Storytelling is a buzzword in marketing these days. It has been a part of the advertising world for a long time, and of course storytelling has always been a fundamental form of human communication.
As humans we’re hardwired to listen to stories. Stories are a universal currency for finding common ground, sharing ideas, and learning new things.
At Audienz, we focus on storytelling as a core part of how we approach marketing communications in the B2B technology space. In the past, technology marketers would typically lead with the technology itself, promoting new technical features and the benefits these features can offer.
By bringing storytelling into this type of marketing, we’re fundamentally changing the focus from the technology to the people that technology impacts. It starts with understanding the people themselves. Look at your target audience. What challenges are they trying to overcome? What goals are they trying to achieve? In this way, your audience becomes the hero of the story. Then the product comes in to help them move through their story.
But what form should a story take? There are a lot of ways to tell a good story. Here are three great approaches to consider.
1) The Pyramid Principle
In Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle, which is a major influence in our consulting approach at Audienz, stories use the Situation, Complication, Question, and Answer structure. The Situation is the opener to the story. You use it to set the stage with something relevant to the audience that will entice them to continue, for example, “Like all marketers in a world flooded with information, Marsha needed a way to break through and reach her audience with her product messaging.” The Complication introduces a problem or obstacle that gets in the way of achieving the goal. This creates tension in the story: “However, Marsha’s email campaign hasn’t been successful. Even though she is including the latest product information that should be interesting to her audience, the response rate to her campaign has been lower than expected.” The Question arises logically from the Complication: “Why isn’t it working? What can Marsha do differently?” Then the Answer is the solution—the main point of what you’re conveying in the story: “Now Marsha’s campaign is exceeding her goals. Using the power of story in her marketing communications, she is able to connect with her audience in a world with a limited attention span.” This approach works well by choosing a situation and a main character your target audience can relate to, and then showing them how to overcome the challenge. “How” they solved the problem is with the help of your product.
2) The Hero’s Journey
The hero’s journey is a story construct developed by mythologist Joseph Campbell that has been influential in movies and literature, and perhaps most famously used by George Lucas in the Star Wars movies. The hero’s journey includes 17 stages, but in general it can be broken down into three components. It includes multiple templates and character archetypes, but they all involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and must go through a transformation to overcome obstacles and ultimately succeed in his or her mission. This fundamental story structure, objective, challenge, transformation, and successful outcome, is a common template and is used frequently in marketing and advertising because even though it can be predictable, it is a really effective way to tell a story.
3) The Anecdote and the Moment of Reflection
In another approach, Ira Glass, the story guru behind NPR’s This American Life, says storytelling in broadcasting includes two basic building blocks. First there is the anecdote, which simply means telling a story in the form of a sequence of actions from someone’s perspective: “This happened, which led to this happening, which led to this next thing…” According to Glass, just using this basic narrative form of a story naturally creates a kind of suspense. You can feel that the story is taking you somewhere. Along the way, you want to be constantly raising questions and answering them to continue the sense of suspense and engagement.
The second building block of the story is what Glass calls “the moment of reflection,” which is where you explain to the audience the meaning behind the story, saying essentially, “Here’s the point. This is the interesting takeaway from this story.” These components, the anecdote and the moment of reflection, can be interspersed throughout the story. Essential to this approach is to take the story somewhere interesting and unexpected to the audience.
Whatever story structure you use, putting your audience in the center of stories makes for impactful and effective marketing. Storytelling can not only be entertaining, but stories provide a great way to educate someone on a new complex subject. By showing them new concepts in the context of a story, you can convey large amounts of information and make complex concepts accessible, understandable, and relatable to the audience. More and more, as we are all bombarded with endless sources of information, the role of marketing – especially in tech marketing – increasingly includes an educational component. With good stories, we can quickly help people understand what an offering does for them and how it can change their lives for the better.