Storytelling is one of the main marketing tools through which successfully communicating with our target audience: telling stories that convey the values of a company, that are able to engage and arouse emotions is essential to strengthen the relationship between a brand and consumers. Read the article to find out how to create a compelling story and achieve your business goals.
Storytelling is generally defined as the art of communicating by telling stories – engaging and meaningful stories capable of capturing the attention of our audience, of stimulating consumers imagination and appealing to their emotions.
More precisely, the storytelling technique allows us to set up a persuasive story capable of creating an emotional and empathic connection between the recipient of the story and the narrator, namely the brand itself.
In marketing, this activity is called storytelling marketing and today, it represents one of the most important tools to communicate successfully with our target audience. In the words of Seth Godin, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell”.
The rise of digital media has profoundly changed the world of marketing. On the one hand, it has offered companies greater opportunities to reach consumers; on the other hand, it has contributed to an overload of information, making communication more difficult, also by virtue of the increasingly short attention span of online users. This is why the ancient practice of storytelling has become relevant today more than ever.
However, telling compelling stories isn’t as easy as it sounds. It is not enough to tell just any story, even if it might seem interesting to us. Not all stories can be suitable for storytelling: it is necessary to select the right topics and choose the right words to touch the emotional chords of our audience and lead them into a unique and all-encompassing experience capable of strengthening the bond between a brand and the consumers.
Table of contents
How to create an effective story?
There are some aspects that, if taken into consideration, can help us to create a strong bond between the narrator and the recipient. An engaging and successful story should be:
- Memorable: a story that is able to inspire, engage, move, excite and remain etched in the minds of our audience.
- Formative: a good story should arouse curiosity and provide useful and valuable information.
- Funny: a story must be able to entertain readers, create suspense and keep them glued to it.
- Universal: anyone should be able to understand and identify with the history. For this reason, it is advisable to choose simple and understandable terms.
- Orderly: a good story must be written clearly and consistently. A story must have a well-defined beginning and end, and sequences logically organized.
Now that we know how to write an effective story, let’s see what are the steps to take in our storytelling marketing strategy.
In storytelling marketing, it is not enough to rely on emotions to effectively communicate and engage our target. We must carefully analyse the relationship between the brand and the target audience, the values and mission of our company, choose the tools to use to tell our story and communicating in a captivating and engaging way.
Let’s see how to do it step by step.
1. Consolidate the brand identity
The first step to take is the definition of the brand identity, that is, the identity of our company. Let’s reflect on what are the values, mission, personality and positioning of our company, how we are currently perceived and how we want to be considered by consumers.
This analysis is extremely important in establishing the message, the story we want to tell and the goals we want to achieve.
2. Analyse and listen to the audience
To tell a story we need an audience!
The secret of storytelling is that we tell the story of others within our own. In fact, in storytelling, while talking about us, we actually talk about our audience so that it can identify with and feel part of our story.
Analysing the reader and relying on buyer personas is essential at this stage to really understand what our potential buyers would like to see or hear, which scenes and messages are most exciting and motivating for them, and in which situations or with which characters they identify. In addition to buyer personas, interviews and market research can help us listen to the voice of readers and answer these key questions that will guide the plot of our story.
3. Define the main message and objectives to be achieved
After analysing our target audience and identifying their values, interests and needs, we need to focus on the message we want to convey. Let’s ask ourselves what we really want to communicate and what results we want to achieve: for example, consolidating the awareness of our brand, promoting a specific product, raising public awareness on a specific issue, encouraging certain behaviours in consumers, etc.
To find our core message, it is advisable to try to summarize the story in about six to ten words. If that’s not possible, we probably don’t have well-defined ideas about the story and key objectives yet.
Whatever the story and the message we want to convey, we have various stylistic and narrative choices at our disposal: for example, the heart of the story can be revealed from the beginning and act as a fil-rouge throughout the entire story, or be unveiled suddenly. What matters is that the message is present and that it leaves room for reflections and/or emotions when readers finish watching or listening to the story.
4. Determine the essential elements of the story
Once we have defined the cornerstone of our story, it is time to develop it further by choosing characters, setting, timing, tone of voice, conflicts and resolutions.
To properly structure the story, we can answer the following questions:
The first question to answer concerns the characters or those who, through their words, thoughts and actions, convey the central message of the story.
Basically, the stories have a protagonist (defined as the “bearer of the story”), an antagonist (who has a position and values contrary to the main character), as well as main and secondary characters. For each of them we must ask ourselves:
- What is their role and purpose within the story;
- What message they want to communicate;
- What emotions they arouse;
- What are their values;
- How they physically appear.
The choice of the characters plays a fundamental role as they must lead the viewer to empathise.
The setting is the place where the story takes place and for this reason it is essential to describe and present the locations and scenarios within which the events take place. Let’s ask ourselves what is the most suitable place for the message we want to communicate and the chosen characters, in order to give coherence to the entire narrative.
