Why are some brands so successful in retaining customers? In view of the omnipresent information overload, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain the attention of the target group. There is often good storytelling behind these success stories. Learn why this technique works, how to develop your own story, and how it can be spread.

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Definition & added value: What is storytelling and how does it work?

Storytelling is a technique for conveying messages, knowledge or other desired information. One uses the knowledge that stories attract attention better than the presentation of facts. The stories can be true or fictional. Whether written, spoken, in pictures or as a video – there are many ways to achieve successful storytelling.

When you tell stories you simplify complex things and you are also very good at addressing emotions. This promotes the learning effect. What is conveyed with the help of stories arrives better in human memory and stays there longer. A study carried out by Chip and Dan Heath found that after business presentations, more than 63% of the audience remembered the stories told, but only 5% remembered specific information.

The reason for this is that people create thought patterns as they develop. What best fits the existing schemes will appeal to a person better. Because stories follow these patterns, they memorize themselves so well, especially when emotions are also involved. Charles Barlett showed with the “War of the Ghosts” study in 1932 that every person has their own thought patterns and therefore interprets stories individually.

Storytelling can therefore be a valuable tool for companies, for example to strengthen their brand, increase sales and improve customer loyalty.

Research has shown that storytelling is not just a method in content marketing, it is a fundamental pattern of human thought. The following illustration shows the different, psychological effects of storytelling:

Areas of application of storytelling: Marketing, education, politics & Co.

Most of all you are probably interested in how storytelling can benefit your company. But it is also interesting in which other areas storytelling is consciously used in order to achieve a certain goal. Overall, the use of this technique is typical for the following areas:

  • Marketing and PR :
    Whether it is about promoting a certain product or cultivating the company’s image, the emotional component of the story plays a major role in storytelling for marketing.
  • Politics:
    Politics is about conveying your own political message emotionally and in a memorable way to voters or another target group. Storytelling is therefore part of everyday political life.
  • Education:
    Well-done tutorial videos on YouTube are the best example of how storytelling helps with learning. This applies to both children and adults.
  • Journalism:
    In journalism, reports are a typical form of storytelling. In this way, for example, the conditions in other countries can be made clearer to readers, viewers or listeners than through simple messages.
  • Psychology:
    In psychology, one works with fictional stories when it comes to developing problem-solving strategies or initiating thought processes.

For companies, storytelling is of the greatest importance in marketing and public relations. For one, you can use it as a powerful advertising method to promote sales of individual products. On the other hand, you strengthen your brand.

Storytelling builds customer loyalty. Because it can convey emotions, attitudes towards life or a sense of togetherness. You will attract attention through the entertainment value of the stories. If activating feelings also come into play, people will identify more quickly with your company or your brand.

Telling stories: What is necessary for a good story

You develop a good story step by step. There are a few things you need to consider for a successful story. The answers to the following questions will help you come up with ideas and successfully implement your storytelling.

What do you want to achieve with storytelling?

Would you like to attract attention with an emotional commercial, maintain your company image or associate your products with a positive attitude towards life? Storytelling in marketing needs a clear goal. Summarize this in one sentence that you keep in mind as the story develops.

Examples are: “Customers should associate our products with joie de vivre and lightness.” Or “The story should shape our image as a traditional manufacture.”

Which target group do you want to address?

As with all marketing campaigns, storytelling must be geared towards your target audience. Because it depends on how you address them, which content is suitable for the story and which channels you use to distribute it.

Analyze who the story is supposed to reach, what these people are engaged in, what lifestyle they lead and how they communicate with each other. Also, age, profession and certain attitudes are important features.

What is the story about?

Keep the story simple. Storytelling is particularly memorable when the story follows a pattern that most people have stored in their minds.

There are some typical courses of action that are often used for storytelling in marketing and therefore have good potential for success, for example:

  • Funny misunderstandings arise.
  • The main character faces a challenge that she eventually overcomes.
  • Someone is in need and gets help.
  • Two different characters meet and after some difficulty find each other.
  • The protagonist solves a problem in an unusual way.

In what form would you like to tell the story?

Decide whether you want it to be a true story or a fictional one. If storytelling is based on real facts, it can be about part of the company’s history, the history of the development of certain products or testimonials from customers or employees.

With a fictional story, you can construct any connection to the product or company. Sometimes these stories just address strong emotions without being closely related to the brand. Also consider whether you want to tell a complete, self-contained story or just highlight highlights or give hints.

How is the story structured?

Classic stories are structured in three parts: at the beginning they introduce the protagonists, in the middle part they face a special situation and at the end there is a resolution. It is important that all phases build on each other logically.

The target group should be able to identify with the main character. If there is a certain tension in the middle section, it will attract attention particularly well. In the end, a problem is often solved, often in unexpected ways.

