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Marketing / Business marketing

Storytelling in marketing

We all love a good story, so how can we use storytelling in marketing material? It’s easier to tell stories when face-to-face with a prospect, but we can also use some storytelling concepts in our written marketing material.

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How to use a storytelling structure

A storytelling structure is easy to follow as we are all familiar with how stories work. Ros Jay, author of How to Write Proposals and Reports that get Results says writing using a storytelling structure has four components: position, problem, possibilities and proposal. Take Hansel and Gretel, for instance.

Position

Hansel and Gretel were left in the woods by their parents (woodcutter and stepmother), who couldn’t afford to look after them any longer.

Problem

They found a house made of gingerbread, but unfortunately it belonged to a wicked witch who imprisoned them.

Possibilities

They could try to escape or they could trick the witch. Otherwise they would be cooked and eaten by her.

Proposal

In the end the best option was to trick the witch by pushing her into her own oven so she burnt to death. Then Hansel and Gretel escaped and ran home.

Using this structure, if are writing a brochure or proposal, you first set the scene and make your potential clients feel you understand their situation. Often this means stating what both you and the reader already know, but you are establishing common ground.

"A storytelling structure is easy to follow as we are all familiar with how stories work."

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Once you have demonstrated you understand their situation, you can discuss their problems (you would probably choose a word other than ‘problem’) and how you can help. You may not write about possibilities, but considering your client’s options helps you state the benefits, rather than just the features, of your products or services.

In my view, this structure doesn’t work as well with web copy where your writing has to be more direct. You don’t have time in web writing to do much scene setting. The exception is the US style of long-copy marketing pages.

Storytelling in your case studies

Case studies allow you to demonstrate how your products and services work in practice or how other clients have benefitted from them. In other words, they are stories, and are powerful on the web as well as in your print material.

In a blog posting, Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow and All Marketers are Liars, itemises some of the ingredients of great stories that you can use to make your case studies powerful.

  • Great stories are true and trusted.
  • Great stories make a promise. They promise fun, safety or a shortcut.
  • Great stories are subtle. The fewer details a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story.
  • Great stories happen fast.
  • Great stories appeal to our senses.
  • Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience that spreads the story.

You can read the full blog post on Seth Godin’s website.

Have you used storytelling in marketing? Has it had an impact? Share your experience below.

Mary Morel

, The M Factor, works with individuals and organisations to improve their writing (grammar, reports, board papers etc.)

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