Storytelling is a form of art. The art of storytelling. Storytelling is not something that can be learned overnight, but starting with storytelling 101 will put you on the right path. It’s a process of mastery which is accomplished over time. Mastering storytelling takes commitment, creativity, vision, and skill.
For marketers, mastering storytelling 101 may seem daunting, and it can be without the right training and resources. That said, for those who travel the storytelling path, the juice is worth the squeeze.
Storytelling is at the core of all great marketing. Magical stories help marketers thread marketing messages together in a way that moves people, compels them to make brand-friendly decisions. Without storytelling, marketing messages simply fall away into a sea of similar rhetoric.
If you’re ready to become the next great storyteller marketer, let’s begin this storytelling 101 journey together. Before we know where we are going, it’s important to know where we’ve been, and with that, let’s quickly look at the history of storytelling.
A Brief History of Storytelling
Storytelling is an expression humans use to educate, entertain, share moral values, communicate ethics, or preserve culture. Storytelling predates writing. The oldest form of storytelling was oral storytelling using verbal cues and gestures. It may have even predated language. Ancient cave paintings and rock art were used for storytelling.
The reason it’s important to understand the history of storytelling is because it’s important to make the connection that humans are hardwired for storytelling. Storytelling is elemental - It’s foundational to how humans transfer knowledge. As marketers, it’s critical to understand the power of storytelling.
What Is Storytelling?
Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. It’s a process which unfolds linearly using facts and narratives in order to communicate something to an audience.
Storytelling includes a mutual exchange between the story teller, and the story listener. The teller shares the story, the listener consumes and engages. In response to listener engagement and either verbal or physical cues, the story teller can take different actions such as going deeper on a topic that sparked interest, doubling back on an area that may have confused the listener, amplify enthusiasm in response to the audiences’, etc.
Storytelling can be adapted for people of all ages, demographics, and socioeconomic status’, because at the end of the day, we are all human, and according to Michael F. Connelly in ""Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry”, humans are storytelling organisms that both individually and socially, lead storied lives.
The Science of Storytelling
Why do stories evoke emotion? Why do audiences remember stories moreso than a series of disconnected messages? The answers can be found in the science of storytelling.
According to Leo Widrich in his article "What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brain", stories activate parts in the brain that allows the listener to turn the story in to their own ideas and experience thanks to a a process called neural coupling. The brain releases dopamine into the system when it experiences an emotionally-charged event, making it easier to remember and with greater accuracy.
In his TEDx talk, David JP Phillips talks about storytelling creating a chemical cocktail in the minds of the audience. Depending on how the story is structured, storytellers can either manifest a positive or negative chemical cocktail in the minds of their audience.
- Angel’s Cocktail - The positive cocktail which produces dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. Together these chemical reactions help audience members focus better, become more relaxed, enhance creativity, remember more, build trust, and create a bond with the storyteller.
- Devil’s Cocktail - This negative chemical elixir manifests in the minds of the audience if the storyteller approaches the story poorly without regard to how his words are going to land on the ears of the audience. The Devil’s Cocktail produces high levels of cortisol and adrenaline which cause the audience to become irritable, intolerable, uncreative, critical, memory impaired, and to make bad decisions.
Knowing how storytelling affects the brain is critical to being successful in positively impacting the audience.
For Marketers, Why Storytelling?
All of this storytelling history and science is great, but why do marketers tell stories?
According to Marsha Rossiter, in her 2002 work, "Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning", stories are effective educational tools because the audience become engaged and therefore remembers the story messages. Storytelling can be seen as a foundation for learning and teaching. While the listener is engaged, they are able to imagine new perspectives, inviting a transformative and empathetic experience.
Let’s unpack this a bit for marketers:
- Stories engage
- Stories evoke emotion
- Stories elicit mental experiences
- Stories help people remember
Why do marketers tell stories? Because marketers want their audiences to remember their messages, and ultimately take an action that was recommended within the story. It’s much easier to accomplish these goals through a set of marketing messages threaded together as a story versus plotting those messages randomly throughout a piece of marketing collateral. When it comes to actionable content marketing, storytelling is the key.
What Makes a Great Story?
When it comes to storytelling 101, marketers can follow a script that is as ancient as storytelling itself. There are three key components to every great story:
- Characters - All stories feature one or more characters, with one of those characters playing the lead. At the beginning of every great story is the setup, the scenes before the great adventure where the audience can get to know the main character. The key is to character creation is structuring characters that the audience can relate to.
