People have been telling stories since the start of time and there’s a reason, they entice, they intrigue and they connect - and that right there is where the money’s at, because if you can connect with your market you’ve cleared the first hurdle.
We see lots of questions around storytelling in our Slack community and it’s an area many product marketers - new to the industry or not - look to learn, develop and refine in. So, we’re here to address all three. But first…
“Storytelling is the process of using fact and narrative to communicate something to your audience. Some stories are factual, and some are embellished or improvised in order to better explain the core message.” - HubSpot
“Brand storytelling is the cohesive narrative that weaves together the facts and emotions that your brand evokes.” - Forbes
“Storytelling is a powerful technique for building relationships. It’s an age-old concept that brings people together and keeps them engaged. It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re based or how much funding your startup has.” - QuickSprout
There are different definitions of storytelling in every corner of the web but they’re all tied by the same thread; they convey your product’s message with meaning and impact.
Why do brands tell stories?
1. Stories are easy to remember
People are much more likely to remember something they’re emotionally invested in - and you want people to remember you.
Take these two examples:
- Our email automation tool generates real-time reports.
- With real-time reports, you can quickly uncover and act on emerging trends.
The latter’s instantly more impactful because there’s something in it for the user, and that’s likely to stick.
2. Stories simplify complex concepts
Some products are more complicated than others, but even when they’re not, they can be tricky to articulate succinctly, without jargon, and in a way that resonates with end-users. But stories eradicate each.
They skip past the technical mumbo jumbo and present people with the facts that matter: how it benefits them.
3. Stories unite your audience
Whatever a person’s religion, race, language, location, age or wealth, stories speak to everyone. Your market has shared pain points and aligned end goals, and a solid story makes each and every prospect feel that emotion and understand what’s in it for them.
4. Stories inspire action
You know how great your product is, how simple it is to use and how much easier it’s going to make your market’s day-to-day because you live and breathe it for a job, but they don’t. Until they’ve witnessed the benefits first-hand they’ll never truly understand its impact and storytelling is the next best alternative.
So, by showing people what the future could look like, you’ll entice them into taking that all-important first step.
Remember, storytelling isn’t about your company or product, it’s about your customer and what they get out of choosing you.
Hooked on the why but unsure of the how? Here are 10 tips to help make a good story great.
1. Know your audience
If you don’t get the fundamentals right you’re setting yourself up for a fall. So, if you haven’t already, run some research to:
- Solidify your target market,
- Define your buyer personas,
- Understand their pain points, and
- Discover how and where they’ll be.
With this in tow, you’ll have the intel you need to accurately shape all future stages of your story.
We can’t emphasise enough how important this step is so don’t be tempted to rush it. Without the right information on your market you’re essentially putting your finger in the air and seeing what sticks, and that isn’t the sort of approach that secures sales.
2. Set your objective
Different products have different objectives. If you’re selling hair accessories online it might be an immediate sale. If you’re a counsellor it might be to make an enquiry. If you’re a car dealer it might be to browse your stock.
On top of that, some objectives might require more than one story level too. For example, someone buying a hair clip from a large chain’s probably less interested in the person behind the company than someone seeking a counsellor.
With the latter, you need to portray what’s in it for the customer (i.e. less stress, better quality of life, reduced anxiety) while simultaneously showing the person/people behind the sale (i.e. what characteristics do they have that their patients want and need).
3. Speak to your audience one-on-one
If you somehow managed to skirt around it during the research phase, set some time aside to speak to your customers - whether that be over the phone, in person or during a focus group. After all, no-one knows what they want better than them.
To get the answers you need ask questions like:
- How does our product help you?
- Can you imagine going back to a life without our product?
- What was the biggest turning point in taking out our product?
- What could someone have said to you to make you realise you needed our product sooner?
- How did you find out about us?
- Is that typical of how you normally research products in this field?
- What did your journey with us look like? Did you buy straight away? Watch a video first? Download a few guides?
- If you had to sum up our product in three words, what would they be?
As well as helping you understand key benefits and how and where to spread your story, with these kinds of questions, you could even find yourself with buzzwords to infuse into your messaging.
4. Know why people buy your product
Stories require context and if you want it to have an effect, context requires accuracy. Let’s say you’re a TV package provider and one of your main features is that you have more channels than any of your competitors. So, you use this as your hook. “More channels at your fingertips than any other provider.”