A compelling and well-structured narrative plot must include conflict. It guides the action, keeps the public engaged, inspires people to act and reflect. To identify the conflict underlying our story, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What do the characters want to achieve?
- What prevents them from getting it?
- What obstacles and challenges do they face along the way?
- What is their reward?
How and why?
If characters are the “who”, the spatial setting the “where” and the conflict the “what”, through the plot we answer the questions “how” and “why”.
At the centre of these questions are the events that happened: the story is made up of individual events that make up the narrative (“how” they occurred), and their causal connection (“why” they occurred). Usually, the why concerns three different situations:
- Personal growth: in the course of the story the protagonist faces a process of change aimed at transforming himself and his relationship with others.
- Rivalry: the main character faces an antagonist and experiences a clash of values and ideological positions.
- Research: the protagonist goes in search of an ally, an object, a treasure or a specific knowledge.
5. Choose the correct format and channel to share your story
Finally, the last step to take concerns the formats and distribution channels to be included in our strategy for spreading the story. We have numerous tools and formats of various kinds at our disposal. Choosing the best format to tell and convey our message is not always easy. Once again, we have to analyse our audience to understand where and how to best reach it as well as study the various channels to understand the one that can most enhance the key elements of the story and excite the target.
Contrary to what one might think, storytelling can be declined in various formats and on many distribution channels:
- Printed through press releases, written stories, infographics, business cards, company brochures, etc.;
- Digital with video, images, 3D, infographics, etc., to be disseminated on the company’s social channels, website, blog, email and newsletter;
- Relational through the organization of shows, corporate events, corporate social responsibility initiatives, etc.
The choice of the most appropriate channel(s) through which spreading, sharing and promoting our story depends on the format that seems most suitable to us, the budget available and the target we wish to reach.
From theory to practice
Now that we have seen how to establish a real engaging dialogue with our target audience with the aim of arousing curiosity and interest in our company and our products, let’s see two case studies that have made history.
Red Bull Stratos
Sport is one of the activities that most unites and generates engagement and enthusiasm among people. This strong emotional sharing is often exploited by the Austrian company producing drinks and energy drinks, Red Bull, which places it at the basis of its storytelling marketing strategy. Being present in every sporting event, especially if extreme, is the leitmotiv of Red Bull’s strategy in order to engage, excite and inspire a large slice of the public. The message conveyed is that, by buying and consuming Red Bull, everyone can perform any heroic feat, just as the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings” reminds us.
With the “Red Bull Stratos” project, the boundaries of storytelling are even exceeded.
The audience witnessed a unique sporting performance and a world record: Felix Baumgartner’s jump into the stratosphere with a parachute from a height of over 38,000 meters, achieved in 2012. The news caused great uproar and became viral in no time on the web and on social media. The video on Red Bull’s YouTube channel has been viewed by over 46 million users so far.
In this project, the Red Bull brand has never been at the centre of the feat but even today that leap is associated with the name of the Austrian company and is still able to awaken the same tension and emotions in users and record strong engagement.
In terms of narration, the “Red Bull Stratos” project was born from an original idea: it was not necessary to write even a word to tell such an exciting story. The leap into the stratosphere, Felix Baumgartner’s feat and the wind were enough to write history.
Lego’s transmedia storytelling
If the previous case concerned a campaign purely based on videos, most of the storytelling strategies created by companies are transmedia ones: “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channel for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” – Henry Jenkins.
Unlike cross-media – in which the same contents are published on the different channels chosen by the company – in transmedia communication, different contents are distributed on multiple channels, adapting them to the potential of each and building a mix that is never repetitive or redundant.
Lego, the famous Danish toy manufacturer, is one of the main brands that has chosen to build its storytelling strategy by taking advantage of a multitude of channels, devices and tools in a unique and innovative way: from the Lego Movie – the animated movie released on the big screen in 2014 – to the Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones short-films, the Lego Friends, Lego Ninjago, Lego Bionicle TV series, the special episodes for specific TV channels such as Cartoon Network or Disney Channel, up to the shorter videos for YouTube. Furthermore, Lego has invested in theme parks and in the branded amusement parks “Legoland”, video games, books, t-shirts and gadgets of all kinds.
To all this, of course, all the most classic tools of communication campaigns have been added, from advertising spots, to web banners and pages on social networks, and poster design.
In doing so, Lego has been able to create a story capable of constantly touching our emotional chords: the memories linked to our childhood and the nostalgia of that period represent the common thread of Lego’s marketing strategy and success, which pushes adults to still enjoy playing with the Danish company’s products and therefore continue to buy toys, increasing the sales of their products.
Here is how Lego was able to build a story and turn it into success worldwide, as well as an example of storytelling marketing par excellence.
Now it’s your turn!
Are you ready to create a compelling story for your target? Have you ever thought about introducing storytelling into your marketing and communication strategy?
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