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The Power of Narrative: How to Use Stories in Your Content Marketing

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Content marketing is about making connections. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in improving profits and stimulating growth in our business that we forget what leads to both of those consequences. Content marketing exists to create a relationship between a brand and its target audience, and it often accomplishes this through providing resources that meet an individual’s needs, whether that be as simple as answering a question or as personal as resolving a deep concern.

Content marketing isn’t as forward as traditional marketing, which boldly invites its audience to invest in a product or service. Instead, content marketing builds trust and loyalty between the audience and the brand. Thanks to these differences, content marketing has the potential to be a powerful storytelling medium. And by using stories in their content marketing, brands can strengthen their own stories and foster the creation of a narrative between them and their audience. Here’s how you can use stories in your content marketing.

Why Is Narrative Effective in Marketing?

Image via Flickr by lookcatalog

Billee Howard of Forbes put it best when he said, “In today’s age of brand experience, it seems that emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results, and effective storytelling is at the heart of this movement.” Present your audience with statistics and data, and they may believe that your product can improve their life. Those numbers, however, will not be nearly as memorable as a simple story that touches their hearts. Stories connect to emotions, and as much as we may try to stifle those feelings, they almost always come through.

When someone feels those emotions because of a story you told, they feel like you understand them, like you can relate to them, and thus they feel they can relate to you. They experience a connection, thanks to what rhetoricians call “identification.” You present a story with characters to whom your audience can relate, and your audience becomes a part of that experience. And if done well, they won’t soon forget it.

What do these connections and emotional experiences do for your brand? They prove to your audience that you’re more than just another name that wants their money. They drive home your core messages. They make your brand memorable. Those affected by your stories will share them with friends, extending the reach of your brand and driving more people to your doorstep. Stories in the form of content help your brand become an experience.

What Does Storytelling Look Like in Content Marketing?

We’ve been a bit theoretical up to this point, so how does storytelling take form in content marketing? You need to tailor stories to your strategy, your brand’s mission, and of course to the end-goal of improving connections with your audience.

Take Airbnb for example. Airbnb, for those who don’t know, is an online service where homeowners and other property owners can offer parts of their property (or all of it) for rent. The site is big with travelers, who use Airbnb to book a stay in the home or attached apartment of those willing to share. Such places are often cheaper than local hotels. Airbnb doesn’t personally manage the properties, but rather they provide a space through which travelers and property owners can interact.

Airbnb tailored content on their website to solve an easy-to-anticipate problem with such a service: How do I know I can trust the person I’m staying with? Isn’t it weird to stay in a stranger’s home? In answer, Airbnb started having these property owners tell their stories. These short videos feature the property owners, such as Tessa, who absolutely loves Camden, England. They tell their stories and show the filming team around, illustrating that they’re just normal, honest, trustworthy people.

These simple stories aren’t emotional in the sense of making a viewer necessarily sad or happy, but they attempt to communicate a feeling of comfort. They show that Airbnb’s audience can trust these people, and thus they can trust the brand.

How to Tell Stories With Content

How can you tell a story like Airbnb and the many other brands out there that integrate storytelling into their content marketing? Just like any other piece of content, your story should address some kind of problem. Maybe it’s something related to your brand, such as a need to improve consumer perception, or maybe it lies with the audience, such as in the Airbnb example: a concern with the business’s service. Your story may solve that problem, or it may also illustrate a problem in the audience’s life that your brand can solve.

Once you know what type of problem you’re working with, you have a purpose that’s driving your story. That purpose should dictate all the decisions you make, especially with what emotions you attempt to convey through your narrative. Maybe you want to communicate anxiety over a problem your audience faces, and then comfort once your business shows up to save the day. Maybe you want to make the audience laugh, or maybe you want to make them think. Whatever emotion you need to influence, let it guide the audience to the content’s purpose.

As you develop your story, build it toward a certain persona, someone who captures the core of your target audience. Maybe you’re telling a story to stay-at-home moms and dads who are exhausted by noon, or maybe you’re talking to a nine-to-five workaholic that needs a break. From the very beginning of your story, make that audience clear, and the viewer or reader will start identifying with that individual, allowing the written experience to become their own.

Finally, weave your brand’s values throughout your story. If you care about families, prove it. If you value honesty, then display that. By tying your brand’s values to your story, your audience will come to trust and relate to your brand, making them more likely to invest in you and return to you in the future.

A story is far more than a beginning, middle, and end; it’s a carefully crafted experience that builds connections and stimulates emotion. Stories are part of the foundation of human nature (just look at why we spend so much on movies and novels), and content marketing can tap into that potential. We can’t wait to see your story take shape.

About the author

Michael Walton

Michael Walton is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist dedicated to delivering engaging content that satisfies readers' needs and leaves them wanting more. When he's not writing content, you may find him writing novels, writing about writing, reading, or hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.