Debunking the myth that ‘storytelling’ is just a marketing buzzword

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Someone said to me the other day that they thought ‘storytelling’ has become “a bit of a marketing buzzword” and I cringed into my soul. 

How can something that is pretty much as old a part of human existence as there is, have been commandeered by marketeers in such a way that it now has negative connotations?

As long as humans have been alive, they’ve been telling stories. 

Quick history lesson for you, here: the earliest evidence of storytelling we’ve found so far comes in the form of a picture of a life-sized wild pig found in a cave in Indonesia, painted by someone 45,000 years ago. It has two hand prints above its hindquarters, and appears to be facing two other partially-preserved pigs in what archeologists believe to be a narrative scene.

A narrative scene from 45,000 years ago! Before people used wheels or pottery, they were telling stories. And why?

Because they instinctively knew – like we marketeers still know today – this fundamental fact: to be human means to create an impression, to make an impact, connect emotionally and to share something with the world around you. 

This is perhaps, most articulately expressed by Lisa Cron, in her book: Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence’, where she writes this: “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution, more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”

People crave and seek out great stories as much as they seek out food and water. Storytelling is essential to our survival. In fact, I’d go one further. Storytelling is our ability to live beyond our own time on this mortal coil.

So why is it relevant to marketing?

Emotional connection

When you tell a compelling story, it resonates with people on a personal level, making them more likely to remember your brand and engage with your message. The emotional connection of storytelling is what prompts someone to take action: to engage with a brand, to make a purchase, to commit to a working relationship etc. There’s a reason we use the phrase ‘tugged on the heart strings’, because you feel that almost physical pull to want to connect. And it’s great storytelling that leads to this moment.

Being memorable

Stories are easier to remember than a list of facts or product features. It’s just human nature. People recall stories more vividly, which means that your brand and message are more likely to stick in their minds. This can lead to increased brand recognition and customer loyalty, as consumers are more likely to choose a brand they remember.

Digital engagement

Stories engage the audience by taking them on a journey. They create a narrative arc that keeps people interested and wanting to know more. Engaged consumers are more likely to spend time with your content, leading to better linger time, improved algorithm performance, higher conversion rates and increased customer retention. Plus if they feel compelled to share it with their own networks, this also helps increase your reach.

Differentiation

In a crowded marketplace, it can be challenging for a brand to stand out. Effective storytelling sets your brand apart by emphasising what makes it unique and relatable. It helps you define your brand’s identity, values, and personality in a way that distinguishes it from competitors.

Conveying your values

People don’t like to feel they’re being sold to, and mostly they shop with their heart because a brand feels the right fit for them. Storytelling is an excellent vehicle for conveying your brand’s values, messages, and mission. It allows you to educate your audience about your products or services in a more subtle and persuasive manner. By embedding your message within a story, you can make it more palatable and relatable to your target audience.

So, in conclusion. It’s a tale as old as time. Creating memorable stories is as old a part of humanity as life itself, and digital content is just the next iteration of cave paintings for the 2023 generation.