How Marketers Can Tell Better Stories To Captivate Target Audiences

From cave paintings, to oral tales, to movies and texting, telling stories is a human instinct. Stories are the best way to communicate emotions and information as well as modify human thinking and behavior. Directors create movies to paint a vision of how they see the world and share their point of view with the audience. Novelists invoke a change in the reader’s heart by eliciting a captivating experience full of life, meaning, and feeling. 

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Constant noise in the consumer’s ear makes them flip from one channel to another. Marketers need to breathe life into their brands by storytelling in order to grasp the consumer’s attention.

Stories are powerful. They stick with the consumer. They cause action. They captivate. Great content marketing leads to an increase in revenue and customer retention due to social sharing, word-of-mouth, and positive brand image building. 45% of a “brand’s image” to a consumer is based on how a brand represents and shares about themselves.

Stories grab people’s attention and cause consumers to care about a brand. At funerals, for example, stories about the deceased are shared. It turns out, people remember stories 22 more times than they do facts.

But how are stories created? It is a given that each story must have a beginning, middle, and end. Here is a presentation to help keep a reader intrigued while telling a persuasive story. 

When “storytelling,” marketers must form an authentic connection with the consumer based on creativity and inspiration. The secret to achieving this connection is knowing the audience. 

Get to Know the Target Audience: 

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1. Segment the Audience

In order to cater to the audience, the marketer must fully understand who the audience is - their hopes, fears, dreams, activities, passions, etc. An easy way to do this is to listen and be empathetic to the consumer’s concerns as well as observe analytical behavior and data. From there, specific target personas should be created.

To understand what types of stories will resonate, special attention should be paid to what stories consumers are sharing with others. Use this information to influence the brand’s own story developing process. What type of information does the consumer seek from the brand? 

OneSpot and Marketing Insider Group surveyed over 1,500 U.S consumers and discovered 68% of consumers prefer informative content, 17% say entertaining content speaks to them best, and 11% find inspirational content valuable - different approaches are necessary depending on the consumer’s preference. Consumers want quality content that is relevant to and personalized for them. In short, know the audience.

2. Relate to the Audience 

Geoff Mead, the founder of Narrative Leadership Associates stated that a company’s foundation must be authentic and never a sales pitch. The audience does not want to be treated like a consumer; they want to be treated like a human. Inspire the brand’s story by tapping into life experiences all humans share like families, relationships, triumphs, and journeys. 

Often, people attend movies because they see themselves/want to see themselves as the lead and have the emotional adventure whisks them away. The same study be OneSpot determined that 92% of consumers want ads that feel like a story. Life is dynamic and challenging - full of ups and downs. Find the struggle the consumer is having and highlight it in a story. 

Use language that best speaks to them and make the story completely customer centric as opposed to brand centric. Let the consumer and how their lifestyle is portrayed tell the brand’s story. Coca-Cola does an excellent job in their video montages. By portraying people living carefree lives, they put people at the center and make audiences want to share that “happy” feeling. 

Stories that are relatable or familiar radically increase dopamine levels in the brain. In a TED talk with expert David JP Phillips, Phillips explains the science behind storytelling. Dopamine is a hormone that increases a person’s focus, motivation, and memory. When a story is emotionally engaging or similar to an audience member’s personal experience, dopamine levels rise. This leads to the consumer remembering the brand’s story as well as the emotional feeling associated with it. 

The whole point of telling a story is to touch and relate to the followers based on the brand’s own experience and values. This requires honesty.

3. Honesty

Brand following and loyalty is impossible without trust. Marketers relate to their audiences through honest and vulnerable communication. Vulnerability is the key to great storytellers sharing their experiences. 

In order to be honest, however, the brand needs a clear idea of who they are as well as their brand voice. Before crafting a story for the audience, the brand needs to know what they stand for, their objectives, and the value and benefits they offer consumers. 

Mark Truby, the Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for Ford Motor Company, states that a brand’s story can change consumer perceptions, especially if the marketer wants people to repeat the narrative on the brand’s behalf.

With honesty, consumers can see the credibility and value of the brand’s hard work and passion, setting the brand apart from competitors. Think about when a brand comes out to make a public speech addressing good or bad publicity - this humanizes the brand and exposes the brand as a trustful company. 

John Stapleton co-founder of The New Covent Garden Soup Co. says, “You have to tell the truth and then spin the story for marketing purposes. Obviously you need good products but the success of many brands is linked to emotion. A strong story based in reality will bring your message and values to life in a way the consumer can believe in.”

A story that is trustworthy elicits the chemical hormone oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin leads to forming bonds of trust with others. The more honest a brand is, the more trustworthy they are, the higher their brand loyalty and following.

4. Simplify Content

Every marketer attempts to make their brand stand out. Yes, the story needs to stand out amongst all the other competitors, but it also needs to be easily understood. 

On a day to day basis, people consume a plethora of words, but hardly retain any of them. In fact, OneSpot’s study revealed that 79% of readers skim content anyway. Make the brand’s story simple by creating skimmable, digestible content that is written in a clear and expressive narrative.  

Rework content repeatedly and use compelling hooks and titles to captivate readers. Since 50% of the brain is wired to receive visual input (according to OneSpot), simplify the storytelling process by turning to visual aids. Analytics show that most people share and engage with a brand’s video content. Infographics are a visually pleasing approach to storytelling as well, especially since they are shared on social media three times more than other content.

AgencySparks infographic explaining how to tell a story though video content.

5. Invoke Wonder

Retain and engage the audience by making the ordinary in the story extraordinary. Consumers are hooked when stories are relatable but not predictable. As Pixar writer Andrew Stanton advises, make the audience put things together to hold their attention. Give them 2 + 2, not 4. Keep the audience on their toes by never telling the same story twice, but different variations of the brand’s story. This excitement and wonder releases endorphins in the brain which ultimately will associate a happy feeling with the brand.