The Power of Storytelling


Storytelling is at the heart of all effective communication. If you want your message to stand out in a (very) crowded marketplace - and be passed on – it’s far better to smuggle it out as an engaging story that talks at an emotional level than as a recitation of ‘features and benefits’ that operate on a purely rational basis.

How do you get across your brand message in a world where there’s so much noise? How do you cut through the distractions and ‘connect’ with your target customer? What might be stopping people from becoming a customer even when your proposition is so clearly aimed at them?

These are fundamental questions for marketers; questions, which, left un-answered, may result in complex and expensive communication strategies that somehow never quite seem to deliver.


Why is this?

For all the effort that goes into designing targeted messages there’s something missing from most marketing that has the potential to be very powerful, precisely because it’s so simple: the ‘story’ that a brand tells the customer.

Not the story a brand would like to tell about itself but rather the story the customer actually hears when they see your logo, hear your name or consider your product. 

Consumers make sense of the world by assigning a recognisable ‘role’ to the different players they encounter within it. In the world of business this equates to the consumer needing (very quickly) to see a brand as being relevant to them – to have a role to play in their personal story.


Why does this matter to marketers?

Consider a TV drama that doesn’t fit a recognisable pattern (‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Lost’ for example) – can you describe what you saw? Can you share the story easily? Can you remember what caused you to watch it in the first place?

It’s actually quite hard to get someone’s attention (let alone retain their engagement) if they don’t quickly ‘get’ what your brand is all about. Conversely, if a brand does become strongly associated with a particular theme, it tends to come to mind whenever that idea crops up – without the brand owner needing to do anything more to promote it.

A story is incredibly powerful because it works on an emotional as much as a rational level. It causes people to feel as much as think. People remember stories before facts.


What are the universal types of story?

Much has been written about the theories behind storytelling including the ‘basic plots’ theory which argues that all books, plays, films etc. ultimately conform to one of just seven key themes:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

When you know what to look for, such ‘plots’ are often easily discernible in the shortest of TV commercials. But, when it comes to getting an audience to remember your brand, it’s perhaps more useful to consider the theory of ‘character archetypes’ – hero, villain, side-kick, mentor etc. – and which ‘role’ your brand is best suited to playing.

A customer is far more likely to consider your brand if they have a clear idea of, not just what you do, but of how you can play a useful role at a key point in their story


So, just consider these two questions:

What’s your customer’s story likely to be? And what ‘role’ do you want to play in it?


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