For many, the term “storytelling” conjures up memories of reading nursery rhymes or fantastical childhood tales like “Sleeping Beauty” or “Cinderella”.
It often has the connotation of being fuzzy-feely, make-believe, or something best reserved for novels.
So how, then, does storytelling apply to the often fact and data-filled world of marketing?
Believe it or not, some of the same principles of storytelling apply to marketing – weaving a tale with words, speaking to emotion, and leaving readers with a lasting impression.
Marketers & Brands Can Be Storytellers, Too
Storytelling, if done effectively, can do wonders to engage with one’s target audience and entice them to buy.
The issue is, many brands and marketers don’t fancy themselves as storytellers.
The question, Is an analytical mind incongruent with the creativity and emotion of storytelling?
Fortunately, there’s a way to take a data-focused approach to storytelling that will help you make the most of your content when it comes to traffic, shares, and conversions.
Here are five story types that you can use to broaden reach and draw in new clients or customers.
5 Story Types to Engage Your Audience & Drive Them to Take Action
The basic “story types” have been covered ad nauseam in the past, mostly in relation to what kind of emotion they provoke in the reader.
Instead of putting my own spin on these types (most of which marketers have already heard) of, I am bringing up some story types that I have seen pick up traction lately.
The tried-and-true still work, but why be boring?
Apply these to your own brand’s content or incorporate them into the content marketing strategy for your clients.
1. SEO Search Journeys
In late 2018, Google introduced what they call Search Journeys. To me, this is amazing.
Search Journeys takes “user intent” to a whole new level.
Rather than identifying the intent of the user based on the keywords and context used, Google is now using AI to predict where users are at in their Search Journey. Then, Google shows the user content based on what they are likely to be looking for – more information, to weigh their options, or to buy.
This maps closely to our understanding of the buyer’s journey.
A user may be “Problem Aware” and are searching for possible solutions online.
Then, they become “Solution Aware” and start comparing different brands and service providers to each other.
Finally, the user is ready to make a decision, becomes “Product Aware”, and is looking for ways to buy what they want.
Google is working to pinpoint where users are at in the buyer’s journey and then present them with content that will urge them along that journey.
For brands and marketers, this presents that opportunity to create content that draws in users at each stage.
How to Create Story Content that Aligns with the Buyer’s Journey
Brands and marketers alike can take advantage of this Google update by creating content for each step of the target audience’s buyer’s journey.
For example, say someone is looking to remodel their home.
They may first search for “home remodel ideas” or “kitchen remodel examples” to get get some ideas. Google will present them with informative content, assuming they are at the beginning of their search journey.
As a brand or marketer, you can create blog content that addresses “Top 65 Home Remodel Ideas” or “12 Kitchen Remodel Examples Under $5k” to draw in users at this stage.
Then, assume the searcher takes a break and a week later comes back searching for similar terms.
Only this time, Google knows that what they really want are ways to achieve the ideas and examples they saw during their last search. Now, they want to weigh their options.
Google will present them with things like “DIY kitchen remodel or hire a contractor” or even construction contractors in their area.
This is where you may want to target industry-related terms and create content like “Should You Hire a Contractor for Your Kitchen Remodel?” or a service page for “kitchen remodel services in (location)”.
Finally, once they have weighed their options and have visited a few commercial websites, Google can determine that they are about ready to buy.
If they decide to take the DIY route, they may be searching “buy used kitchen cabinets in (location)” or the like.
If they are leaning toward hiring a contractor, they may have gotten as far as to search for a specific company with “(brand) free consultation” or “(brand) costs”.
To draw in users that are right on the edge of buying, you could create content like “(brand) discounts”, “(brand) pricing sheet”, or “buy kitchen remodel materials online”.
Use Search Journeys to Generate More Organic Traffic
By following along with the buyer’s journey, you are essentially creating content that tells a story and leads users down a sales funnel.
For example, “If you are looking for information on [insert product/service here], here’s where to start. After that, here’s how to decide which solution is best for you. Ready to buy? Here’s where to look.”
Google’s intention with search journeys is to predict what users what to know next.
If you are able to create content that maps to each stage of your target audience’s journey, you are already leaps ahead of your competitors when it comes to hopping on this SEO goldmine.
2. Breaking False Beliefs
You spend a lot of time telling your target audience what makes you stand out from the competition, why you should be trusted, and how you understand their pain points better than anyone.
But how much time do you spend breaking down the false beliefs they have about your industry and the types of services you offer?
What Is a False Belief?
First things first: a false belief is an inaccurate belief that your target audience has about your industry, the kinds of services they offer, other service providers, or their own abilities.
These false beliefs often prevent them from seeing the value that you have to offer or from recognizing how much power they themselves have in terms of making monumental changes in their business.
