Marketing with Strategic Storytelling

Marketing with Strategic Storytelling


Storytelling is a craft as old as humankind. It long predates the written word as a form of communication, a way to record history, and a method for teaching. It links us to our ancestors and to each other. Despite its name, storytelling is an interactive communication form in which we SHOW others something important by illustrating a scenario, rather than simply TELLING them facts and figures we think they should know. The results of good stories are “sticky” lessons and information that strike us with awe, stay with us, and move us to action.

What is Storytelling?

A story has characters. It has conflict and color. A vivid setting. Tension. A plot twist. It involves looking audience members in the eye and saying, “Have you ever?” or “Do you know what I mean?” And they wait on the edge of their seats for these brilliant details, twists and turns, points of connection, climaxes, and resolutions. A story can be as simple as a joke or as complex as an epic tale.

Ultimately, a story has an ending-one that leaves us laughing, crying, smarter, wiser, or filled with wonder. Stories are memorable. Some, unforgettable.

How Does Storytelling fit into Marketing?

As marketers, we strive to connect with our audiences in meaningful ways. We tap them on the shoulder and say “Do you need what we offer? Would you like to connect with us?” Too often, we recite information, facts, dates, keynote speaker names, panel topics’ that we want our audience to know. Our websites include About Us information about how long we’ve existed, awards we’ve won, and services we offer. (As a test, take a look at your web content. How many times do you use the word “we” vs. the word “you.”)

A better approach is one of storytelling, of relating vivid details of real human beings, their successes and failures.

Good storytelling is an exchange of conversation and key information, always keeping the needs of your audience in mind. This is both and art and a science. It’s also a soft sell. Once they’re fully engaged and struck with awe and wonder, your audience will come to you on their own because they’re educated, informed, and connected.

Storytelling vs. Strategic Storytelling

Bill Baker of BB&Co eloquently makes a distinction between storytelling and strategic storytelling. He notes that storytelling generally involves a company spilling out whatever it wants to brag about. Strategic storytelling, on the other hand, is savvy marketing that relates to your audience on a one-on-one level and “establishes context and relevance for your message.” (View his entire blog post here). According to Baker, strategic storytelling can “shape the way people think, focus their understanding, and compel them towards desired actions.”

Where to Start

Customer testimonials are a type of story, but standing alone these don’t do all the heavy lifting to actually tell your story. Collect these and other customer experiences, employee anecdotes, and company history.

Often, the reason why your association was founded, a hurdle overcome, or a problem you’re still solving make excellent, compelling stories.

Weave all these threads together for a strategic story that SHOWS the world what your association is all about. Include bits of your story in emails, postcards, your website, events, and in your face-to-face interactions. Then stand back and watch as this interactive, collaborative approach fills seats, attracts new members, and builds long-term loyalty.

People Relate to People

The fundamentals of storytelling, much like the pirate’s code, are more like guidelines than actual rules. Not all stories have a villain, a love story, or even a happy ending.

But all good stories evoke a sense of wonder and connection.

Storytelling works because people relate to other people, not to brands or products.

What’s your story? How might you use it to inspire your base?

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