Marketing has taken up storytelling because of its unique ability: tales transport people away from ordinary reality, capturing attention and igniting dreams and desires.
- Increases brand recognition
Bright stories become strongly associated with the storyteller. Storytelling works in various formats such as advertisements, videos, social media posts, and emails. Scientifically, it has been proven that storytelling increases brand recognition regardless of the presentation format. One prominent example is Super Bowl commercials. Thousands of people remember this story, they laugh and cry, and are inspired by the main character's actions. This is precisely how stories work, by impacting people's emotional perception.
- Builds trust between the company and the customer
A good presentation adds credibility to the company: it appears more reliable, and the product seems of higher quality. It's no wonder that government organizations conduct extensive research on the impact of storytelling on consumers. Politicians and public figures deliver speeches with elements of storytelling from high platforms to influence entire nations.
Since storytelling is effective in such matters, achieving marketing conversion becomes an even less challenging task. Standard objectives that marketers work on (such as guiding customers towards a purchase, motivating them to subscribe to a newsletter, or encouraging them to download a lead magnet) can be achieved more quickly with the help of stories.
- Establishes an emotional connection
Harvard scientists have discovered that an emotional connection with a customer is more valuable than their satisfaction from a previous purchase. According to Gerald Zaltman, a professor at Harvard Business School, the majority of purchasing decisions (around 95%) are made at a subconscious level, driven by emotions.
Marketing tools often rely on emotions, and storytelling is designed to evoke them. In their work, marketers study the "pain points" and needs of their target audience, as well as their motivations and aspirations, all of which are emotionally charged factors.
This applies not only to commercial organizations but also to charity foundations and non-profit enterprises, which actively utilize emotionally driven narratives to draw attention to their goals. An example is the video campaign by Greenpeace International.
- Stimulates social media activity and SEO
An emotional response is highly motivating for readers to like a post or share it on social media. High-quality backlinks for better search engine indexing often come from social media platforms.
There is nothing better than telling a compelling story. If it is captivating, it will be passed from person to person. There was a time when stories were primarily transmitted through word of mouth. Today, we simply click the "Share" button or share a link to a publication.
Digital marketers release annual digests, informing us about the latest trends in content marketing, publishing rankings of the most popular engagement methods, and devising new optimization strategies. However, in reality, it is storytelling that delivers the best results.
- Adds authenticity to the brand
Mere claims from company representatives about the unique features of their products no longer attract anyone. You can talk endlessly about the functions and benefits of a product, but without evidence, it will remain mere boasting. Storytelling, especially when based on real advantages of a product or service, sounds trustworthy.
In the promotion of products, authenticity in storytelling is achieved by avoiding jargon and profanity while expressing genuine empathy towards potential customers. By doing so, a company demonstrates that it understands the feelings and experiences of the customer and the journey they may have gone through.
The customer has their own hero's journey
There is only one type of story that doesn't work, where the company is the protagonist of the narrative. Good stories put the customer as the main hero.
Almost everyone knows someone, a relative or acquaintance, who can talk endlessly about themselves. At what point does your patience run out? The patience of an audience is even more fragile. If a company constantly brags about itself, people won't want to listen. Effective marketing storytelling is distinguished by making the customer the main character, and the journey they go through becomes their hero's journey.
The "Hero's Journey" storytelling formula was invented by the renowned professor Joseph Campbell. The story originates from Greek mythology and continues in the legends of Native Americans. Similar motifs are present in the works of Tolkien, Marvel films, and Pixar movies.
What unites all these events? The hero's journey.
What the hero's journey is
The main protagonist embarks on a great journey: they leave home and venture into adventures, overcome challenges, find loyal companions, and defeat enemies. Having achieved their goal, the hero acquires a valuable reward and returns home. Have you heard this a hundred times? Indeed, the story sounds very simple and familiar. These qualities are precisely what is needed in marketing storytelling.
The character development can be summarized in the following steps:
The hero lives an ordinary life, but is called to venture out of their comfort zone.
The hero receives a call to embark on a journey.
Initially, the hero refuses to join the journey.
The hero's familiar world starts to crumble.
The hero encounters a mentor: someone older and wiser who compels the hero to follow them.
The hero gains allies, acquiring friends and enemies.
During the journey, the hero experiences a loss that challenges the success of the entire operation.
The hero overcomes a significant trial and emerges victorious.
The hero is rewarded for their deeds.
The hero returns home with triumph, transformed into a different person.
This framework should be applied to your stories. To make the story engaging, it is important to listen to what is being said within your company about your customers.
Visualizing the customer experience can be facilitated by creating a detailed profile of the target audience and developing a customer journey map. You will be surprised to discover clear parallels between the hero's journey and the journey of your typical customer.
Examples of using storytelling in marketing
Here are five examples of well-known global advertising campaigns that used storytelling:
Year 1984. Apple
39 years ago, Apple showcased the hero's journey in a one-minute TV commercial. The Super Bowl advertisement became a true sensation. The plot unfolds in a dystopian reality where a leader "indoctrinates" the audience from large screens. It bears a striking resemblance to the events described in George Orwell's novel "1984".
The main character is a young woman in sports attire who is being pursued. She hurls a hammer in one of the screens, causing it to explode. A voiceover announces the release of Macintosh.
