Storytelling Beats Selling, Here’s Why

Stories have existed for thousands of years. We look to stories for entertainment, comfort and insight into the human condition. If you can tell a compelling story through your content, you’ll engage with your audience on personal level that other forms of marketing cannot.

One of the highlights of 2015 was this 90 second ad produced for Western Sydney University. I was well and truly blown away. If you haven’t seen it, check out the link below. It’s an excellent example of storytelling used in the context of marketing.

The video follows Deng Thiak Adut, a child refugee from a war torn country. He survives, migrates to Australia and pursues an education in law. 

Audiences expect entertainment or insight from stories. When done right, they’re drawn in, keen to listen and deeply engaged. If the story is perceived by the audience as another promotional gimmick, the audience will switch off.

How do you tell stories that draw your audience in and connect with them on a personal level? Here are three considerations for doing so.

  1. We see the journey

Stories are about a protagonist’s journey of getting from A to B. For example, in the Western Sydney University ad, we see Deng Adut’s journey from child fighting for his life in a country rocked by terrorism to being a successful lawyer fighting for justice in Australia. There’s a stark contrast from where he starts and ends up. It’s compelling because we follow Deng Adut’s resilience and perseverance to defy the struggles before him and succeed.

Or think about Apple’s story. From a start-up founded in Job’s parent’s garage to the most valuable company in the world. How Jobs made that happen is the story that’s captured the public imagination. It’s the journey that makes a good story and compels audiences.

  1. Story’s first. Brand’s second.

When you’re telling a story, you want your audience to be utterly engaged and drawn in. If the audience feels that the content is promotional, it’ll do the opposite.

Of course, the purpose of all marketing materials is to somehow assist in the generation of sales. Branding shouldn’t disappear entirely, but since the purpose of storytelling is to draw the audience in by telling a compelling story, less is more.

  1. It’s an authentic story.

It’s in the interest of the marketer for audiences to be engaged and personally connect with the story. In order to do this, the story needs to be authentic.

How do you tell authentic stories? Choosing a true story helps. Fictional stories, which are just as compelling as true stories when done right, take significantly more time and resources to craft and develop. It’s not just in the choice of the story, but the telling that determines it’s authenticity.

Assessing whether your content feels authentic or not is largely subjective. If you’re writing a video script or an article, it’s worth reading the copy out loud. Reading the copy out loud allows you to ‘get out of your own head’ and gain better objectivity. Reading it out lout to friends, colleagues and getting their feedback will assess how authentic your content feels. If five out of the five people feel the telling of your story is fake, forced or unbelievable – chances are that’s how your target audience will feel about it. Crafting a compelling story is difficult and it usually requires many drafts before you have something that’s truly authentic and engaging.

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