From which perspective is the story being told?

Storytelling means that someone tells a story. When designing your concept, consider who it should be. In many stories, a neutral outside person takes the narrative position.

There is also the opportunity to tell the story from the perspective of the people involved. These can be fictional, but also real people such as founders, employees or customers.

Email marketing can be that simple

Communication tools for storytelling in marketing

While storytelling is often associated with viral commercials, there are many other ways to tell stories. For example, public speeches and posts on social media platforms also contain storytelling elements. When choosing the means of communication, be guided by the preferences of your target group.

The following options are available:

  • Texts:
    These are texts that are published in print media and / or on the Internet, for example in the company blog or on social media.
  • Audios :
    You can also make audio recordings available online or have them broadcast via radio stations.
  • Pictures:
    This includes both photos and drawings. Storytelling with pictures is possible in print media and online.
  • Videos:
    Whether on YouTube, on TV or in the cinema, storytelling for marketing is largely done through videos and films.
 textAudiophotosVideo
benefitseasy to produce and distributeConveying additional impressions through speech technology, music or noisesfast and effective delivery of messageshigh expressiveness through a combination of different sensory impressions
disadvantageAttracting attention is difficultlack of visual stimuli, therefore less attentionProducing or selecting suitable images is demandinghigh expenditure for production

The different techniques can be combined very well, as the multimedia reports of some online magazines show. There you can read texts, click through slide shows and play audios and videos. This appeals to different senses and uses interactive elements to attract attention.

Examples of successful storytelling in marketing

Apple has used storytelling successfully for its marketing and PR purposes right from the start. This includes not only commercials, but also the legendary speeches by Steve Jobs and stories about the founders and the brand. The commercial for the iPhone X with its bokeh function also tells a story. In connection with a somewhat uncomfortable situation for the protagonists, the little film clearly presents the new function.

The Edeka Christmas commercial “Heimkommen” from 2015 is legendary. The film plays very strongly with emotions, initially triggering the negative feeling of sadness. Of course, at the end there is a positive resolution and also a message appropriate for Christmas. The spot went viral so quickly that there were some pasties, for example from Pornhub, which also focuses on a senior who was neglected at Christmas.

“Gothic Girl”, a Hornbach commercial from 2014, also went viral very quickly via social media and gained international attention. The very emotional story addresses exclusion and, from the father’s point of view, helplessness. That touched a lot of people. Only the unconventional solution to the problem at the end has to do with Hornbach.

7 tips for effective storytelling

Do you already have an idea and a rough concept for your storytelling? Check this against the following points. Because some features are typical of particularly successful campaigns:

  • Authenticity:
    Use your stories to convey a credible message that fits your company.
  • Emotionality:
    Address emotions to get attention and stay in memory. As the examples presented above show, these do not have to be exclusively positive feelings.
  • Simplicity:
    Storytelling for marketing can’t be too complicated. What is needed are simple stories that anyone can quickly grasp.
  • Getting the message across:
    the story will attract attention. Direct them to your message at a suitable point.
  • Brand in the background:
    Let the story take effect first and keep the brand in the background. In the case of many successful spots, this is only shown at the end.
  • Create brand identity:
    convey your central brand identity with the help of storytelling as a message. From this story you derive your entire content marketing so that a uniform overall picture in the sense of the corporate identity is created.
  • Enable interaction:
    Encourage interaction with your target group. There are many options for doing this, from commentary on the story to photo campaigns and fan fictions.

Always see these tips in the context of your specific situation. Under certain conditions, there may also be good reasons to deviate from one or the other note.

Don’t forget to spread the story

You invest time and money in good storytelling. To make sure it pays off, you need to actively promote the stories. Your company website is suitable for this. Tell your company story in the “About us” category, present your products with the help of stories or keep a blog that you regularly fill with relevant content.

Social media has a very special meaning in connection with storytelling, because your stories can be shared here. Good stories go viral and, in the best case, can give you a wide reach without doing a lot of your own. Whether Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, always pay attention to the special features of the individual platforms.

Collaborate with the press and take advantage of opportunities for interviews and company portraits. You also have the opportunity to contribute interesting stories. If necessary, publish written and illustrated stories in your own customer magazine. You can use print media to reach target groups who do not use the Internet as intensively.

Radio and television are also useful in many cases to spread your stories. On the one hand, this applies to commercials. With a little luck and good relationships with the journalists, they will also report on your company editorially.

Conclusion: stories with a lasting effect

With good stories, you can attract attention and bind customers to your brand through emotions. This effect does not occur immediately; it takes some time and a well thought-out strategy.

Build a brand image through storytelling and cultivate it with further stories. Don’t just think of promotions, think of all of your content marketing.

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