An example of this is the belief that “SEO is all about rankings”.
As marketers, we know this isn’t true. Yet, the brands we aim to help often come to us with this false belief. It then becomes a struggle trying to convince them that rankings are less important than other KPIs, ROI, etc.
What’s a marketer (or savvy brand) to do?
How to Break False Beliefs in Your Story Content
Simply telling someone “You’re wrong and this is why” isn’t going to work. Often, these beliefs are so deeply ingrained that the only way to shake them is through storytelling.
Essentially, you are going to create a story that is so relatable that they can’t help but question whether what they believe has been incorrect all along.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
Say you have a landing page that talks about your SEO services. Let’s assume you target local restaurants.
Based on market research, you happen to know that your target audience assumes that their ranking in Google is the number 1 indicator of whether SEO is working for them.
Knowing this, instead of listing one of the benefits of SEO as being “increased rankings”, you dive into a case study (i.e., story) instead…
“(Brand) came to us on even when they were #1 in Google. The problem? They simply weren’t seeing an influx of new customers. That’s because their website and content didn’t fit what users were actually searching for. Basically, they were targeting the wrong terms. It didn’t matter if they were #1… they wanted their reservation book to be full.
That’s why we optimized their site to draw in customers that were psyched to reserve a table. We didn’t care whether they were #1 or #47 – we were focused on 2x their restaurant revenue. The result? They actually got 3x more reservations after the first 2 months!”
With this story, you create a relatable situation for your target audience: being a restaurant in desperate in of more reservations.
Then, you appeal to their false belief by showing that they aren’t alone – your client had this false belief too – but that your client came around when they saw that they could get more reservations without focusing on rankings.
The increase in revenue was the proof they needed in order to know that SEO works.
Instead of driving home the “what we offer” bits of your business, sometimes all it takes is one false-belief-killing story to get them to trust you. With storytelling, you can prove that you understand their pain points and that you have the right solution, despite what they may have heard elsewhere.
3. The Epiphany Bridge
The “Epiphany Bridge” is a concept first coined by marketing pro and author Russell Brunson.
This is a “marketing secret” he uses in order to “ditch the techno-babble” and inspire one’s target audience to have an epiphany and drive them to buy a product or service.
The basic idea is this: Most of us, at some point in our lives, have thought “Wow! I just need to have this thing/product/service!”
Rather than mulling over a ton of options, we are instantly struck with the epiphany that this thing is perfect for us and we just gotta have it.
That’s because we came to the decision emotionally, not logically. There was something within us that was triggered and made us say “this product is for me”.
Ditch the Techno-Babble, Trigger Emotions
Unfortunately, many marketers and brands forget that this happens. We approach marketing logically, explaining the x, y, and z of what we offer, why it’s great, and why our audience should care.
But sometimes they don’t care. That’s because oftentimes what they are looking for isn’t “features”, but something that will strike them to their core and way “This product/service was meant for YOU”.
Instead, our approach just comes out as techno-babble.
It offends them. It annoys them. It doesn’t work.
Inspiring the Epiphany
Epiphany storytelling takes an entirely different approach.
It involves giving our audience the same epiphany we had when it came to launching our business, product, or service. Instead of throwing a bunch of jargon their way, you get real with them.
Here’s an example:
Say you offer pay-per-click advertising services to law firms.
After a few conversations with law firm owners about how they aren’t sure if Google Ads is a good investment for them, you feel like you are hitting your head against the wall trying to explain why PPC could be so effective for them.
So you think back to when you first discovered PPC.
You remember thinking, “Wow! I’m tired to slaving away over this SEO stuff. I have the money – now I know that I can get leads super fast with PPC!”
With this in mind, the next time you go into the conversation with a prospective client, you ditch the talk about “click-through rate” and “negative keywords” and tell them this story instead:
“You know, I understand your resistance to PPC. I used to be in your shoes. Thing was, I was struggling with getting quick wins from SEO and social media marketing. I decided to test PPC for myself. I was amazed! With $x, I was able to get y leads in only a week! I remember thinking, ‘Why have I been spending all this time on other marketing methods?’ It may not be the cheapest method, but it is definitely the fastest. I feel like you are in the same boat. What would you say if I could get you z new leads this week?”
With epiphany storytelling, you are speaking to a perspective in the language they understand: their own experience.
Hitting on the benefits of your services after the fact can only do so much, especially if they haven’t had that big epiphany yet.
With storytelling, you can help take them there. You can cause that light bulb to come on.
You can do this turning your sales conversations, in your copywriting, and in your website and social media content. You have multiple opportunities to inspire your audience to have an epiphany just like the one you had.
Something to note here: Your story needs to be realistic. It can’t be corny or made-up. The best approach is to speak from your own experience and drive home the emotion.
