Not a process, method, or technique. Storytelling is described as an art … the “art” of storytelling.
And — like art — it requires creativity, vision, skill, and practice. Storytelling isn’t something you can grasp in one sitting, after one course. It’s a trial-and-error process of mastery.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, and rightfully so because storytelling has become a crucial component of the most successful marketing campaigns. It sets apart vibrant brands from simple businesses and loyal consumers from one-time, stop-in shoppers.
It’s also the heart of inbound marketing.
Storytelling is an incredibly valuable tool for you to add to your proverbial marketing tool belt. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide, to help you discover and master storytelling and weave gorgeous, compelling tales for your audience.
What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is an art form as old as time and has a place in every culture and society. Why? Because stories are a universal language that everyone — regardless of dialect, hometown, or heritage — can understand. Stories stimulate imagination and passion and create a sense of community among listeners and tellers alike.
Telling a story is like painting a picture with words. While everyone can tell a story, certain people fine-tune their storytelling skills and become a storytelleron behalf of their organization, brand, or business. You might’ve heard of these folks — we typically refer to them as marketers, content writers, or PR professionals.
Every member of an organization can tell a story. But before we get into the how, let’s talk about why we tell stories — as a society, culture, and economy.
Why Do We Tell Stories?
There are a variety of reasons to tell stories — to sell, entertain, educate or brag. We’ll talk about that below. Right now, I want to discuss why we choose storytelling over, say, a data-driven powerpoint or bulleted list. Why are stories our go-to way of sharing, explaining, and selling information?
Stories Solidify Abstract Concepts and Simplify Complex Messages
We’ve all experienced confusion when trying to understand a new idea. Stories provide a way around that. Think about times when stories have helped you better understand a concept … perhaps a teacher used a real-life example to explain a math problem, a preacher illustrated a situation during a sermon, or a speaker used a case study to convey complex data.
Stories help solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages. Taking a lofty, non-tangible concept and relating it using concrete ideas is one of the biggest strengths of storytelling in business.
Take Apple, for example. Computers and smartphones are a pretty complicated topic to describe to your typical consumer. Using real-life stories, they’ve been able to describe exactly how their products benefit users … instead of relying on technical jargon that very few customers would understand.
Stories Bring People Together
Like I said above, stories are a universal language of sorts. We all understand the story of the hero, of the underdog, or of heartbreak. We all process emotions and can share feelings of elation, hope, despair, and anger. Sharing in a story gives even the most diverse people a sense of commonality and community.
In a world divided by a multitude of things, stories bring people together and create a sense of community. Despite our language, religion, political preferences, or ethnicity, stories connect us through the way we feel and respond to them … Stories make us human.
TOMS is a great example of this. By sharing stories of both customers and the people they serve through customer purchases, TOMS has effectively created a movement that has not only increased sales but also built a community.
Stories Inspire and Motivate
Stories make us human, and the same goes for brands. When brands get transparent and authentic, it brings them down-to-earth and helps consumers connect with them and the people behind them.
Tapping into people’s emotions and baring both the good and bad is how stories inspire and motivate … and eventually, drive action. Stories also foster brand loyalty. Creating a narrative around your brand or product not only humanizes it but also inherently markets your business.
Few brands use inspiration as a selling tactic, but ModCloth does it well. By sharing the real story of their founder, ModCloth not only makes the brand relatable and worth purchasing, but it also inspires other founders and business owners.
The Storytelling Process
We’ve confirmed storytelling is an art. Like art, storytelling requires creativity, vision, and skill. It also requires practice. Enter: The storytelling process.
Painters, sculptors, sketch artists, and potters all follow their own creative process when producing their art. It helps them know where to start, how to develop their vision, and how to perfect their practice over time. The same goes for storytelling … especially for businesses writing stories.
Why is this process important? Because, as an organization or brand, you likely have a ton of facts, figures, and messages to get across in one succinct story. How do you know where to begin? Well, start with the first step. You’ll know where to go (and how to get there) after that.
1. Know your audience
Who wants to hear your story? Who will benefit and respond the strongest? In order to create a compelling story, you need to understand your readers and who will respond and take action.
Before you put a pen to paper (or cursor to word processor), do some research on your target market and define your buyer persona(s). This process will get you acquainted with who might be reading, viewing, or listening to your story. It will also provide crucial direction for the next few steps as you build out the foundation of your story.
2. Define your core message
Whether your story is one page or twenty, ten minutes or sixty, it should have a core message. Like the foundation of a home, it must be established before moving forward.
Is your story selling a product or raising funds? Explaining a service or advocating for an issue? What is the point of your story? To help define this, try to summarize your story in six to ten words. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a core message.
3. Decide what kind of story you’re telling
Not all stories are created equal. To determine what kind of story you’re telling, figure out how you want your audience to feel or react as they read.
This will help you determine how you’re going to weave your story and what objective you’re pursuing. If your objective is to …
Your objective and call-to-action are similar, but your call-to-action will establish the action you’d like your audience to take after reading.
What exactly do you want your readers to do after reading? Do you want them to donate money, subscribe to a newsletter, take a course, or buy a product? Outline this alongside your objective to make sure they line up.
For example, if your objective is to foster community or collaboration, your call-to-action might be to “Tap the share button below.”
5. Choose your story medium
Stories can take many shapes and forms. Some stories are read, some are watched, and others are listened to. Your chosen story medium depends on your type of story as well as resources, like time and money.
Here are the different ways you can tell your story.
Now it’s time to put pen to paper and start crafting your story.
With your core message, audience objective, and call-to-action already established, this step is simply about adding detail and creative flair to your story. Read more about our storytelling formula to help you with this step.
7. Share your story
Don’t forget to share and promote your story! Like with any piece of content, creating it is only half the battle — sharing it is the other.
Depending on your chosen medium, you should definitely share your story on social media and email. In addition, written stories can be promoted on your blog, Medium, or through guest posting on other publications. Digital stories can be shared on YouTube and Vimeo. While spoken stories are best conveyed in person, consider recording a live performance to share later.
The more places you share your story, the more engagement you can expect from your audience.