Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Want to Engage Customers? Start with Storytelling.

Satta Sarmah-Hightower
September 27, 2019

3 minute read

From market research and original data to visuals, brands use several tools to craft messages to consumers.

But too many brands talk at consumers rather than connect with them. The proof is in the numbers: According to Deloitte, 31% of Americans use ad blockers on desktop and 20% do so on mobile.

To avoid this fate, you can take an approach that makes your brand messaging much more compelling — storytelling.

The power of stories

Information presented in a story is 22 times more memorable than facts alone, according to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner and as reported by Forbes.

Storytelling is incredibly powerful because stories elicit emotions. Brands now have a very finite amount of time to catch consumers’ attention, and the best return on investment you can give your audience for sharing their time is to deliver useful content that entertains, educates, or enlightens them.

Tell a human story

Several brands already do this well. Airbnb, for example, has a section on its site called “Stories from the Airbnb Community” that features video interviews with guests and hosts. One video highlights Airbnb host, Tessa, who went from working 100-hour weeks as a film location manager to battling a neurological disease that left her unable to work. According to the story, being an Airbnb host not only gives Tessa income, it allows her to connect with and meet people from all over the world, helping her to overcome the loneliness she experienced after her diagnosis.

By sharing these stories, Airbnb humanizes its brand and highlights the life-changing impact its platform has on real people. With its storytelling approach, Airbnb demonstrates that one of the most effective ways to tell your brand’s story is by letting your customers do it.

Think multi-platform

To most people, there’s nothing particularly engaging about monetary policy, but the Cleveland Fed has turned that notion on its head with its multimedia storytelling. Its series, “On the Ground in Eastern Kentucky,” features photo galleries, videos, audio, maps, and long-form content about economic challenges and opportunities in the region.

The Fed’s efforts showcase why brands sometimes must forget about marketing and just tell an authentic story. There’s also another important takeaway here: there’s not just one way or one medium to accomplish this.

Be data-driven

You can’t just tell a story for story’s sake — data can be a powerful tool to drive your strategy. Case in point: NBC Sports. The company already is gearing up for the 2020 Olympics and is using data to deliver personalized experiences on its owned channels. A Bravo viewer, for example, will see different Olympics content than a CNBC viewer. NBC Sports employed a similar strategy for the social content it produced during the 2018 Winter Olympics. The network posted 60-second clips with intimate profiles of each athlete and his or her journey to the Games. It then used social listening tools to uncover what elements of the videos resonated most with its audience. Armed with this data, NBC Sports now has invaluable information it can use to fine-tune its storytelling approach for other live events to better engage its audience.

Embrace storytelling

Brands can become better storytellers by being less company-focused and more customer-focused. Be human, be authentic, and be conversational. Customers can tell when you’re selling them, so if you truly want to connect with your audience, don’t just market to them — tell them a good story.

Satta Sarmah-Hightower
Satta Sarmah Hightower is a freelance writer who covers topics such as healthcare tech, government IT, business and personal finance for a wide range of brands and publications. A former journalist, Satta previously worked for AOL and the Tribune Company. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Boston University and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School.
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