What is Storytelling? The Logic behind the Literary

The marketing industry loves buzzwords and over the past few years, literary language has been on the rise. References to storytelling and narrative have headlined hundreds of Forbes articles in the past year, including the recent, “3 Unique Strategies to Selling More with Storytelling” (Click here to read the article in Forbes.) There are a lot of reasons why storytelling is flourishing as a marketing term. One reason is the popularity of “story” features on social media apps. After introducing Stories in 2016, for example, 80% of Instagram users now watch Stories daily. That’s more than 500 million people.

As this number suggests however, storytelling is also gaining popularity because our daily lives are over-saturated with digital media and advertisements. Unlike traditional marketing which focuses on sales, storytelling offers companies a way to connect with people by focusing on the human experience. In this way, storytelling marketing is more like public relations than conventional advertising. (Click here to read more about our public relations services.)

Although our social media overflows with stories, confusion about “storytelling” nevertheless lingers. What does storytelling actually mean when it comes to promoting your business? And how do you tell a story that is not only captivating, but authentic? These are a few of the questions we’ll address in this month’s blog.

Storytelling is a Strategy

When marketers talk about storytelling, they’re really talking about strategy. Storytelling is a marketing strategy that emphasizes the who and why of your company, rather than your services or products. In their 2020 report on Global Marketing Trends, Deloitte suggests that companies who emphasize their “purpose” over their products establish deeper, more meaningful connections with their customers. (Click here to read the Deloitte Global Marketing Trends report.) Rather than compete for the lowest prices or highest quality, companies now focus on differentiating themselves according to their values or community commitments.

Generally, the guiding principle behind storytelling is that people aren’t always looking to buy products or services. In fact, most of the time they’re looking to engage with content they find relatable, interesting, and aligned with their values. By connecting over shared values or goals, you can build a durable, meaningful connections with people. Then, if and when the time comes for them to buy your product or service, they’re more likely to buy from you than your competitors and to feel good about their purchase. This is why authenticity is an important aspect of storytelling. When companies earn people’s trust by connecting over shared values, they have to uphold them. If not, they’re likely to lose that customer for life.

Storytelling for Small Businesses

Although storytelling may seem like a marketing technique best suited to large companies with fat budgets, that’s not always the case. Small businesses can use storytelling to their advantage, especially because small business owners have the most compelling stories. For example, small businesses often have very strong ties to their local community. Whether you donate supplies, services, or time to local organizations, you can show people that community support is one of your company values. Along these lines, small business owners may have inspiring stories to share because they face often the biggest obstacles. Some companies lean into their struggles to frame them as part of their story. Transparency about their process tells an audience they are authentic, relatable, and unafraid of a challenge.

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