Navigate Daunting Marketing Challenges Using Story

Every marketing manager is responsible for metrics. We’re tasked with showing company executives that we’re gaining traction. That we’re reaching more potential customers, gaining trust and loyalty, and these combined key performance indicators (KPIs) show that we are — in fact — increasing marketing leads and sales revenue. We’re supposed to be accomplishing all of this while lowering our cost of customer acquisition. It’s a wonder with such a high bar that any of us have a job!

It’s often believed that with the rise of technology and the multiple ways we can target and contact prospects that our work would become simpler. Just launch a website and create content. Share that content on Facebook or LinkedIn. Publish a video. Send a few emails. Better yet, let’s use a data management platform (DMP) and a personalization engine so we’re sending ads based on behavior. That’ll do the trick.

But potential customers are bombarded with empty sales promises that borderline on manipulation. So much so that people have learned to tune out these branded messages. Prospects recognize them as an advertisement and ignore, delete, flag, or spam them.

The brands that are providing more in-depth value in communications — such as educational content which shares how to reach a specific goal, level of security or knowledge — may not have as much trouble capturing leads as they do nurturing them into paying customers.

That’s because brands battle this fine line between sharing too little information which customers perceive as a manipulative tactic, to sharing too much information that a person can now do the work him or herself without paying for services.

Or — usually in the case for technology and energy brands —- the content is so focused on the solutions (i.e. resolution) that there is no context around the conflict of our characters (i.e. target audiences).

Same goes for brands that attempt storytelling.

Audiences are entertained enough to hit a “Like” button but aren’t inspired to purchase the product or service, even if it could improve their quality of life. This is typically because story isn’t crafted in a way that’s entertaining but also helps them comprehend how it’s beneficial. The prospect hasn’t developed a loyalty to the brand so instead buy from a competitor that is charging less for what is perceived to be the same thing. (More on this in another post.)

Recommended Reading: 7 Skills Marketing Storytellers Must Have

Overview of How Stories Activate Our Senses

We’ve known for some time that stories help us better connect to people and help them understand complex concepts. It’s why sales people use stories when describing services and products.

First, it helps us put the services and products into context. It steeps the solution (i.e. resolution) deep into a setting, with characters we care about and who represent us on a personal level, and who encounter conflicts in order to reach am important goal. This structure of events allows us to turn once intangible descriptions into identifiable and concrete ideas.

Thanks to technology, we’re now understanding what happens in the human brain to cause this phenomenon. Turns out, stories activate multiple areas of the brain as compared to content that is not story-structured and only activates the language processing part of the brain. (This is why most memory tactics include making up stories.)

Stories also help us release chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, which are responsible for creating emotional bonds and inspiring physical action. (Think of how our favorite mystery books will make your palms sweat and heart race as you frantically turn the pages. Or how you feel motivated to work out after watching an action movie.)

Improve Marketing Metrics

Studies across industries show that applying story structure to content development and campaign execution is improving marketing metrics.

Facebook conducted a study and found that ads which were sequenced to tell a story, versus ads that were not connected or sequenced to tell a story, increased view-throughs and conversions.

This third-party article describes a study which found that product descriptions including a story sold for more money than the same product without a story-structured description.

Marketers are also finding that content which applies story structure are more engaging, and inspire audiences to finish the intended journey and take a specific action such as signing up for a list or adding a product to an online cart.

Action Item: Apply story structure and elements the next time you’re developing a case study, writing a video or podcast script, launching an email or social advertising campaign, and you’ll reap improved marketing metrics.

Communicate Abstract Ideas and Values

We all love people and brands that we perceive to have honesty, courage, loyalty, kindness, trustworthiness, devotion, bravery, determination, passion, integrity, and love of others.

But, who’s to believe a person or brand encompasses these respectable characteristics by simply stating them on a webpage in a bullet-list? If you’re on a first date with someone and the person tells you he or she is funny, do you believe that person? No, you’re probably going to believe him or her once you experience that individual being funny.

In the same way, story-structured content allows you to provide that experience without having to be face-to-face with a target audience. You must share stories (whether created and published by you, your employees, or customers) that demonstrates by showing versus telling that the brand possesses these qualities.

Action Item: The next time you’re thinking about listing a set of values on your website, think of what story-structured case studies you can link to that attest to that brand characteristic. Your audience is much more likely to believe you’re trustworthy, feel connected and loyal to you, and take action after a story versus a list of empty, intangible words that are a self-testimony.

Enhance Marketing Analytics and Optimization Plans

Analytics and optimization plans are two of the most important components to successful marketing. Fortunately, we can now make it a lot simpler (and dare I say fun) by applying story structure against our content strategies. This allows you to see how audiences are interacting with digital content and experiences and then optimize campaigns based on that data. Bonus: this also means you can re-purpose more content as opposed to always developing new content.

Let’s use a YouTube video for example. If I use story structure to create video content, I also may anticipate my audience’s reactions during specific time frames of the video. I may place the inciting incident (a story structure element that launches the plot into action) at the fifteen-second mark of a video. But, once I launch the video and look at the metrics I may see that most of my audience is exiting or skipping the video at the eight-second mark. This tells me I should edit out some of the initial exposition of the story and place the inciting incident before the eight-second mark of the video. This continues throughout the video content until we reach the call-to-action. From here, I’m analyzing how many viewers made the desired action after finishing the video.

Fun Fact: If you’re unsure where to place your story elements throughout a piece of content, such as a YouTube or Facebook video, look at the advertising guidelines for that platform. Facebook recently provided great insights into audience’s media literacy for video when they published its video advertising guidelines. Thanks, Facebook!

Future-Proof Content Strategies

Our media literacy is fast-evolving as we become more accustomed to entertainment, social, and gaming platforms. Even our media literacy and expectations for novels are still evolving, and novels are about 400 years old! Go watch a mystery movie from the 1960s and compare it to one that was released in 2016. You’ll find recent movies typically have a faster moving plotline, complex view-points and camera angles, and multiple character turning points, just to name a few.

Consider how much our media literacy will evolve with emerging technology such as virtual reality (VR). Or experiences that jump from one device to another (also known as system design experiences).

I may take a story idea from a video and apply it to an interactive VR experience. But the story structure elements will not take place in the same time frames. Why? Because our audiences interact with this platform differently, and have a much lower media literacy for VR than they do video. But, as VR becomes more mainstream our media literacy for it will develop. This means a year from now I can still use the same virtual reality game, but I may optimize certain story elements within the experience to better keep my audience engaged, moving through the intended journey, and taking specific actions.

Final Action Item: Get to know different storytellers and find out what their skill-sets are. It’s important he or she not only understands and practices storytelling techniques, but also has a strong grasp of marketing technology and analytics.

What’s Your Story? Contact Us.

How are you using story in your content and user experience strategy? Is it driving engagement, loyalty, and revenue to your business? Contact me to visit how we can work together to create unforgettable experiences.

Moxie Blue Media offers consulting, strategy development, and campaign execution and reporting.