Even if you caught only the end of the story, your imagination fills in the gaps, and tells you what happens in the commercial. You experience the story through yourself, understanding the hero as if you know her backstory and what she's risking it all for. Then Apple declares that everything will soon change: the world will no longer be the same.
Apple has always cared about individuality in the world. The company stands against the monotonous dependence on computers. It conveys to the audience the value of standing out, being brighter, and shining. This message is still evident in their advertising campaigns up to nowadays.
Customers of the outdoor gear brand Patagonia become the heroes of the company's blog. The blog revolves around the slogan: "Stories to get you out there"
Each blog post is dedicated to describing the adventures of ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the sake of environmental conservation or seeking a simple dose of adrenaline. The stories are written in an accessible language and do not contain a direct call to purchase a specific product. Farmers fighting against chemicals, mountain travelers, and those who clean up the coast of Chile from trash – all of them wear clothing with Patagonia logo.
The company itself is rarely mentioned in the stories, nor are its products. The effectiveness is achieved by establishing an emotional connection with consumers. The stories captivate the viewers, making them think, "They are ordinary people, just like me, and they wear such clothing."
Square is a video tool for creating videos. The platform itself is promoted through storytelling. Square's marketers launched a film series called "For any dream," which showcases the development of small businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them.
The storytelling often begins with the story of an ordinary person who has a dream. You won't find any mentions of Square's products or colorful descriptions of how the platform specifically helped a particular business thrive. The videos are entirely dedicated to the real heroes – those individuals who have overcome all challenges and brought their dreams to life.
Year 1981. Lego
And again the 80s: it was then that Lego launched an advertising campaign based on photographs of children with Lego brick toys. Although the focus was on children, this ad was aimed at parents. It made them think about how to raise a curious and creative child. The company didn't stop there.
Later on, an advertising campaign with the slogan "Never stop playing" emerged. In the videos, teenagers and adults showcased their talents. This created a complete cycle of the hero's journey, emphasizing how Lego contributes to the development of skills and abilities, and how it ultimately impacts people's lives and careers.
Salesforce and Trailhead
Educational platforms are an excellent way to take on the role of a mentor for followers. Salesforce offers the hero educational content at the center of Trailhead to "prepare customers for the future." The company's marketers understand that the more people learn to work with the platform, the more likely enterprise professionals will prefer it.
To kick-start the journey on the Trailhead homepage, there is a description of the reward the hero will receive upon completing the journey and acquiring Salesforce knowledge. The customer only needs to choose a profession to study and embark on the "trail".
How to use storytelling in email marketing
It's very convenient to tell stories in email. Storytelling in email campaigns is effective because they have unique qualities: relevant information comes to the right person via email at the most suitable time. Thus, the recipient (your current or potential customer) becomes the hero of the story, and the moment they receive the email coincides with the time the hero's journey begins.
Types of emails suitable for storytelling
- Welcome emails
Many journeys start with receiving a letter. Harry Potter was handed a Hogwarts invitation letter. Princess Leia from "Star Wars" placed a hologram in a droid's memory with a plea for help.
Come up with such a welcome letter that will lure the recipient to go on a long journey with your company. Put the customer at the center of your world, let them become the hero.
The success of a welcome email depends on whether or not you establish a trusting relationship with the customer, or end up in their spam folder.
- Onboarding emails
Onboarding emails should be helpful and encouraging. In them, the company takes on the role of a mentor, helping the hero overcome challenges and achieve their goals. The hero is about to embark on a difficult journey, but you have products that can assist them. And first and foremost, teach them how to use them.
When a customer achieves their first result, it may only mark the beginning of their journey. Signing up for a trial session or making an initial purchase is not an end in itself, but these events place the hero in the midst of their journey.
From this point on, email messages become guides: they show which way to go and provide information at the right moment.
- Informational newsletters
An informational newsletter is the best way to tell a reader a story. Every piece of content in such emails is both a hint and a riddle. If the narrative appeals to the customer, they will follow it. An informational newsletter will open up a horizon of events and show them the right path.
This tool can be compared to Q from the James Bond movies, who would introduce new spy gadgets and devices.
- Confirmation emails
Sometimes it's difficult to determine where the hero's journey begins and ends. For example, a person comes for a test drive or a property viewing. The customer has already made an effort and taken a certain action, but the journey is just beginning. The hero is sure to be rewarded: a new car or a desired apartment.
Order confirmation or delivery confirmation emails typically include details about the order placed. If the order has not yet been paid for, it's appropriate to dispel any doubts the person may have about their choice in such an email.
When the purchase is complete, congratulate the buyer on their long-awaited acquisition. Thank the customer for their pleasant interaction and leave them with the most positive memories of your company.
Then, the next time you send a person a personalized offer, they will embark on a new journey with you.
- Reactivation emails and reminder emails
Remember, it's natural for people to have doubts. That's why the hero's journey includes steps like the "refusal of the call to adventure" and the "moment of despair" when the hero considers abandoning the journey. Customers of your company also go through such moments. A timely reminder email will help keep the hero from giving up.
If the hero has indeed abandoned the journey, reactivation emails can come to the rescue. Don't immediately give up on the faltering hero; give them a second chance.
Of course, storytelling works in absolutely all promotion channels, in any industry, and for any clients. It is only necessary to stay to the basic principles of creating stories that we have described in this article.
And now it's high time for you to write a breathtaking journey for your hero!