To learn how to better capture prospective buyers' attention, compel action, and close sales, we have to start this story in a cave in 30,000 B.C.
A prehistoric man has gathered his community together to tell them a story about large beasts battling in front of him. As he tells his tale, the children shudder in fear while the adults nod their heads knowingly. His story has captured their attention, provided information, and made them each feel powerful emotions.
Fast-forward to 2007. Instead of a cave, it's a conference center. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, has gathered people together to deliver a keynote speech and unveil the revolutionary iPhone 1. He starts by introducing the problem: cell phones weren't good enough. He then explains that since phones couldn't yet do what people needed them to, Apple had to come up with a solution.
Even though this was, ultimately, just a sales pitch, Steve Jobs' captivating words had people sitting at the edge of their seats. He made a technical topic exhilarating to even the average consumer. People still talk about his iconic speech to this day. Steve Jobs used the art of storytelling to sell iPhones, just like the prehistoric man used storytelling to provide education and entertainment.
You can learn from both Steve Jobs and the prehistoric man. Let's explore why storytelling works and how to use it to inspire action in your prospective customers.
Storytelling is about communicating and connecting with others through a narrative. Humans crave storytelling. That's why we watch movies, read books, ask our moms to tell us bedtime stories, and gossip with friends. Good stories help us feel, connect, learn, imagine, and understand other perspectives.
Some stories are fictional, like Star Wars. Others are based on something real but are fictionalized and embellished, like the aforementioned story of the caveman. Many are factual and informational, yet still exciting and powerful, like Steve Jobs' story of the first iPhone.
Storytelling is not the same as presenting information. Unlike bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, a story has a journey, characters, and emotions. Think about a presentation where the presenter is merely restating data points. There's nothing to relate to or grab onto.
Now think about TED Talks, those educational videos that often go viral. TED Talks are also presentations in a lecture room with a slide projector, but people actually like watching them. The audiences laugh, cry, get goosebumps, smile, and applaud. The TED Talk YouTube channel has over 2.1 billion views because the presenters have mastered the art of storytelling. Instead of reading bulleted lists, speakers at TED Talks introduce a problem, a plan of action, setbacks, and a solution, making it easier for the to audience relate to and better understand their message along the way. That is storytelling.
If you've ever cried during a movie or even during a sad commercial, then you’ve personally felt the power of storytelling, but why is it able to affect us in such a significant way? Storytelling works because it invokes empathy in the listener. In a PNAS study where both a storyteller and listener's brain activity were viewed through functional MRIs, they found that "the listener's brain activity mirrors the speaker's activity with delay." This means that during a good story, the listener begins to identify with the speaker. They start to feel what the speaker feels and want what the speaker wants.
Storytelling is also an effective way to convey a message because it activates several parts of the brain at once. This is why your heart begins to race during a suspenseful scene in a thriller or why your mouth starts to salivate when you see a particularly juicy burger in a Red Robin commercial.
In marketing and sales, storytelling's ability to create empathy and connection is particularly useful. It helps people visualize how their life could improve if they buy your product or use your services. When your prospect watches a customer success story video, they'll begin to identify with your happy customer. They'll want to experience that same journey your satisfied customer did. If the story is convincing enough, they will be compelled to take action, like making a purchase.
Storytelling also makes people feel less alone. When someone realizes they have a problem, like productivity issues at work, they may feel like they are the only one in the world facing their specific problem. By using storytelling in your content and communications, you can show this consumer that they aren’t as alone as they might think, and there’s also an existing solution to their problem.
When done right, storytelling also builds trust, connection, and credibility. In a sea of websites, content, and sales pitches, storytelling can set your brand apart. Storytelling is a great way to differentiate your brand from your competitors’ by highlighting what makes you bette.
Need help with brand storytelling? Connect with Steel Croissant today.
Your product or service doesn’t need to be fun or flashy for storytelling to work. No matter what your product is, from software to sewage pipes, there's a story to tell.
Storytelling is particularly important with B2B businesses. A narrative helps you explain your highly specialized product or service in an understandable, consumable format. Mike McHargue, a science-backed media expert, explains, "Reality is complicated, and what a story does is allow our brains to build a simplified, usable model of reality. And that's what our brains crave."
If you use storytelling in marketing and sales in place of product documentation filled with technical jargon, your prospective buyers will be able to better understand what you're offering, why you're offering it, and how their lives will improve once they have your product.
Considering 70% of B2B buyers value your brand reputation and values, storytelling is also a useful tool to add a human element to your brand. Through storytelling, you can show who the people behind your brand really are and what you stand for.
From Hamlet to Harry Potter to a great Amazon commercial, all good stories share a similar structure and character types. Donald Miller introduced the StoryBrand framework to explain how all good stories, including brand stories, work. This framework has seven parts:
Let's look at how the framework applies to brand storytelling!
The hero is not your brand or your product. The hero is the customer. The story is about your customer or the people whose lives your brand has changed for the better.
Your brand is the guide. You're the character who shows the hero how to have a better future, like Gandalf who leads Frodo on his journey. You're essential to the story, but you're not the main character.
The hero has a problem. Their current software is leading to security issues, their office chairs keep breaking, or the shipping company they're currently working with is letting them down. They are lost, confused, and in need of help.
Here's where you—the guide—step in. Your brand has taken the hero under your wing. You can show them a solution and a better way to meet their goals.
