Marketing Storytelling and Building a StoryBrand
Storytelling and writing go hand in hand. But what many people—including marketers—fail to realize is that marketing, in many ways, is storytelling too. In fact, according to some experts, marketing storytelling or narrative marketing is one of the best ways to reach your prospect. If your marketing strategy doesn’t include telling your customer’s story–you may want to reconsider your approach.
In short, marketing storytelling aims to convey your marketing message in simple and clear terms that can be easily understood by your audience. The easier it is to understand, the sooner your prospects will understand that you can solve their problems. And it’s essential to get your point across quickly.
As people’s attention span continues to decline, you only have seconds to get their attention. According to research, the human attention span has declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2022. To do this, you may want to consider marketing storytelling.
There are a lot of buzzwords and trends in marketing. New approaches are always coming out and as soon as you figure out one approach a new one is developing. However, narrative marketing or marketing storytelling is a tried and true type of marketing–even though you may not realize it at first glance.
Storytelling has been around for as long as there have been people and has played a key role in many aspects of human development. Long before we had the ability to record information on paper or digitally, storytelling was used to chronicle events, ideas, rules, lineage, and more. When marketers engage in marketing storytelling, they’re tapping into age-old ways of effectively communicating.
Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
While narrative marketing and marketing storytelling have been around for many years, this type of marketing has recently gained enthusiasm in large part based on Donald Miller’s book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.
In his book, Miller explains how the seven elements of storytelling can be used in your marketing messages to draw in your prospect, engage them, and ultimately guide them to a conversion or sale. Miller has garnered quite a bit of enthusiasm about his approach. In fact, his book is just one part of the numerous options he offers to help marketers learn to connect and communicate with their audience.
The seven elements Miller outlines in his book are also consistent with movie frameworks too. Let’s take a quick look at these seven elements:
- Call to action
According to Miller, each of these elements must be present to effectively communicate with your audience, build trust, and get them to take action. At first, it may be confusing to see how these elements of storytelling are related to your messaging. However, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll see how natural and important they are.
Marketing Storytelling for Success
Every marketer knows that it’s vital to connect with your audience and create content that resonates with them. However, it can be difficult to put this theory into practice. It doesn’t have to be complicated though. Taking some time to understand each of these elements as it relates to your product or service and target audience will help make it more clear.
Miller’s book and associated programs outline this in detail. But for now, let’s take a broad look at these elements and marketing storytelling.
7 Elements of Story
- The Hero
Every story worth telling has a hero. Much of the time marketers create content in a way that makes their organization the hero. However, according to StoryBrand and narrative marketing, your customer should be the hero. Here’s what Donald Miller has to say about this Storybrand Principle.
”When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges. Positioning the customer as the hero in the story is more than just good manners; it’s also good business.”
There’s no story without a problem. The same holds true for your customer. They wouldn’t be coming to you unless they had a problem to solve.
Read about how CTM helped Coalmarch solve their attribution problem.
This is the role your organization should strive for in the StoryBrand framework. You’re the guide to help your customer solve their problem. Remember, they’re the hero, they are going to solve the problem–with your help of course.
Every good guide offers a plan. This is true in marketing storytelling too. Be clear about how your organization can solve the problem and offer a simple plan to show your audience how to achieve that.
As Donald Miller explains, many organizations are hesitant to ask their audience to take action but this is a mistake. Set a clear path forward for your audience and remove any friction that lies in their way..
”People …can’t read our minds and they don’t know what we want, even if it seems obvious. We have to clearly invite customers to take a journey with us or they won’t.” -Donald Miller, StoryBrand
Stories either end in success or failure. You want to paint the picture of what success will look like if your audience chooses to engage with your company. Smiling faces, happy employees, whatever success looks like in regards to your product or service–show it!
Another subject that many marketers want to shy away from is failure. However, it’s important to let your audience know what will happen if they don’t solve their problem. It’s a good idea to keep this to the minimum because too much negativity will scare your prospects off– and that’s the last thing you want.
For example, a business that sells tires may want to point out that if your tires are old it could pose a hazard in slippery conditions. To do this they may simply include an image of a car sliding on slippery roads. However, what they wouldn’t want to do is talk about tragic car accidents from old tires and post images of these scenes.
You don’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom but you do want to talk about failure a bit. In Donald Miller’s book, he talks about success and failure in terms of a cake recipe. He suggests you think about success like flour and use a lot. But, when it comes to failure, he says it’s like the salt in the cake recipe. It’s necessary to have, but too much will spoil the whole recipe.
Each of these elements works together to create a story that your audience will relate to and come to understand as the solution to their problem.
Why Use Narrative Marketing
Narrative marketing or marketing storytelling aims to make messaging simple and easy to understand. And there are good reasons why it works. Our brains are bombarded with commercial messages every day. According to the latest research, the average person sees about 10,000 ads a day.
If your message isn’t simple and direct, it will be overlooked and the reader will move on (hopefully not to your competitor).
