Sometimes it is advisable to stick to the facts when it comes to copywriting and content marketing.
But nothing quite beats a good story.
For decades, advertisers and marketers have used storytelling to connect and communicate with their target audience.
Through fictional tales, the audience can relate to the people involved, start to feel various emotions, sympathise with their plight, and burst into tears or even hysterics. We also use our imaginations when reading or listening to a strong narrative, turning a passive audience into an active one.
This level of possible engagement is invaluable in the world of marketing. We are constantly being told that grabbing the audience’s attention, providing something of value and giving them an artefact to keep or share is of the upmost importance. Thankfully, with content marketing and copywriting, storytelling makes this possible.
So what makes a good story? Can you just take an existing fable or fairy tale and apply it to your brand, product or service? Or does it take a bit more imagination and originality to transform a simple story into a viral marketing campaign?
What makes a good story?
For a story with a marketing twist to work, you’re going to need a coherent yet compelling narrative. But as with the most famed and celebrated stories, the following components are somewhat crucial.
Hero – All the best stories involve a central character, an individual, a human being. Within your narrative, include someone that the audience can associate or form a relationship with. Even better, the reader or viewer should be the protagonist, imaging how he/she could be the story’s main subject. Certain advertisers or marketers make a business or brand the hero, which can sometimes be a mistake. It remains crucial to make any brand or product personable, but this could be a step too far.
Predicament or problem – There is obviously a reason why someone has searched for and discovered your content. Usually this is to solve a problem or predicament. Therefore, a similar scenario should be included in your story. What is the hero’s situation? What does he/she need? These problems can either be internal, such as emotional or psychological obstacles or external forces, like a physical object.
Narrative – How does your protagonist go about attaining what they require and solving the initial problem? Most narratives features a sequential and logical series of events, usually based on time. This is the part where you can let creativity run wild and allow your imagination to take control. Some of the most powerful and successful viral marketing campaigns have outlandish stories, but still document a coherent chain of events. At this point, the brand, business or product could also act as a mentor, guiding the customer in the right direction without being explicit or pushy.
Resolution – Nearly all content marketing and copywriting stories will have a happy ending where the hero has achieved his/her initial goal. Romantic stories always end with the protagonist falling in love and living happily ever after. For advertisers and marketers, it is ultimately about buying a product or service. But you can also take this opportunity to include a moral to the story. What has the hero achieved? How did the brand act as a mentor? Can the audience learn something from the story?
Essentially, any content marketer or copywriter wanting to utilise storytelling as part of their campaign should go back to basics. Most of the time, you’ll find that these four components are evident in every good story. However, there is even more you can do in order to make a good story great.
Characteristics of a great story
From action and comedy to drama and horror, there are several different storytelling themes a marketer can explore. But a blog post over at ABC Copywriting says that the most effective commercial stories share several closely related characteristics. These include:
Drama – This can be evident in every aspect of your story, from the hero’s situation and problem to the narrative and final solution. Although drama often focuses on bad rather than good, it is possible to create a story that includes some sort of comeback. An unexpected and exciting event or scenario will stir the audience’s emotions, which can be resolved with a brand’s product or service.
Familiarity – A story or narrative that the audience recognises and is accustomed to will undoubtedly achieve the best results. As we have already seen, an abundance of stories share the same structure with only small adjustments to the minor details. Potential customers will accept and trust familiar stories rather than abstract or disparate narratives.
Simplicity – For novels and movies, complex storylines with lots of plot twists are acceptable. But when it comes to content marketing and copywriting narratives, simplicity is the key. Try not to be too factual, as this could easily turn the audience off. Create a clear and compelling story that engages the reader or viewer but also serves a purpose.
Immersion – Putting the audience directly into the story has been found to deliver the greatest success. They will experience the events and emotions first hand, which can lead to changes in behaviour and opinion. The challenge is achieving immersion through storytelling.
Relatable – One way of getting a step closer to immersion is by making a story relatable to the audience’s life. If they can identify with the hero and establish connections to the story, your message is more likely to become accepted. Drama and simplicity is important in making something relatable, as a complex factual-based story won’t have the desired effect.
Agency – Try not to be too obvious with the message you’re putting across, as this has to be achieved by the audience. Drawing the viewer or reader in, encouraging them to put together the story’s pieces together and promoting empowerment will evoke positive feelings. Your message or objective should then be realised.
Trust – Building brand trust is crucial in every aspect of content marketing and it is no different with storytelling. However, the audience may already feel confident or sceptical towards your brand, making the storytelling process a lot harder. Your narrative and message may be a strong one, but existing opinion counts for a lot.
It is sometimes difficult, if not impossible to include all of these characteristics in your story, but they have been proven to deliver fantastic results.
Great examples of storytelling marketing
John Lewis The Journey Advert – Here we have a familiar scene that everybody can relate to – making snowmen outside. However, these inanimate objects have been brought to life and develop an emotional relationship. One snowman battles the elements and works incredibly hard to give his snow wife a simple present. Evoking emotions to solve a problem, the narrative is simple and familiar yet features drama, while the main hero is relatable.
Coca-Cola Journey – With a tagline like ‘Refreshing the world, one story at a time’ it is clear what Coca-Cola is trying to achieve with this interactive digital magazine. In addition to popular culture articles focusing on things like entertainment, travel and fashion, Coca-Cola gives insight into its products and tells real-life stories. While these might not be fantastic pieces of fiction, the vast majority of content is familiar, simple, engaging, relatable and enjoyable to read.
Guinness Basketball Advert – From an analytic perspective, you have to ask who is the protagonist in this thought-provoking commercial. The group of friends? The actual wheelchair user? Possibly even the pint of Guinness? A bunch of mates playing wheelchair basketball is straightforward enough, but when all but one reveals they can walk, drama and agency begin to take place. Is the product responsible for this? You decide.
Whether you write a fact or fiction based story, it needs to be enjoyable, relatable and of value to the audience. Fact-based pieces should be simple yet interesting and provide some level of entertainment, whereas fictional work should be dramatic and engaging, which immerse the audience in a familiar story that ultimately reaches a happy conclusion.