How Effective is Storytelling in Marketing?

November 2, 2022
Storytelling in Marketing1

By Kenneth Horsfall

To begin with, what is storytelling generally? According to wikipedia.org, storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment.

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values.

Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view. The term “storytelling” can refer specifically to oral storytelling but also broadly to techniques used in other media to unfold or disclose the narrative of a story.

Storytelling is one of the oldest yet most powerful communication tools we have as humans. Stories help us to share, engage and comprehend in ways few other mechanisms can.

In marketing, storytelling provides an avenue to connect to consumers unlike any other. Brands are empowered to share and sell their values and personality in a form that feels less like advertising and more like a concerted effort to strengthen customer relationships.

Storytelling’s importance to marketing is undeniable; Jennifer Aaker, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, puts forward three core reasons as to why:

  1. Stories Shape How People See You
  2. Stories Are Tools Of Power
  3. Stories Persuade And Move People To Action
  • Stories shape how people see you:

Brand narratives help form perceptions and attitudes. How people speak about and the way a brand presents itself all influence key metrics such as purchase consideration and brand loyalty. There is power in crafting stories to develop a desired identity and authenticity that hopefully resonates with consumers.

Try thinking about a brand you particularly like. Now imagine they were a person. How would you describe them to friends?

  • Stories are tools of power:

One of the best things about a great story is the ability to engross and capture an audience completely. Think about the last book you read that you just couldn’t put down or a party you’ve been to where someone shared an anecdote that had people hooked on every word. Often is the case, you’re completely absorbed in what your reading/hearing and time feel like it slows down around you.

In the world of marketing, communicating a great story has the potential to cut through much of the monotony of today’s advertising by presenting something that is unique and captivating, making consumers stop and listen.

  • Stories persuade and move people to action:

Stories are far more impactful in promoting retention and behaviour than functional messaging. A London School of Business study found that when people hear statistics alone, “they retain only 5% to 10%” of what they’ve heard. Yet, “when stories are used to convey the same information, retention jumps to a remarkable 65 to 75%.”

Now, understanding the importance of storytelling, what makes an engaging story? How do marketers create a desired feeling and experience for their consumers to help drive brand connection?

Matthew Luhn, story consultant and animator known for his work in Pixar movies such as Toy Story, Ratatouille and Inside Out, shares five core elements he believes all great stories should possess:

  1. Hook
  2. Character transformation
  3. Connection with the audience
  4. Authenticity
  5. Structure
  • Hook:

The hook relates to the story’s core theme. In essence, what will draw people in and make them compelled to see what is about to unfold? Luhn explains it usually needs to be something unusual or unexpected to grab the audience’s attention immediately.

  • Character transformation:

Once you have captured the attention of the audience, it is important to take them on a journey. Stories inspire transformation. People tend to live vicariously through characters. It is, therefore, essential to question; what is the message we are hoping to convey, and how will this advertisement effect a change in the consumer?

  • Connection with the audience:

A story may be expertly crafted in hook and transformation, but if you don’t truly understand the audience you are trying to appeal to, it is likely to become lost or ignored. It’s not simply a case of knowing demographics either; a strong comprehension of things like audience values and motivators is critical for connection. Luhn uses the example of Ratatouille:

  • Authenticity

Authenticity is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling in marketing, Consumers are often wary that they are being advertised to. It is, therefore, important to communicate something that comes from a piece of truth based on enduring insight rather than something that feels manufactured.

  • Structure

Finally, how the story is told is critical for its success. Simply put, structures that comprise a set-up, conflict and pay-off are believed to be most effective in storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful method of learning. As marketers, we should always seek to learn more about the world we live in, the brands we represent, and the consumers we serve. One of the things that are unique about stories is that they transmit knowledge and meaning. We learn from observations and first-hand experiences and by sharing those experiences through stories.

Storytelling can be a powerful tool that enables marketers to understand what is going on in the marketplace and what that means for the customer, consumer, society, brand, and company.

In addition to being an important strategic tool, storytelling can be an important tactical tool that lets marketers engage consumers in a fragmented media world. Because there is such media fragmentation, consumers are not just looking for different experiences but different delivery. Why should a consumer give you their time? Storytelling isn’t just a creative approach to marketing. It gives your consumers a totally different entry to your brand.

Kenneth Horsfall is the creative director and founder of K.S. Kennysoft Studios Production Ltd, fondly called Kennysoft STUDIOs. Kennysoft STUDIOs is a Nigerian Video and Animation Production Studio. He is also the founder and lead instructor at Kennysoft Film Academy. He can be reached via [email protected]

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