- Confrontation - The great adventure that the hero character embarks on. The problem that needs to be solved. The challenge that must be overcome. Conflict builds suspense in an audience. They begin to relate to the experiences that the characters are going through. This emotional journey releases dopamine within the brains of the audience. We learned above that dopamine is part of the Angel’s Chemical Cocktail, is critical to creating memorable stories in the minds of the audience.
- Resolution - Every powerful story has a strong conclusion. The conclusion provides a solution to the conflict, whether that solution works in favor of the hero or not. For marketers, this is where you place the call-to-action. Plant that splinter in the minds of the audience that ties the brand-friendly action you want the audience to take to the memory of the story.
Storytelling has a script that can be followed, but great storytellers know that great storytelling is more than just having a solid beginning, middle and end. Those three components are simply the price of entry. It’s a way for storytellers to thread together their core messages. In order to deliver magical storytelling experiences, storytellers must:
- Know Your Audience. In order for the story to resonate, the audience must be open to receiving it. Having a strong understanding of who will be consuming the story, and what those people respond to, is critical to being able to open them up right at the beginning.
- Be Authentic. People can spot authenticity, or lack-thereof, in an instant. The storyteller must believe at the very core of their being in the story she is telling. The key is to transfer that authentic energy from storyteller to the audience. Authentic stories stick. Inauthentic stories fall away.
- Be Interactive. Great storytellers can read their audience, and adjust the story or their delivery in the moment. A big piece of storytelling is getting the audience engaged. In order to truly engage the audience storytellers must be on the lookout for audience cues in order to understand if the story is resonating. Great storytellers solicit audience feedback, and respond to that audience feedback, in order to enhance the experience.
- Articulate the Call-to-Action. Unless the audience knows the action you want them to take, they will either not take an action, or take an action that they think they should take. Great stories have a clear call-to-action that aligns with the story, and is a reasonable request of the audience which just consumed the story. Without a strong, clear call-to-action, storytellers won’t receive the biggest potential impact from the great story they just told.
As a marketer, ensure your stories weave together your key messages with a clear beginning, middle, and end by which you introduce characters, conflict, and a resolution. As part of the storytelling 101 process, know your audience, be authentic, be interactive, and articulate a clear call-to-action. If this script is followed, great stories will manifest for your brand.
Storytelling 101: 5 Types of Stories to Tell
Using storytelling as a content marketing strategy can make a huge impact on the success of a brand. Storytelling marketing is an art, and when performed to its fullest potential, can help marketers create magical customer experiences. If this article has convinced you to become a storyteller marketer, let’s review a few different types of stories you can tell your prospects and customers.
For marketers looking to generate more brand awareness, or increase brand loyalty, telling a brand story is an effective approach. Tell your brand story, impart your values, explain your mission, educate the audience on your product ingredients sourcing, etc. to build deep connections with consumers.
Product Promotion Stories
One of the most obvious stories for a marketer to tell is the product promotional story. For potential customers, based on what we learned above, the best way to learn about a product or service, its features and benefits, is through story. A short product promotion story can increase product sales or build anticipation for new product releases.
How-To Instructional Stories
Forget about asking your customers to read traditional instruction sheets. Make it easy for them. Create how-to stories for your products and services so that customers can quickly learn how the product works and what they need to do to get it working.
Studies show that people retain more information through interaction versus simply reading or listening to information. Based on the science of storytelling, we know that the release of chemicals like dopamine and endorphins help make stories more memorable. When it comes to learning, interactive educational stories are a great way to teach people on your content.
Charitable Cause Stories
Do you run a charity? Or maybe your brand contributes to a favorite charity? The next time you are looking to create momentum for a charitable cause, create a charity story to create empathy in your audience, and conclude that story with a strong call-to-action that asks for a donation. Charity stories can drive much more in the form of donations than a basic website or social media post.
There are many other types of stories brands can tell. These will hopefully get the creative juices flowing. Now it’s time to put your new storytelling 101 knowledge to work.
Is Hacking Brand Storytelling Possible for Marketers?
We started this journey by defining storytelling as art. We know that great art is a process that takes commitment, creativity, vision, and skill. It takes time. As marketers, time is a luxury we don’t have. What’s the solution?
STORYSOFT is the ultimate storytelling marketing platform that helps marketers tell breakthrough brand stories. Marketers can work with us to determine the type of story you want to tell, develop your digital story, and publish it to your audience through any channel. Our built in analytics engine helps you track story consumption and engagement metrics in order to better understand what’s resonating with your audience.
Ready to become a storyteller marketer? Request a demo.