Using storytelling techniques as part of content marketing is a bit of an obsession of mine. I’ve been banging on about it for some time. Here’s why.

The words “let me tell you a story” or “once upon a time” tap into human memory and experience in a way marketers can only dream of. Mankind has been telling stories since the very first campfire, and we can see evidence of the stories our ancestors told thousands of years ago on the walls of the caves they lived in.

Myths and legends are the way our ancestors sought to explain the world around them, and to codify the rules and rituals that would bind societies together to guarantee survival. We use stories still to communicate with one another, to understand the world we live in and the way we interact with one another. Movies, books, video games even, are stories that hold up a mirror to reality.

So it’s no wonder stories pull at our emotions: we’re anthropologically hard-wired to respond to them!

Think about the way you interact with stories:

  • Stories paint pictures with words
  • They’re sticky—we’re predisposed to remember them
  • Memorable messages are more likely to be acted on …
  • And more likely to be repeated
  • This helps to cut through the noise—in an over-stimulated world we’re more likely to remember what we engage with

That’s why successful content marketing utilises storytelling techniques: to engage with audiences at a deep, almost subconscious level.

The thing is, with the dawn of web 2.0 and the so-called democratisation of media, everyone is a content creator. Don’t get me wrong here; I love the democratisation of media, I love the fact that anyone can have a voice, that bloggers can become influential without the backing of a centuries old masthead. But guess what: storytelling is an art, and who has it?

Journalists have it. They’re trained in it. It’s one of the reasons that Edge towers is packed full of journalists: natural born storytellers who can bring all of the tools of the trade to bear.

They use storytelling tools like:

  1. Metaphors: Tropicana using ‘Your Daily Ray of Sunshine’ to describe its product. Or on a deeper level, Coca-Cola using “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” which invokes the deep metaphor of connection and the ability of the brand to bring diverse people together.
  2. Archetypes:  Characters that recur time and time again in stories immemorial. They are present in every culture across the world, and we subconsciously identify with and understand them—so if you can associate your brand with an archetype, it can be enormously informative when crafting your brand stories, because you will be able to tap into these subconscious relationships and attitudes. There are a number of books dealing with archetypes—The Hero and The OutlawThe Hero With The Thousand Faces, and The Writer’s Journey are all worth a read.
  3. An understanding of narrative structure: how to structure you stories, develop characters; the three-act structure of setup, conflict and resolution.

So if you want your content marketing to work hard—to really resonate with your audience—you should think not just about your central brand story and your authority to publish, but about who is telling your stories, and about how you tell them.

Published by Richard Parker-  Head of Digital at strategic content agency Edge.  We help clients achieve their brand and marketing objectives by telling brand stories and deepening customer relationships using engaging content.