Imagine that you’re meeting someone new, at an event or a dinner party. You’d ask questions to get to know them better, right? When we meet someone new, we want to know about their lives, their views, beliefs and to find similarities with our own. The same applies to your brand. To really make your brand memorable, you need to make it tell a story.

We’ve been conditioned to tell and listen to stories since our earliest days. The bedtime story is a ritual in many family homes. That doesn’t change as we get older – although we may move away from books as our main source of stories, to comics and movies.

Stories around a campfire

Even cavemen were keen on a good story. The oldest form of storytelling is said to lie deep in some caves in France. The Chauvet Cave paintings depict different animals, including bears, horses, bison, and lions. The true meaning of these paintings are now lost to us, but they do highlight that we have been telling stories for a very long time.

Our ancestors also used to gather around fires to tell stories. Not much has changed. Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, enjoys gathering his team around a fire to tell stories. He says, “Storytelling is the best way we have of coming up with new ideas.”

Stories connect to customers

As a brand, you want to connect with your customers. Telling your story is a key part of this. With a well-told story, you can shape how people see your brand. Similar to how you connect with others through common experiences and values, customers connect more with a brand that they can relate to. People buy from businesses that they like. If they enjoy the stories that you share, they’ll return time and time again.

Apple is a brand that’s nailed storytelling. Watch any Apple product reveal and you’ll see storytelling in action. Its most recent keynote showcased the company’s developers and the hard work they have put into creating Apple’s features and apps. The story told is one of dedication and missed family dinners. It makes you buy into Apple’s products, not just as high tech pieces of kit, but as labors of love.

“Great brands and great businesses have to be great storytellers,” Apple Store Chief Angela Ahrendts once said, “we have to tell authentic, emotive, and compelling stories because we’re building relationships with people and every great relationship has to be built on trust.”

Employees benefit too

This doesn’t just motivate customers to purchase products. It encourages employees to do more. To raise their game. Great storytelling results in improved employee engagement, better customer service, better retention and increased profits.

Marketing failing stories

Many marketers might believe that they’re already good storytellers. But simply having a content plan in place doesn’t mean you tell good stories. At its core, storytelling isn’t about what we do.. It’s about who we are.

When a marketing campaign lacks storytelling, it shows in the lack of customer engagement and how people respond to it. Think of all those billboards out there with BUY ONE GET ONE FREE emblazoned across them as a way to get attention. Yes, a customer might visit once to get the offer. But to keep them coming back consistently you need to tell them your story and have them relate to it.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 65% of organizations are still in the early stages of implementing a content marketing strategy. In over half, there’s only one content marketer to serve the entire organization. Only 38% of UK marketers state that they have a documented content marketing strategy.

In all of these cases, for various reasons, marketers don’t understand who they are trying to reach, what’s important to those people, and why they will interact with a brand’s content. That’s why (according to LinkedIn) 95% of content fails to connect with its audience. Sadly now, it seems, content is created to go ‘viral’ instead of being of value to a customer.

So how do you create good stories that resonate with audiences?

Think back to a time when a story really grabbed your attention. What made it good? It probably contained some element that you could relate to. By making stories relevant, you can get people’s attention and hold it. Make those stories informative and they’re more likely to be shared across people’s networks. Instead of aiming for virality, therefore, you should be aiming for relevance and utility.

Relevance: Relevant stories need to talk about the everyday successes, concerns, and challenges of your customers. Think about their desires, their needs, and their wants. Think about their values, and what issues they focus on. Then consider how your brand can become the hero in their story. For example, Airbnb highlights hosts in different countries and provides travel inspiration through its dedicated magazine.

Utility: Make sure your content is useful for your audience. Again, knowing particular pain-points and concerns can help you with this. Nike provides inspiration, running clubs, music, and tips through the Nike+ running app. At the last count, some 18 million people were using the app.

The goal of your stories is to communicate with your people and to build a community. Importantly, this community needs to feel empowered by your content and to feel like it has made a difference in their lives.

Stories must be real

However, your stories must be authentic. Consumers can smell a fake story from a mile away. PepsiCo was caught out by misleading customers into believing that its Naked Juices were healthier than they actually were. It had to change the labels on some juices, like its ‘Kale Blazer’ drink that contained more orange juice than kale.

Shift to stories

Marketers need to make a shift from prioritizing content to creating stories. It’s storytelling that will differentiate your brand. Good stories are engaging, relevant, useful, believable and aspirational. They have the power to transform the way we see the world. Which is a noble cause for any brand.

Good storytelling is a delicate balance of evoking the right emotion, creating human connections and understanding the motivations of your audience. Getting it right can be a challenge for businesses, but it’s worth doing because stories bring meaning to your brand.