In 1997 the advertising slogan for Apple Computer was, “Think different.”
A television commercial based on this theme used black and white footage with voiceover to tell the story of a company whose vision changed the world.
In 100 words, we learn what the company is about — its personality and passion.
But this advertisement is more about their customers than it is about the company. The real hero of this story are the people who use the computers made by Apple.
The main purpose of this advertisement is not to sell; it is meant to make a connection with people.
With powerful narrative, Apple forges a relationship with their customers whose loyalty is grounded in a company that understands them and speaks their language.
The basic elements every good story must have
Storytelling is as old as mankind.
From cave paintings to the latest best-selling novel, people have used stories for various purposes — to perform religious rituals, to educate, or simply to entertain.
In the modern world, storytelling can be used in marketing to engage and connect with your readers. But to do so, you need to know how a story is constructed.
A story consists of five main components:
- Character (who)
- Plot (what)
- Setting (where and when)
- Conflict (how)
- Theme (why)
All of these elements must be present to craft a good story.
Even journalists rely on the who-what-where-when-why-how narrative structure to write their news stories. This ensures they have included all the relevant information for their readers.
The secret to writing great marketing stories that engage
Now is the time for me to reveal the plot twist I promised in the first lesson. In that lesson, you learned that the customer is king.
The secret is that your customer doesn’t want to be king. Your customer wants to be the hero of the story.
When customers play the role of the hero, they add an essential element to your marketing efforts: Proof that your product or service works.
A good example of a customer story is a case study or success story. The formula is simple: Begin with company background, then define the customer’s problem, explain how he solved it, and the positive results he experienced.
Other customers stories include testimonials, ratings and reviews for products or services, social sharing on sites like Twitter or Facebook, and comments on blogs.
Social proof is important in digital marketing. And stories are an excellent way to communicate such proof because they allow you to connect with readers on an emotional level.
What role do you, the digital marketer, play? Your role is mentor and storyteller, the experienced advisor who guides the customer with the content you publish.
Your marketing story has a happy ending with your customer winning the prize and your company profiting from the exchange.
How to tell a great marketing story
Great stories are universal. They don’t just stimulate the imagination; they resonate with us on a deeper subconscious level. They stir the emotions.
These stories are sometimes referred to as myths. The scholar Joseph Campbell wrote about the power of myths and how they affect our lives.
One of Campbell’s best-known ideas is the hero’s journey. This idea has been adapted by screenwriters to create movies that become box office hits. (Think of George Lucas and the original Star Wars movie as an example.)
Web content writers can use this storytelling method as well.
In his book, The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler explores the relationship of mythology and storytelling. He has adapted Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey for writers.
Following are the twelve stages that Vogler uses, with my commentary on how this applies to marketing stories. As you read this, imagine you are the hero of this story.
The Ordinary World
This is the traditional world of marketing and advertising, the status quo. You are faced with a dilemma: How do you reach your buyers directly online?
The Call to Adventure
Your website is underperforming; your web content is not getting you the results you want. Something must change, and change is difficult.
Refusal of the Call
Denial, fear of the unknown, or simply a wish to keep doing what you’ve always done holds you back.
Meeting with the Mentor
You meet a web content expert who gives you advice and training to help you on your journey to an optimal web presence.
Crossing the Threshold
You decide to leave the Ordinary World, the old rules of marketing, and enter the unknown world where there are new rules and approaches.
Tests, Allies and Enemies
When you enter the Special World, you are tested. You learn to make the most of influencers or allies in your industry and how to position yourself against your competitors or enemies.
You prepare to meet the challenge you face in the Special World. Knowledge is your greatest ally.
This is where you face your greatest fear (“This won’t work for me.” “What if I fail?”). The new way of marketing is a long-term approach with uncertain gains.
Success! Your persistence has paid off, but you are not out of the woods yet.
The Road Back
As you leave the Special World, you complete the adventure and bring home your prize of more website traffic and higher conversions. But there is more to learn.
You meet the final challenge of learning how to grow your business. The student becomes the master. You now have the formula to turn lead into gold.
Return with the Elixir
You return with a greater treasure: Not only has your website been transformed (optimized), you have been transformed in the process as well.
Your customers have stories waiting to be told
As I said in the first lesson, this is a journey of self-discovery. You have learned the secret of connecting with your readers and turning them into loyal customers. Now it’s your turn to tell their stories.
But before you begin, there is one more lesson on this journey that you must understand. It ties everything together and introduces one element that makes it worthwhile. Stay tuned for the tenth and final lesson of this course.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
- Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Third Edition. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007.