As humans, we crave stories. They help us make sense of the world, understand different points of view, and make us feel things.
That’s the power of storytelling for brands. As marketers and sellers, making our prospects feel something is the holy grail – because we humans act on our emotions. Our rational brains just justify the decision to buy, click or register nanoseconds later.
Great campaigns, websites or email journeys are simple ideas expressed as a story. And they make the reader (aka your prospective customers) the hero – not the product or the brand. That’s what makes them feel relatable – and helps you tap into all the right emotions to get your reader to act.
However, too often we start the other way around. If your core value proposition opens with this is why we’re awesome and this is what we do, you’re just describing a solution in search of a problem. Start with the problem (or opportunity), and you’re seeing that value from your audience’s point of view.
After all, that’s what a core value proposition should do – it describes the main reason people choose or return to your business over a competitor. And that’s always a good story.
We’ve spent more than a decade helping companies and creative agencies with narrative-led campaign strategies and core value propositions. Here’s three ideas that work, every time.
1. Reframe, and make your customer the hero
All good stories take a hero on a journey that ultimately sees their character evolve. Through various turning points and setbacks, the hero eventually achieves success, growth, freedom, love, belonging, confidence.
These are the things we all aspire to. And they are things your business might help its customers achieve.
Almost every story we read or watch follows a formula:
- The hero (your customer) has a problem to solve. Sometimes there’s also an external enemy – like the unpredictable risk of natural disaster.
- They meet a guide (that’s your brand) and can now see a way forward (that’s your service or product, which makes it easy to feel protected from that risk)
- This helps them avoid the terrifying pitfalls of going with an alternative, and achieve their goal.
Working this way, we’re problem-solving rather than selling.
Unfortunately, when we do the opposite and make our business the hero we end up with campaigns like this insurance ad which assumes customers care about the analytical expertise in the team they’ll never meet.
As someone who has been through the painful process of applying for insurance, or making a claim, I’m fairly certain the internal number crunchers are the people who protect the insurers’ interests – not mine.
2. Find one compelling customer insight
Let’s say a campaign’s brief is to drive long term business for lifetime annuity products as part of a defensive portfolio allocation.
That’s not a story.
The story is really about retirees who are so frightened of running out of money in retirement, they’re not spending it. Many Australian retirees leave up to 90% of their super untouched, and that’s the problem we can help them overcome. What’s more, we can help them conquer the external enemy on everyone’s minds: inflation and cost of living worries.
What would you do in retirement if you didn’t have to worry about outliving your savings? What if you knew your income kept up with inflation? That’s a powerful story for a campaign or email journey.
3. Make it real, make it personal
You already have thousands of great stories at your disposal in the everyday experiences of your team and your customers. And when you can make real people the hero of your story, it makes it that much more authentic and personal.
For example, when we helped a major law firm develop its graduate recruitment campaign, we went deep to uncover the real-life stories of belonging, ambition and success. We framed the narrative around the culture of the firm, and recorded unrehearsed videos with provocative questions. The question you really want answered – like can I work here if I have a tattoo?
That led to some genuine laugh-out-loud content with all the right feels.
Here are a few ways to find the stories with impact inside your business:
- Listen to customer call centre transcripts (transcribe them in Otter). Look for patterns – what are the common problems? How are customers describing the way they feel? What are they trying to achieve?
- Interview your sales teams. Ask them for specific examples of how customers are using the product or services, or how they fixed a problem and what that meant for the client.
- Talk to your founder. Ask what inspired them to start this business, and what keeps them motivated today.
- Talk to your executive team. Ask them what often surprises people about the business, and what’s the most important thing they’ve learned about your customers.
Once you have all these great stories, create a source folder of quotes and contact details so you can put them to work across your:
- Social post carousels
- Email journeys
- Ad campaigns
- Web copy
- Internal strategies.
Writing is not just about getting things down on paper. It’s getting things into the minds of other people. Your stories can build trust, take teams on a crusade, and inspire change. Or they can just make people smile.
If you want help uncovering the stories inside your business, please get in touch.
Unit 2543-53 Bridge Road
Stanmore, NSW 2048
Subscribe to the W. Insider
No junk. No horn-tooting spam. Just some useful tips and relevant updates. Every once in a while.