Best Practice Marketing

How to Use Storytelling to Appeal to Your Audience

Storytelling has long been the most efficient and reliable method for conjuring up empathy and making connections with those around us. When we catch up with our friends, we present our experiences in the familiar framework of a story, often as the main character navigating the world around us. This is how we forge connections: through familiar struggles, characters and archetypes.

Companies are realizing how powerful this tool can be in their marketing efforts. Where traditional marketing fails consistently in truly connecting to an audience, content marketing that tells a story has been proven to make a lasting impact. When combined with other research-based insights, such as the strong memory recall associated with print, stories become integral to the success of a campaign.

Making an Impression

The evidence of the power of storytelling is more than just anecdotal. In a 2014 study published in the Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak found that a character-driven story can cause the brain to produce oxytocin, a chemical that enhances an individual’s ability to empathize with others. Your audience members are more likely to have this reaction if your story holds their attention and creates tension. The results of the study demonstrated that stories fitting these criteria lead to a more thorough understanding of the message and an ability to remember the message even weeks later.

Similarly, psychologist Jerome Bruner discovered that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts when shared with an audience. Stories appeal to the emotions, imagination and humanity of audience members in familiar and provoking ways. When we frame facts, figures and arguments in this way, we create connections.

Telling a Good Story

A good content marketing story needs to follow the basics of storytelling. At the center of the story, you need a hero. Your first inclination might be to make this you or your brand, and in some cases this may be appropriate. In most cases, however, it is far more effective to frame your audience as your main character. When we see ourselves reflected in a story, we are immediately more invested, and most likely more empathetic.

After establishing your main character, you can move on to the tension mentioned in Zak’s research. Most stories, ones that truly create interest, involve a conflict. Consider what situation your hero might be put in to create tension. How can that conflict then be resolved with your product or service? Once you are able to demonstrate in an interesting, engaging way how your product can lead to a release of tension in the lives of both your characters and your audience, you are likely to have made an impact.

How to Share Your Story

Once you have an idea of what story you want to tell, you’ll need to determine which medium is best for you:

Print: According to a study by Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making, seeing a message through a physical medium, such as print, led to a stronger memory of the message itself. Numerous studies on the differences between the impact of digital and print media have led to the same conclusion: Print is powerful. In addition to producing stronger memory recall, print is seen by audiences as more reliable and trustworthy. Telling your story in the form of an article, brochure or pamphlet combines the empathy-inducing power of a narrative with the proven impact of print.

Video: This can be especially powerful in storytelling and content marketing. Video can take the form of anything from a commercial to a testimonial to a brief YouTube video. It can also have an even stronger emotional impact than other media because you have the opportunity to use music, visuals and editing. However, it will be costlier and more time-consuming than other types of media.

Radio: Typically reserved for very short versions of storytelling, radio advertisements can have a big impact if you can keep your story brief but clear.

Blog: For a more conversational and even sometimes confessional tone, blogging offers an opportunity to approach your story from a testimonial standpoint, rather than the narrative or third-person formats that are more suited to other media.

Email: Newsletters are often informative, but consider including customer stories or brief videos in your client communications to grab their attention and make an impact.

In all of these cases, you have the opportunity to use your imagination alongside your expert knowledge. Storytelling gives you the chance to go beyond facts and figures, bridging the gap between the head and the heart and helping your audience understand not only what you do, but why that matters to them.

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About the author

Cherise Czaban

Cherise Czaban is the publisher of i4 Business magazine and the CEO of i4 Business LLC. She formerly served as vice president of business development for SCB Marketing, the previous publishers of i4 Business.

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