The Art of Story Telling in Marketing

By Geoffrey Sirumba – February 18, 2019

Is marketing an art or science? This is perhaps one of the most popular opening remarks in marketing classes. We all know that art is fluid while science follows a set of empirical principles thus considered to be a bit rigid. This discussion does not have a conclusive answer to support or to deny the above statement. However, in this context, we will have to look at marketing as an art. Storytelling is best described as an art … the “art” of storytelling; art encompasses creativity, vision, skill, and practice. Growing up as kids we witnessed various folklore that was passed from one generation to another regarding the conquest of our then heroes and heroines.

The way stories were created to make them memorable while at the same time pass on a crucial message to the listeners was fascinating in many ways. Examples of these include the Tales of Luanda Magere, How the hare lost its tail, Kinjeketile Ngwale, and Abunuwasi among many others. Relying on this storytelling technique straddling several generations, brands need to tell their stories to endear them to their customers and make them memorable. Brands need to tell their stories because it helps solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages. This makes it easy for the target audience to understand.

The need for fresh and relevant content is very important in making marketing communications. Formulation of a story should be in line with the companies values and it is the next frontier that brand managers need to exploit. The best stories are truthful, are infused with personalities, and involve characters that customers can comfortably relate. Further, brand stories should be structured in the old fashion way of a beginning, middle, and an ending.

When a brand is personified and a story is told that embodies human challenges you create a scenario that your customers can identify with and thereby creating an emotional connection with the brand. Do you sell primarily to seniors or to moms with young children? Aim to have characters of a similar age, or with similar interests.

Good stories should be entertaining, educational, universal, organized and memorable. This will be important when the marketer makes a call to action. On the other part of the story, there should be a conflict which elicits emotions and customers can be able to relate to the situation in which the character faces. The final part of the story should arrive at a resolution in which a solution is arrived at and winds up the story with a call to action.

The first step when telling a brand story is knowing the intended audience who will identify with the story. To this end, consumer research is needed to understand audience preference, attitude and beliefs. This will be important in uncovering buyer personas. After figuring out your audience another crucial step is coining the message you intend to pass to your audience. This is the most important aspect of effective marketing and should be done diligently. The message will be largely guided the marketers overall objective; to introduce a new product, to increase sales, to build brand loyalty, introduce new product features etc.

After this, the marketer decides the kind of story that they want to convey. Good storytelling is not only about the marketer’s intentions but about their brands and the solutions they offer. It's about emotions, experiences, needs and the written and unwritten images associated with these emotions and needs, in relation to what their brand evokes. Apart from being in line with the firm's objectives, the story should be consumer–centric this necessitates steering clear of the traditional marketing approach, including but not limited to focusing on return on investments. It should revolve around the life of the intended audience. At times, the audience dictates the kind of stories they want to be told by the marketer, with the advent of social media the control has shifted to consumers and brands have to listen.

Any medium can be used to tell a story, including blogs, film, print, social media channels and multimedia. Each medium elicits a different reaction from the intended audience, so stories must be tailored to fit. The key to success is knowing which story to tell in which medium. Short, snappy messages work best on television and the internet, while online conversations, conferences and seminars provide a personal connection.

Marketing activities that lend themselves to storytelling are content marketing, experiential marketing, testimonials, and celebrity endorsements. Content marketing is much more than creating, distributing and sharing content in order to engage audiences, generate leads, improve branding, and other marketing goals you can serve with content marketing. A content marketing strategy analyzes the different ways content marketing can be used across the buyer’s journey, the customer lifecycle and/or the different customer experience touch points but it goes beyond. Essentially, a content marketing strategy looks how content marketing can be used in a strategic way as such and with other marketing, customer and sales strategies. When developing a content marketing strategy the marketer must know the intended audience persona and what are their contents need and preferences. This will look at the information they seek when making a purchase, their buying journey and the various touch points As our world becomes increasingly well–connected through the advent of social media, blogs etc, consumers have many platforms to share their thoughts and opinions, therefore, user–generated storytelling will help to increase engagement, build trust and hugely expand firms reach.

Customer testimonials highlight the customer experience with your brand without the slick promotional gimmickry consumers are exposed to from print, TV and radio ads. In their less flashy and sales way, they build trust by veering from your brand "voice," standing out as candid and unbiased accounts of your company's value proposition. When crafting customer testimonials that will tell compelling stories marketers should select a captivating angle relatable to the customers.

Let your customers' testimonials add the colour and flare to your marketing message, which should stick to the facts. These third–party stories are simply more believable to readers than even the most straightforward truths delivered by a company spokesperson. So, let your clients tell readers how amazing your products and services are. The testimonials should highlight product benefits and attributes. The testimonial should validate your brand’s personal truth—what your products promise to do for the buyer. Focus on the identified consumer need that inspired your business.

Celebrity endorsements can also be used in storytelling whereby a celebrity acts as the brand's spokesperson and certifies the brand's claim and position by extending his/her personality, popularity, stature in the society or expertise in the field to the brand. The endorser should be attractive to the target audience in certain aspects like physical appearance, intellectual capabilities, athletic competence, and lifestyle. It has been proven that an endorser that appears attractive as defined above has a greater chance of enhancing the memory of the brand that he/she endorses. The personal credibility of the celebrity is crucial which essentially translates to their perceived expertise and trustworthiness. As celebrity endorsements act as an external cue that enables consumers to sift through the tremendous brand clutter in the market, the credibility factor of the celebrity greatly influences the acceptance with consumers. The success of the storytelling being passed depends on the compatibility between the brand and the celebrity in terms of identity, personality, positioning in the market vis–a–vis competitors, and lifestyle.

What audience needs do your products and services address? The user's story should be replete with facts and figures that substantiate your claims. As a marketer should be mindful in your thoughts that honesty and transparency are the tools to impactful storytelling. So, root your story in reality and be sure your message remains consistent across all content deliverables and channels.

Geoffrey Sirumba is Marketing Consultant in Nairobi. He can be reached via