Marketing as a Story

As a hybrid marketer who works with both traditional and digital marketing channels daily, the approach to marketing communication is the same regardless whether you are offline or online. A marketer has to be creative when it comes to communication, and one approach is to think of marketing as a story.

Many may think that a story must involve a plot, three-act structure, cast of characters and a linear story-telling approach. However, that is just one form of story-telling, albeit a prevalent one.

A story in marketing communication can be any narrative presented in any medium that conjures up desired imagery in a customer’s mind or evolves specific emotions. It does not necessarily have to read like a novel or visually flow like a film.

M & Ms’ “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” campaign is an example of a story that may not be seen as a story at first glance.

The simple phrase explains what the candy-coated chocolate differentiating point and at the same time, stirs the imagination of dirty hands full of smeared chocolate when holding a traditional chocolate piece. The story is created in the customers’ minds.

Marketing as a Story | Evolve & Adapt

SELL AN IDEA

All stories begin with an idea. And for marketing purposes, before you can sell customers the idea of paying for your product, you must be able to sell the idea of your product.

Prospects and customers must buy into the idea of your product first before they even consider purchasing it. The story works in engaging the prospects at the ‘awareness’ stage of the customer journey. Sometimes it takes some imagination to sell the idea of your product or service to a customer. Think of it as the inception of an idea.

“You need the simplest version of the idea-the one that will grow naturally in the subject’s mind. Subtle art.”

~ Christopher Nolan, Inception: The Shooting Script

If you can craft a story to sell the idea of your product, the next step is to figure out how to tell the story to convince people to buy your product.

To relate communication as a story back to strategy and tactics, crafting a story to sell is strategic. Deciding how to tell the story is tactical.

You need to choose the right mix of marketing communication tools to help tell the story.

The way the story is told can make or break it, even if the essence of the story is spectacular.

A fitting analogy is that of a film. The basic plot and premise can be compelling and full of potential, but the execution of the shots, direction and actual script may fail to deliver.

Thinking of your marketing communication in the form of a story can help you engage with customers better. Customers would much prefer to be told a story than sold a product.

As such, do not limit your story-telling to cold-hearted promotion and advertising.

One of the most effective pieces (in terms of click-through-rate and conversions) of email marketing communication that I sent out was not a sales pitch or the introduction of a new product. But, it was a real story of adversity I faced in the course of my work. The story connected with people and I got many positive responses from my subscribers.

Since then, I have also tried to incorporate some form of marketing as a story in my marketing mix, regardless of whether it is in traditional or digital marketing form.

“If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.”

~ Jay Baer, Author of “Convince & Convert”

Tell a story. Communicate. Engage.

J C Sum

J C Sum is a certified management consultant (TR 43:2015), an American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer (PCM®) in marketing management as well as a certified digital marketing strategist (SSG-WSQ accredited) with 11 years of experience specializing in search engine optimization, content marketing and analytics. He is the author of "Evolve, Adapt or Collapse" and has been featured on The Straits Times, Business Times, Channel News Asia, The Edge Singapore, CNA938 and Money FM 89.3.

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