Why? Because the brain is wired to survive and thrive and if these messages aren’t perceived as helping to achieve that the brain doesn’t pay attention. That’s because the brain also strives to conserve calories as a survival mechanism. When your brain spends a lot of time trying to figure out what one or two sentences say, it may automatically tune out to save calories–and survive.
Using simple and clear language tied to the seven story elements helps to create messaging that your audience will tune into–but it also places the messages in well-worn pathways in the brain that are used to decode information.
Most of us are told stories, read stories, and watch movies from an early age. These pathways that include a hero, problem, guide, etc. are well-worn. When organizations place their messaging in these pathways using marketing storytelling, audiences are able to effectively digest and understand what’s being said.
And, when it requires less effort from the brain to grasp, your message will get through and you’ll increase your chances of keeping the audience engaged and acquiring a customer. Making your messaging simple and clear, as Miller advocates, can make a big difference, yet many organizations tend to use industry jargon and words that their audience doesn’t easily understand. This leads to confusion and creates an opportunity for visitors to leave your site and go to a competitor with more relatable messaging.
”When we start our elevator pitch or keynote address, or when somebody visits our website, they’re burning calories to process the information we’re sharing. And if we don’t say something (and say something quickly) they can use to survive or thrive, they will tune us out.” -Donald Miller, StoryBrand
It’s important to make each word count and engage in clear messaging. While it may be contrary to what many marketing teams have been doing, less really is more when it comes to communicating with your audience.
Apple®, Steve Jobs, and Marketing Storytelling
For marketing teams who have been tied to using industry jargon, speaking about their organization as the hero, and using wordy content to communicate, it may be a hard switch and even harder to believe in this approach.
However, one shining example of this is Apple. Miller shared a bit about this in his book but when you dig into it you really see the change.
Steve Jobs, who we all know was a co-founder of Apple Computers, left Apple at one point and went to Pixar to work. At Pixar, it was said he studied with the great storytellers and learned the art of storytelling. And of course, being Steve Jobs, he took this a step further and began to see how marketing and storytelling could work together.
A few years later, Jobs returned to Apple and implemented marketing storytelling and simple and clear messaging. Take a look at one of the ads before Jobs worked at Pixar and compare it to one after.
As you can see, there is a dramatic shift in approach. This is a clear example of how well simple messaging can work and set you apart from your competitors.
Where Should You Use Storytelling Elements?
Everywhere! According to Donald Miller and StoryBrand, you should be using this type of messaging throughout all of your marketing and communications. This includes:
- Sales messaging
- Emails and marketing automation campaigns
- Blog content
- Paid ad content
- Social content
- Conferences and events
Of course, it’s not essential that you can revamp all of your messaging and communications at once. Try implementing narrative marketing and marketing storytelling in just one area to start.
At CallTrackingMetrics, we’ve embraced this philosophy and have begun to incorporate it into our messaging in specific areas like:
- Website content
- Social and paid media
Marketing storytelling is very important and often overlooked, it places your customer at the center of your messaging, instead of having the messaging center around your company. If you want to promote your business and provide your prospects and customers with exceptional experiences, consider using this approach to craft your marketing messages.
Listen to our Smart Route Podcast interview with Certified StoryBrand Guide, Cassie Egli.
When your prospects can see themselves in the story you’re telling, they are more likely to engage with your company. This is why each of the seven elements of story is vital to explore in depth. And while each is important, taking time to truly understand the problem(s) your customers have is essential. If you don’t know their problem–and talk about it–how will they trust your product or service to help them?
Testing Your Marketing Storytelling
As with most other marketing strategies, it’s vital to test, test, test. Once you implement narrative marketing, be sure to track the results. Are you getting more leads or less? Are these leads higher-value leads? Do these leads convert faster or slower? Are sales and customer success teams still getting a lot of the same questions or do callers seem more ready to buy? There are a lot of variables to consider.
Tracking and attribution play an important role in this testing. If you are implementing narrative marketing–or any other strategy–you’ll want to see how it’s performing at each of the touchpoints. For example, you may begin using narrative marketing in your social posts. You’ll want to track the results of those posts and compare them against prior performance.
Maybe you’ll be implementing marketing storytelling on some ads but not others. It’s important to track how these ads are performing in comparison to each other. It’s essential for marketers to understand which ads and messages are performing well and which channels are seeing the most engagement..
This holds true across the board. Wherever you’re putting marketing messages you’ll want to track, analyze, and report on how those ads, messages, campaigns, and keywords are doing. When you know which of these are driving the highest engagement and highest value conversions, you’ll know where to focus your efforts–and budget–and where to pull back.
Marketing storytelling and using elements of StoryBrand may be a new idea to you. It may also be quite different from the approach you’ve been using. However, using simple and clear messaging in times when we are bombarded with messages will cut the noise out and help you reach your audience with the right message at the right time.
If you want to learn more about marketing storytelling and StoryBrand check out Donald Miller’s offerings. And, no matter what approach you’re using for your organization, tracking the effectiveness of your campaigns is crucial for optimizing your budget, proving ROI, and driving revenue.