Authenticity makes it easier for your audience to relate to and trust you.
4. ‘David and Goliath’ Stories
Everyone loves a good “underdog” story.
In fact, this is so evidently true that marketers have been using the concept of “David and Goliath” for quite some time. However, the application of storytelling isn’t always obvious.
What Is a ‘David and Goliath’ Story?
The Biblical story of David and Goliath is about a young shepherd boy that takes down a huge giant with only a stone and a sling.
It’s an inspiring story to many because small brands and entrepreneurs often identify with being the “little guy” up against their larger, more established competitors.
Brands apply this concept to their marketing all the time, speaking to their audience’s emotions through taglines like “we stick up for the little guy!” or “Small, family-owned, trusted” and the like.
Underdog Storytelling in Action
Brands that are new to their industry and/or are up against some major brands may feel like they are little David facing many large Goliaths.
They struggle to stand out because they have limited resources, a small customer base, and perhaps no social proof or reviews.
What’s a brand to do?
Well, being the “little guy” – and really owning it – can be a great positioning tactic. It can be a unique selling point for small brands that can’t (or don’t want to) compete with the “big guys”.
Brands and the marketers that represent them can incorporate this type of storytelling into their brand messaging and marketing content.
Rather than trying to puff up to meet the competition, they can take advantage of the fact that being smaller means offering customers with better customer service, more one-on-one interaction, faster turnaround times, more affordable prices, etc.
A great way to incorporate this messaging is in the web copy and About page.
A brand can draw in their audience with a story like:
“Our client, Joe Johnson, had made his rounds through a lot of SEO agencies already. All of them just treated him like a number. They never took the time to understand the core of his business or his hopes for the future. He came to us knowing that we treat our clients like family with top-notch customer service and a custom-tailored strategy, but that we would also work tirelessly to get him the best results for his marketing budget.”
Many customers are attracted to the idea of a “down-home”, small, family-focused brand.
Dive deep into your market research to see what inspires people to work with your brand or your client’s brand. Then, use that “little guy” status to your advantage.
Bonus: This kind of storytelling can also be inspiring when it comes to sharing testimonials and case studies. Tell a story of when you represented “the little guy” and the right audience will see your brand and compassionate, authentic, and willing to help people no matter their size or budget.
5. Email Stories
When most brands and marketers think of storytelling, they probably think of things like social media posts, blog posts, and website copy.
At the same time, many underestimate the potential of email marketing and use it simply as a way to send business updates and promotions.
But have you considered using storytelling in your email marketing?
How it Works – The Case of the Exploding Toilet
Rather than sending your list standalone emails (like a monthly newsletter or a summary of a recent blog post), you can actually send subscribers on an adventure through sequential story emails.
This involves thinking up a story that would resonate with your list and that somehow ties into the content or offer you are trying to promote.
Then, you break the story up into “chunks” to be used in separate emails that entice a reader to want to read more, day after day.
For example, say you are an SEO agency that serves local plumbing companies.
Your goal is to promote your done-for-you SEO services to help plumbers get more organic traffic.
You think up a story – let’s call it “The Case of the Exploding Toilet” – and figure out how to tie it into your offer seamlessly.
You then plan out your emails.
You introduce the story. There’s this mystery of the exploding toilet that a bunch of plumbers are trying to solve. The call-to-action is for subscribers to check their inbox tomorrow to read more.
You reveal more details: “here are the clues”. You give subscribers info so they can start thinking of why the toilet is exploding. Again, you tell them to tune in the next day. You also include a sneaky link to a blog post about “15 Clues that Your Website Isn’t SEO-Friendly”.
You ask for help. You tell subscribers that you really just don’t know what to do. What do they think is going on? Your CTA is for them to reply with their ideas. This improves your email response rate.
Next, you tell them that the answer is going to be revealed in an exclusive video. The CTA is for them to sign up to receive the video, which is, in fact, a webinar. Tell them that in addition to the answer, they will also learn 5 ways to make their plumbing business “explode”.
Finally, you send all those that opted in access to the webinar. You tell them the answer to the mystery, but only after painting the picture of the “mystery” of digital marketing for plumbers. The answer to that mystery is SEO. Then you prompt them to schedule a strategy call with you to hear their options.
This is a pretty elaborate example, but it shows how creative you can get with storytelling. But, what’s great is that doing this through email serves many purposes.
You can improve response rate by including CTAs, drive users to other content, get them to opt-in for other offers, and finally get the opportunity to pitch your services – all without coming across as a skeezy salesperson.
With storytelling, you can make things fun, data-fueled, and engaging. Don’t let your email list just sit there. By telling stories, you can bring even the deadest list back to life.