But, your market doesn’t actually primarily care about that. They want something cheap. All the channels in the world wouldn’t relate to their buying behaviour and all your angle would do is alienate them from the outset - which is the exact opposite of connecting.
Instead, with the right info under your belt, you might go in with something like “Like John, you too could save £110 a year on your TV package - without compromising on your channels.”
Presumption is the mother of all mess-ups (which is why we keep stressing the importance of research!).
5. Have a clear start, middle and end
It’s not rocket science, but with so many other elements to worry about it’s a practice that’s easily forgotten, so, remember, stories have three core components:
The start: what life’s like right now without your product by their side.
The middle: light at the end of the tunnel; a solution that solves their problems.
The end: a better life without the problem they faced at the start.
Your story needs to take them through this journey because to truly understand the benefits, people need to see the stark contrast between where they are today and where they could be tomorrow.
Tip: to ensure action, make the end as inspirational as can be (without making outlandish claims, of course!).
6. Speak like a human
People can sniff out a disingenuous story from a mile off so make sure yours has got all the ingredients of an authentic one - and that means speaking like a human to a human.
If you’ve not got the luxury of a copywriter to help you with this bit here are a few nuggets to keep in mind:
- Write like you talk. Read what you’ve written aloud and if it’s not something you’d say in a conversation, tweak it till it is.
- Contractions are friendly. ‘You’re’ sounds more approachable than ‘you are’, ‘it’s’ than ‘it is’, ‘they’ve’ than ‘they have’, etc.
- Grammar rules can be broken. And sometimes your writing sounds better for it. See what we did there?
7. Scrap feature lists (or place them lower down)
Lists or matrices are a nifty way to outline key features but the reality is, prospects care more about why they need to pick your product than its features.
How does the above make you feel? Does it enable you to understand how it’s going to benefit you? Or paint a picture of what the future you could look like? The answers are probably ‘not much, no and no.’
Instead of putting the onus on other people to work out where your value lies, tell them yourself. Trust us, you’ll do your product more justice.
8. Keep your story consistent
Consistency is key and repetition gets you remembered. By this, we mean keep your core message the same whether it’s being used in a paid social ad, blog post, webinar or event. If you start mixing it up it’ll get diluted, lose its impact and fail its very purpose.
9. Never stop learning
Okay, so this might sound contradictory to point eight but bear with us. Just because something’s working it doesn’t mean it can’t do better so see your story as a continual work in progress...and if it’s not working full stop, don’t be afraid to shake things up.
Here are a few tips to help with this one:
- To see which parts of your story are and aren’t working get out there and speak to the people that matter. Ask for their feedback and if you spot any trends weave them into your next version.
- If you’re making any refinements consider rolling them out as an A/B test first. That way, you can measure which version work’s best before potentially pushing a less effective story out.
- When you’re tweaking and testing, remember to experiment with different aspects, like the words and images you use, the channels you share them on and the type of asset (i.e. video, audio, blog, etc.).
- Always keep in mind that although your product might not have changed, people’s preferences, behaviours and attitudes might have, and this could have a knock-on effect.
10. Put yourself on their level
We mentioned authenticity a little earlier and this one’s closely linked to it. To position yourself as genuine (and have people believe you!) you need to show you understand their pain points, their goals and their barriers - and that means being on their level.
Tip: if you want to really put yourself in your prospect’s shoes, speak to them. Getting the information from the horse’s mouth is by far the best way to relate to their situation.
Achieving this requires a careful blend of the right message and the right language because remember, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.
For example, let’s say you’re a social media management consultancy and you know the reason clients come to you is that they don’t have the expertise to do it themselves, but they also don’t have the budget to hire a full-time employee.
This is your message:
Don’t know what you’re doing? Don’t worry, we’ll do it for you.
The intent’s there, but it just sounds patronising and totally not on their level. You’re almost talking down to them.
This, on the other hand, sends the same message but with more tact, understanding and sincerity:
No-one can do everything but everyone can do something. Let us help.
The moral? Choose your words carefully and make sure your audience interprets them the way you intend.
What do you do to get the most out of your storytelling? Share your tips in the comments below, we’d love to hear them! 👇🏻