The call to action is more than a button on your website. It's the rallying call that compels the hero to take action towards a solution. Here's where they choose to buy your product, schedule a consultation, or take another step in the right direction. There may be setbacks and missteps along the way. They may consider your competitors as well, but they eventually decide to take action.
So what does the happy ending for your company look like? Well, for you, it’s when you've made the sale and turned the hero into a customer. But that's not the happy ending you'll talk about in your storytelling. The happy ending here is a happy customer. Their problems have been resolved, and now their future has a better outlook.
A good story is filled with emotion, action, and tangible results. It's often told from your customer's perspective or, at least, centers around their story. It includes real data, like "thanks to this brand's help, my sales have tripled this quarter," but it's not just bullet points in a sales pitch. It's human, relatable, and aspirational.
Let's look at how B2B companies are using storytelling to compel action, build brand credibility and identity, and ultimately close sales.
In this story, the hero is Sund & Bælt, an infrastructure company that works to maintain bridges. Their problem: monitoring the structural integrity of bridges is very complicated, difficult, and dangerous. The solution: IBM's Maximo Application Suite. You won't see any mention of IBM in the video or web page until you're already deeply invested in Sund & Bælt's story and conflict. Once it's revealed that IBM's product is the solution, you'll identify with the hero and understand why IBM is a great brand to work with.
Unlike the other examples, Northrop Grumman's video focuses on one of their employees instead of a customer. This story is about an employee who became paralyzed in a tragic accident. Northrop Grumman worked hard to make sure this employee could still work and live the life he wanted. The moral of the story is that Northrop Grumman cares about its employees and accessibility. What makes this video extra powerful? Northrop Grumman didn’t actually have to tell the viewer any of that. Instead, they let the employee say it for them. This emotional video demonstrates the company's values, and will ultimately help people better understand who they're working with if they choose to work with Northrop Grumman.
Square offers a gated whitepaper that highlights its customer's success stories. Out of several B2B content types, customers said that whitepapers led to 82% of their buying decision-making. It can't be a basic whitepaper though; it has to be compelling. Square chose to center its customers' success stories, including quotes, interviews, and real data from real businesses that Square helped. You don't need to take Square's word for it. Listen to their customers instead.
MailChimp's homepage proves that good storytelling does not require a production team, a 5,000-word story, or a huge budget. Sometimes all you need is an outstanding web copy.
MailChimp's web copy centers around what their email service can do for the reader. It doesn't focus on what MailChimp does. It focuses on what its customers will be able to do when they use this product. The first thing you read on the website is "Get down to business and grow sales." This is abbreviated storytelling. There's still a hero, guide, conflict, plan, call to action, and resolution, it's just summarized into one line that describes what the reader will gain if they use MailChimp.
Now that you can see the value in brand storytelling, it's time to work this important tool into your marketing and sales strategies. Let's look at how you can start using storytelling in your brand's messaging to capture attention, compel action, and exceed your goals.
A good story is one that's told to the right audience. You likely wouldn't read a children's book to a manufacturing company CEO, so you should make sure you understand who your story is for. Who is your target customer? What problems are they facing? What are their goals and motivations? What's getting in their way? How does your product solve their problems? To be a good guide in a story, you have to understand your hero. If you don't know these answers, your story will lack the right perspective or empathy. Go talk to your customers, look through market research, and find these answers.
This step takes time and fine-tuning. To tell a story, you first need to understand what your brand's story is. This includes understanding your brand's mission, values, history, culture, purpose, products, and differentiators. Any storytelling should reflect your core brand message.
What do you want to accomplish with this specific story? This depends on your current business objectives. You, of course, may want to increase sales and revenue, but you also may want to increase brand awareness, capture a specific buyer persona's attention, improve a damaged brand reputation, recruit talented new employees, get people involved in a cause you care about, or get them to sign up for your lead-nurturing email newsletter.
Identifying and developing your brand's buyer persona is imperative to sell a story that attracts the right audience. Discover everything you need to know about buyer personas here.
You don't need exceptional creativity to tell a good story. You can even find a good story that already exists. In many cases, you can go look for a customer's success story to tell. Ask around within your company to see if a customer or employee has a great story that fits your goals.
Marketing stories can be in the form of blog posts, podcasts, whitepapers, webinars, one-on-one communications, emails, newsletters, advertisements, case studies, videos, and more. Use your specific goals, audience, and narrative to help you decide the best format for this particular story.
Believe it or not, you already have all the pieces you need. You know the hero and the guide. You know the hero's problem, what path you'll offer, what action to call them to, and the outcome to advertise. Now, you just need to turn it into a consumable format.
Don't be afraid to get help. To improve their storytelling, IBM recruits talent specifically based on their storytelling ability, but you can also outsource some of the specialized tasks. Regardless, make sure your story is true to your brand.
Storytelling requires an audience. For the listener to feel empathy for the storyteller and to understand their message, there needs to be a listener in the first place. It's time to get your story to your audience by publishing the content, sending the email, airing the commercial, or meeting with your prospective buyer.
Storytelling is hard. You may not get it right the first time. That's why it's important to make sure your message is resonating. Ways to test the effectiveness of your messaging include user testing, focus groups, A/B testing, reviewing content analytics, interviewing your prospects or customers, exit surveys, and much more.
You are actually the hero of this story. We're just the guide. Now that you're equipped with the right storytelling tools, you'll be able to better meet your marketing and sales goals.
If you want more guidance to tell your brand's story, Steel Croissant is here to help. Contact us to start telling powerful stories of your own.
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