Humans love stories. Every society since the dawn of our time has revered storytellers, and good storytellers — from tribal elders to Greek poets, and from Victorian novelists to modern-day vloggers — have always been given, as it were, a place at the fire. If you have a story to tell, and you can tell it well, people will stop and pay attention.
And although storytelling is an ancient art, it’s one that’s retained its power and potency even, or perhaps especially, in the digital age. As a consultant and content marketing specialist, I’ve seen again and again that when properly harnessed, storytelling can be an engine that drives your business, and helps you increase profit. Here are a few insights on why and how.
Storytelling, as the name implies, is sharing a story with an audience. A story is meant to inform, to entertain, and to garner trust between you and your listener. It brings them closer to you, and gives them a window into who you are, and what you do. In a very real way, storytelling is how you share yourself with your audience.
Storytelling is not about making money. That’s where content marketing comes in.
As I wrote recently on the ECHO Storytelling blog (ECHO is one of my amazing clients), content marketing is a technique for creating valuable content, and distributing it to build a clearly defined audience. An easy example: if you run an auto body garage, you might create a video series showing your audience how to do basic maintenance on a variety of cars. That is something valuable to your specific audience, and that audience is likely to make use of the information when they need it — and to think of you gratefully when they do. You don’t give away the farm, of course, when providing information. Give your audience useful information, but give ’em a reason to come to you, too.
When you ‘drive’ your content marketing with storytelling … you’re transforming what might previously have been ‘snack’ content into a satisfying, and memorable, meal.
The idea behind content marketing is that by giving people something they value, you are earning their goodwill. You’re endearing yourself to them, and showing that you are a genuine, professional brand and organization. This makes them much more likely to come to you when they need the sort of products you sell, and to take action when you ask your audience to do something (whether it’s to follow your Facebook page, buy something from your store, or share your content with their friends).
When you ensure that the useful content you provide also has a strong narrative flow, and some emotional impact — when you ‘drive’ your content marketing with storytelling, in other words — you’re turning what might previously have been ‘snack’ content into a satisfying, and memorable, meal. You’re filling out details. You’re transforming an otherwise ubiquitous list into a unique narrative. You’re evolving the curiousity that a reader might feel into true emotional engagement.
Let’s return to the example of your autobody shop. The initial content on your video channel showing how to change oil, replace belts, etc. might just be enough to earn an audience. But by supporting that content with storytelling elements like a narrative arc, simplicity, emotional impact, and authenticity, your videos go from helpful to emotionally resonant. Your audience will feel something, and remember you. This could be something as simple as you, as the business owner, describing some of your past experiences with troublesome problems, or documenting your team at work on a real job, ultimately allowing your audience to learn a little more about what it takes to solve a tricky problem, and about the character of the people teaching them how to take care of their cars.
In this example, the informational value of the content isn’t changed through storytelling, but by injecting elements of story into that content it becomes more relateable, more memorable, and mre powerful. It makes a connection with the audience in a way it wouldn’t have before. And it’s that connection that will keep people coming back, and that just may compel them to form a closer tie with your business or brand.2