Storytelling – what is it and how to get started?

May 1 2022

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Storytelling means simply creating and communicating a story to others. In the context of marketing, it is the creation of a message about the brand and its products in order to achieve specific business objectives. If you are wondering how to do storytelling, how to go about it, and what results it produces, then this article is for you.

The business objectives mentioned above can vary greatly. Storytelling can help create a strong brand, promote your company’s products (thus increasing sales) and attract the right job candidates (thus reducing recruitment costs). If you’re wondering what storytelling is, the simplest answer is – a brand story.

Storytelling – how to get started?

The problem is that you can’t tell a story about a brand if it doesn’t yet exist or is too weak or has image problems. To get the storytelling going, you first need to sort things out “on the back end”. You should make sure that:

  • you have a well-thought-out vision for your brand. You’ve created a vision, mission, and values. That is the role of branding or rebranding. If you don’t know how to approach this, familiarise yourself with the basics of strategy and what is branding.
  • you know what you want to communicate to customers about your products or services
  • you can differentiate between your needs and those of your customers

And it is the latter that I would like to focus on. Branding is really not so much about your brand as it is the story of your brand as something that solves problems for your customers. In a highly simplified form, every good advertisement tells a story. Dishwashing liquid is not just “the best dishwashing liquid in the world”, it is good enough to get rid of 98% of grease found on dishes, and this satisfies 95% of customers.

Customers don’t expect a story for the sake of a story – that’s marketing gibberish. Above all, customers expect their expectations to be met. This is fulfilled by a growing number of brands. What distinguishes the best ones is precisely the story, the storytelling.

How to do storytelling? Start from the beginning

If you want to engage in storytelling, then start from the beginning. If you don’t have any “company founding myth” (e.g. a saved email with the idea to start the business and an idea for the first products), then reset the narrative.

I am publishing this article in 2022. Suppose you want to engage in storytelling right now and you don’t have such a myth. The company has been around for 10 years and you’ve been building it up for a very long time, leaving marketing “for later”. However, you can see that this is no longer possible. This is a very common case and one that I have dealt with many times. In this situation, reset the narrative and highlight the company experience while emphasising the values you have set for yourself, your employees, and the organisation as a whole. On the one hand, you will be able to boast about your market experience and the implicit quality of your products. On the other hand, you will be able to create a “fresh” story. Just the way you want it. Without referring to older patterns or thinking about how to incorporate elements of what was into what is now.

And here’s an important point – if you’re asking what storytelling is, I have to answer: story + authenticity. It is impossible to tell a story without underpinning it with facts. The actual, not just the advertised product features. The actual, not just the declared values and business processes used in the company. Customers today are highly critical and increasingly pay attention not only to the product and price, but also to the story. Not so much on its quality (that can vary, depending on the specialist who creates it), but on how much it confirms reality.

What is storytelling? It is story + authenticity. Authenticity builds the customer’s relationship with the brand. This is why they are willing to spend more money on the company’s product. It can be environmentally friendly and therefore more expensive. The cost of developing it may have consumed a fortune, which is reflected in the pricing on the shop shelf. But if accompanied by the right story, the price is acceptable.

So: authenticity + brand connection + emotion.

Benefits of storytelling

Storytelling has a bearing not only on the company’s image. The long-term benefit means more sales and better customer relations. Storytelling facilitates:

  • better customer relations and building customer loyalty
  • shortening the customer’s purchase path
  • building a natural authority among customers
  • easier education on new products and reduction of expenses on marketing activities
  • easier persuasion – a dry announcement of product features is replaced by emotionally charged narration

We could go on and on, but you can see the benefits for yourself. Brand building should always be based on proven tools, and storytelling is definitely one of them.

Elements of good storytelling

Like every other method, this one also has its rules. To be effective, storytelling should:

  • be memorable. The story must be specific and outlined well enough not to leave the audience indifferent. The story has to have some character, the recipient should care about it.
  • have an educational or entertainment value. Merely being memorable does not give you anything. Even controversial stories can have a good outcome, but they have to leave a mark. They must not only be memorable, they should offer a good reason for someone to want to remember them.
  • have a personal dimension. This is one of the most difficult goals to achieve. Especially as it needs to be closely aligned with what your business does and what customers it has. It’s all about allowing customers to identify with the story. Nobody cares about some unspecified alien stranded on an anonymous planet because his spaceship has broken down. But a significant number of people will care about a man cast in this story, preferably with a personal interest in the drama.

All these components will make a good story to convince your audience.

Some basic storytelling techniques

There are several good, albeit different, ways to persuade someone to buy. In the first phase, it is to make them intrigued with the product. Here they are:

  1. The Hero’s Journey. It is a model defined by Joseph Campbell in 1949. In this option, the protagonist of the story sets out on a journey and promises himself that he will return home with a certain result. Then, in the process of initiation, he overcomes his fear and limitations, overcomes difficulties and conquers danger. At the end he triumphantly returns home, victorious and content.
  • Before-After-Bridge. This is an advanced storytelling technique which involves giving a solution at the start. Before revealing to the customer what led to the solution of the problem (implicitly: your product), you show them what that moment of happiness looks like. The bridge between the problem and the happy solution is naturally the brand.
  • AIDA. Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – that is, to attract attention, arouse interest, create desire and provoke action (implicitly: purchase). It’s a technique that involves creating a whole chain of cause and effect.
  • PPPP. Promise, Picture, Proof, Push (to perform an action). In this model, we first show the customer “what they will get out of it”. We then create a picture of what this promise looks like in practice. We then show some proof of the promise and picture working and then encourage purchase.

Examples of a good story

Companies have long been convinced by the power of storytelling. In the past, managers asked what storytelling was and considered it another invention of marketing. A curiosity. Today they see it as a necessary part of the whole.

Storytelling is used by the biggest and best-known companies in their messages: such as Airbnb, Nike, and Amazon. Each adapts the example to its clientele. In Poland, a great example is a series of Allegro advertisements.

On foreign soil, one of the best examples is… Star Wars. A simple story based on the “hero’s journey” model has captured the minds of billions of people around the world.

There are many examples of good campaigns, but one thing is worth remembering – if you want to know what storytelling is, look for examples not only in the B2C world. B2B marketing, i.e. marketing to other companies, also exists and is worth doing. Individual customers do not have a monopoly on emotions.  They also exist for companies that sell to other companies.

Want to sell more using the magic of storytelling? I will be happy to show you how to do this. Good storytelling always focuses first and foremost on the audience, not on the company telling the story. And to support the story itself you can use a sales method called Customer-Centric Selling.

O Autorze

Jarosław Ścislak

Pracowałem nad brandingiem, rebrandingiem, skalowaniem biznesu i strategiami contentowymi dla wielu firm. Tworzyłem strategie marketingowe, contentowe, budowałem od zera działy marketingu, szkoliłem juniorów. Mogę skutecznie pomóc. Poprzez tworzenie kluczowych procesów i integrację ich w jeden ekosystem sprawię, że Twoja firma będzie pracowała dla Ciebie, a nie na odwrót. Część usług które widzisz w mojej ofercie (np. rozwój sklepów e-commerce w opozycji do platform e-commerce) wprowadziłem na rynek jako pierwszy w Polsce.