What Stories Are You Telling?

Everywhere you go these days, people are looking for stories. Broadway plays, movies, puppet shows, video clips on YouTube – all are being watched by people hungry for entertainment.

Now, with the rise in social media, businesses are finding that customers expect to be entertained through marketing, too. Communication has become less linear and more holistic.

That’s why stories are so effective.

Stories create pictures in our minds and stay with us for a lifetime. Think about the stories you enjoyed as a child. Those same stories can help you navigate through life’s unexpected pitfalls in ways nothing else can.

Young children who listen to fairy tales seem to have an easier time accepting big, somewhat scary things they have no control over (as in going to a huge mall with their mom, surrounded by lots of strangers).

A book I read as a 13-year-old – The Diary of Anne Frank – prepared me (unexpectedly) for a trauma in my own life a few months later: my mom’s death. Having already internalized some of Anne’s own fears and experiences – who was about my age when she wrote her journal entries, I felt like, somehow, I had something to cling to during that time.

From my own experience, and I’m sure yours too, you can see that stories are very powerful. Companies that use stories in their messages will discover that people are often more willing to connect with them … and show loyalty to their products and services.

One company, StoryWorldwide.com, believes we’re living in a “post-advertising” age, where advertising-as-interruption is over.

People can now CHOOSE what they want to hear. “We connect brands to customers by telling engaging and entertaining stories that audiences really want to hear,” says CEO Kirk Cheyfitz. “Imagine that!”

They’re not the only company adapting to this change. Content Marketing Institute is another company focusing on stories as the core of good business communication.

At SocialMediaExaminer.com, a book co-authored by CMI’s Joe Pulizzi – Managing Content Marketing – received attention from Patricia Redsicker, a frequent book reviewer for SME. She says the book is “a reminder to all business owners and marketers that we are all storytellers, and we need to figure out how to develop stories that will win over our audiences.”

Four Great Story Lines

Lois Kelly, an entrepreneur/marketing expert, wrote a book five years ago about engaging customers through story: Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. In it, she lists what she considers the top nine types of stories people like to talk about. I’m only listing four of them here:

David vs. Goliath – This is the classic “big guy vs. little guy” … and the little guy wins. (Example: Southwest Airlines “conquering” the big carriers)

Avalanche Coming – It’s exciting to be one of the first to hear about a new trend. (Example: The Motley Fool offers their newsletter subscribers the “inside scoop” on up-and-coming companies – those that offer huge potential dividends to investors.)

Personalities / Personal Stories – Personal stories with life lessons are especially powerful when shared by influential people. (Example: Lee Iacocca’s successful rescue of Chrysler from a downward spiral in the late ’70s and early ’80s)

How-to Stories / Advice – Kelly’s book, Be the Noodle: Fifty Ways to Be a Compassionate, Courageous, Crazy-Good Caregiver, is a combination memoir/how-to manual on taking care of an aging parent. Kelly put together a great video on the book. You can watch it here:

You can read about the rest of these “story lines” in Kelly’s book, mentioned below under Resources.

Two Great Methods for Sharing Stories

Case Studies – Case studies, which I covered in the September 2009 issue of this newsletter, are perfect storytelling tools. Similar to magazine feature articles, these marketing tools give close-up views of individuals whose problems were solved through using a company’s products or services.

Casey Hibbard, author of Stories That Sell, has become an expert on these. (See Resources for more info.)

Blogs – Blogs are also great platforms for telling stories. An increasing number of companies today have some form of blog where they interact with customers, sharing information in a more personal way.

If you haven’t yet made the leap to start a blog, you may want to get some ideas from my May 2010 article, “Blogging for Business.”

Coca Cola’s Story

One company that’s decided to get serious about storytelling in their own marketing is Coca Cola.

According to an article published four months ago on MarketingWeek‘s website, “Coca Cola no longer relies on traditional ad agencies for creative ideas, instead taking a collaborative approach to storytelling and content creation, according to its global advertising strategy head.”

“Content excellence” is the new buzzword now.


Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing (by Lois Kelly) – Great resource for anyone wanting to get a closer look at how they can use storytelling in their own business.

Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset (by Casey Hibbard) – This book truly is a guidebook for learning how to tell stories so that customers and clients will WANT to listen to you! Hibbard’s blog is good too. Take a look here.

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story (by Peter Guber) – Guber’s own expertise in the area of storytelling has been mostly in the movie industry, but his experience with establishing emotional connections with an audience applies to any industry.

The Art of Purposeful Storytelling (video) – Peter Guber’s passion really shows here.


This post originally ran as an article in the February 2012 issue of The Write Stuff.

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