Full Service Social Media Marketing

Storytelling in 2017: What Marketers Need To Know

Tessa May Marr

March 17, 2017

Marketing is all about telling a story. Don’t believe me? You think it’s just about promo codes and slick graphics and product photography and click through rates? No no. You’re wrong. Sure, that’s all part of it. Marketing is a big hairy beast. It’s not just ONE thing. It’s many things. And promo codes and slick graphics and product photography and click through rates are all part of it.

But so is storytelling.

Social media marketing is about community and connections. Between people (and brands, but we’ll get to that later). So what connects them? Why are all these people interested in connecting and how are they doing it? They’re sharing their stories. Stories about their own life. Their struggles. Their laughs. Their adventures. Their big shiny life events. Their successes. Their failures. Their lessons learned. In 140 characters. In 10-second disappearing videos. In posts and updates and blogs and photos.

Their language is stories. Their currency is stories.

So how do marketers get in on this conversation? Into this space where everyone is hanging out? Well, you gotta speak the language of the people!

Alas, speak in stories.

And if you think about it, this isn’t a new lesson for marketers. Traditional marketing did this as well. Think about the Mad Men episode where Don Draper shares a story about when he first enjoyed a Hershey bar and his father “tousled his hair”, and forever, his father’s love and chocolate, were synonymous.

“That’s the story we’re going to tell. Hershey’s is the currency of affection. It's the childhood symbol of love.”

(Turns out the real story of his connection with Hershey chocolate was a little darker, but still symbolized love to him. Catch the full scene here.)

There is a reason that brands don’t share ads that simply say: BUY THIS PRODUCT BECAUSE IT’S GREAT. We all know that wouldn’t yield very high conversions whether on a billboard or in a tweet. To move people to buy, you have to convince them. You have to show them. You have to get them to care. And you have to compel them to action.

“When you begin to talk in stories, your black-and-white words turn into color. Your drab requests turn into a mission. People find you to be more compelling. And once that happens, others will see that stories work, and they’ll start telling stories, too.”

- Annette Simmons

Marketing is the art and science of executing an action or series of actions that drive a specific desirable outcome from a specific target market. And what drives people to react? To make decisions? To do something? Well, we’d like to believe it’s mostly logic, but the truth is, most decisions are more emotional than we realize.

Sure, we may buy soap because logically, we know we need it to clean our bodies. Fine. But when you’re in the store, scanning the shelves stacked with various soap products, what is going through your head? Probably without you even realizing it?

You could be strictly considering your options based on price. (An important part of marketing as well.)

But more often than you realize, your brain is recalling information it’s stored away from the past. Maybe it’s something you’ve seen on TV, or read in the newspaper, or passed on a bus or a billboard as you went about your day. Or maybe, since we know most of us spend so much time on social media everyday, it was content you saw in one of your feeds. Maybe a brand shared it, or maybe a friend shared it. Maybe it spurred a discussion. Maybe it inspired you. Gave you pause. Or maybe you didn’t think it even really registered for you.

But when you’re standing there, on the verge of making a decision, whatever emotion reaction you had to that content - however that story it told made you feel, will show up and impact your decision.

Dove does an amazing job telling a story to the world through their marketing. They tell the story of a world that judges far too much and doesn’t appreciate the beauty each one of us has - in our imperfections and differences.

Check out this eye-opening 3 minute video they made called “You’re More Beautiful Than You Think”. (Doesn’t sound like it’s about soap, does it?)

Disclaimer: You may end up buying Dove soap after you watch these.

Or this one.

They use real people to define real beauty and by using the hashtag #MyBeautyMySay they’re taking the message a step further (through the use of social media marketing) by encouraging other people to tune into the stories online, after the video ends and even share their own. They encourage people to be part of the story they’re telling and to tell it with them, louder and louder.

To bring it all home here: If you want your marketing to be powerful, and to hit not just the feeds or TV screens of your target market, but the hearts as well, tell them a story. The story of how their lives will be impacted by your brand, your product or your service. Tell them the story that dictates the pain points you know they feel, and the outcome you know you can get them to. Show them. Make them feel it. And they’ll remember.

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

- an old Native American proverb

I’d love to hear from you! What great examples have you seen of storytelling through marketing?