How to Use Storytelling to Increases Customer Engagement Authentic stories connect with their audiences emotionally and intensely. More than most other marketing strategies, they engage consumers and maintain customer loyalty over the long term.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Mention storytelling, and the image in your mind is of a group of children sitting on a floor listening to someone read from a book or telling a story from memory. Where is the connection to digital marketing? It is a simple connection. Picture the children's faces: they are spellbound and entirely focused on the story being told. Storytelling can help digital marketers engage with customers in an equally powerful way.
The psychology of storytelling
Storytelling has a tradition that reaches back thousands of years but has not lost any of its strength. Human psychology researchers have found that people find it easier to relate to anything they hear through a narrative. While they may eventually remember a brand's slogan or the tagline of an advert, a story creates an emotional connection.
That emotional connection runs more profound than a simple value proposition or a list of product features. Brands that harness customer emotions find that customers engage with their messages more efficiently and remain engaged throughout. Humans find it far easier to tune out simple brand messages than well-told tales.
Consider social media channels, for example. Humans are drawn to other people's stories. Many find it near-impossible to resist scrolling through a compelling life story and react to the sub-stories that constitute the overall narrative.
It may be hard to determine how much more engaged consumers are with brands that have mastered storytelling. But psychologists agree that a compelling narrative beats even the most customized tagline.
How to use storytelling for your brand
How can brands tell a good story? Great stories harness the natural curiosity of humans. A mesmerizing story draws people in and keeps their attention. It is far more memorable and relatable than a list of product features.
Brands utilizing storytelling utilize this natural human curiosity to connect to potential customers. Potential customers want to know more about the company than the item they purchase, especially if it is highly valued. They want to know their chosen brand's values and find out what motivates the team behind a brand name.
Of course, most businesses exist to create profits, but some of the most successful companies also have a bigger purpose. Take cosmetics company Dove, for example. For several years, the brand's campaign for natural beauty has told a story of diverse female beauty and body positivity. Few, if any, of the brand messages focus on product features.
Online shopping behemoth Amazon is another example of storytelling to build a brand. Whether they love or loathe founder Jeff Bezos and the company he has made, most Amazon customers know Bezos's "rags-to-riches" story. Today's Amazon started as an internet book store, shipping orders from a garage.
How to tell a great brand story
Great stories come in different formats, but most have a standard structure, including a beginning, a crisis and a resolution. Brand teams can draw on this classic format to tell their story.
An idea is often all it takes to begin building a brand. Most startups are built on the premise of recognizing a problem and offering a new solution to the problem. Brand storytelling does not need a crisis as such. However, sharing some of the more challenging times of building a business can render a brand approachable and draw an emotional reaction from consumers.
Emotions are a vital part of generating engagement. People buy from people rather than faceless corporations because they feel a connection and form a relationship. For many brands, working with brand ambassadors has become essential. Telling the ambassadors' story interwoven with the brand's own story builds a compelling narrative.
The resolution part of storytelling is when the brand becomes the solution to the problem that marked the story's beginning. This is when professional marketers need to be careful not to present a sales pitch but to encourage genuine interactions between the audience and the brand.
How storytelling supports customer retention
Storytelling creates positive emotional connections between brands and consumers. As long as that connection exists, consumers stay loyal to the brand. Even though competitors may launch similar or superior products, the emotional connection tends to beat pure product features. Storytelling fosters loyalty more than other types of marketing can.
Once the initial brand story has been established, marketers can branch out and add new facets to the story. A simple way to imagine those extensions is to think of them as new chapters or sequels even.
For storytelling to succeed and result in long-term customer retention, the brand story must be consistent across different channels. This is true for the initial story as well as its sequels. Even if a brand changes direction, it is essential for the brand team to develop a connection from one part of the story to the next. Authenticity and consistency help with that.
Consistency in storytelling should never be underestimated. Most consumers interact with brands across several touchpoints. Potential customers soon notice a lack of authenticity in the brand voice without consistency. If that happens, the brand story can quickly appear fabricated. Once that happens, consumers may lose trust in the brand and desert it. Telling a real, consistent story helps avoid this from the beginning.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful tool for brand teams. Leading brands tell stories visually, verbally and through audio. Authentic stories connect with their audience emotionally and intensely. They engage consumers and support long-term customer retention better than most other marketing strategies.