What is Storytelling in a Marketing Context?


Tens of thousands of years ago, Australia's aboriginal people left paintings in the earth which told one of the oldest stories known to mankind. It's the Aboriginal story of creation, in which ancestral spirits populated the barren planet Earth with all living things. That story had a profound impact on the Aborigines and on history as a whole. The fact that the story is still told today is a testament to storytelling's power. Although, it's important to tell your story in a way that is relatable and easy to understand.

The Aboriginal story of creation is one of several "dreamtime" stories, as they're called. Like most ancient stories, dreamtime stories are instantly remembered by people of all backgrounds. They're not overly complicated with advanced vocabulary, and they are interesting. The concepts of the stories can be expressed in almost any language and most listeners will understand the basic ideas. That communicability is always present in great stories and should be present when you tell your brand's story.

Today, though, stories are often told about concepts few of us understand. Take pay-per-click advertising as an example. Everyone knows what advertising is, but few know how the pay-per-click variety works. Yet, many businesses need to talk about it when they tell their stories...or do they?

Jargon is vocabulary that is only used to talk about specific topics. For example, the word "riff" refers to a series of notes played on a guitar or other instrument. People who don't play instruments may not know that; therefore "riff" can be called "musical jargon." Jargon complicates storytelling, which is why some marketers simply don't use it, or they reserve it for communication to readers who will understand it. Sometimes explaining how a technical thing works is necessary, but often it's not. Sometimes you just want to convey something relatable, so that your market can emotionally connect with your brand. 

Take this blog post by Rand Fishkin as an example, in which he explains he's leaving his company to start a new business. Take 10 minutes to read it, because Mr. Fishkin does a great job telling a story. There's not a lot of technical jargon or details about boring, strategy-related things in it. (He briefly explains what his new company is about, but leaves the details for later) It's a story that everyone can relate to, telling how he got started in the industry and what's happening in his career now. Notice how some of the topics are a bit personal but none are things the average person can't relate to. That's going to help his personal brand as he moves forward and I would bet his personal brand is going to be a big influence on SparkToro. 

At this point in SparkToro's existence, it doesn't matter if nobody knows what the new company really does. Rand can figure out how to express that later, and how to reach the right people with the words. Most of the people who read the blog post know Rand's name and the industry he is a part of, and will enjoy the story this post tells. They'll want to read it and as they do, they'll begin the process of building their perception of the SparkToro brand. That's how every brand is built, essentially. 

Storytelling can be implemented in all kinds of marketing materials. You don't have to tell a long story. You can distill it down to a few words if you think it's best. Tell your three-word story on a billboard beside the highway. If it's relatable and interesting, people will remember it (just make sure you include your brand name and logo on the ad). Later on, you can add the meat to that story in other communications, such as email newsletters, blog posts or vlogs. Tell your stories to the people you know will be interested in them, and speak with your brand's voice. Do not be generic. You'll gain loyal followers if you keep the communication steady.

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David Kalla