As marketers, we use storytelling to help make our ideas stick. We create stories to help prospects understand our products, use company stories to build trust and transparency with consumers, and include stories in sales pitches to help persuade.
In the not so distant past, I embarked on a journey to grow NeilPatel.com to 100,000 blog readers. At the end of every month, I shared my traffic stats and the changes I’d made. That storytelling strategy went on to help my blog reach over 100,000 views a month — in only about eight months.
Why does storytelling work?
Competition in native advertising and social media marketing is fierce. And, the rate at which great content is being produced and published on the web and across the media channels is expanding. Our readership is drowning.
Most people scan web content, looking for something that stands out. If they don’t find it, they’ll leave.
Visual stories and corporate storytelling can connect the dots and get people to ACTUALLY read your great content and take action. This is the essence of successful media marketing.
If you want to increase your potential customer conversions, then start captivating your target market by making emotional connections through storytelling.
Storytelling is like a vitamin. When it gets into your readers, it permeates their whole being and fights every objection that might otherwise stop them from becoming loyal customers.
In short, it’s an amazing secret weapon when it comes to your marketing strategy.
In this article, I’ll explain the five simple steps you can improve your potential customer conversion rate by combining storytelling and data.
The breakdown of what you’ll learn is:
- What Storytelling Is
- The Elements of Storytelling
- How to Use Storytelling to Increase Conversions
- Build Authority Through Storytelling
- Storytelling Success Stories
Step #1: What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is the art of communicating your idea, message or event, by creatively weaving words, images, and sounds into a narrative. Visual stories, written stories, and verbal stories – this is the content we love.
When you tell a true story, your message is perceived as authentic. In the same way that live events get more retweets than general tweets on social media channels, your content will impact the lives of your target market, and improve your credibility.
Why should you use corporate storytelling in content marketing? We breathe visual stories. Even in the Stone Age, humans understood how to tell stories that evoked interest and made that emotional connection.
And, it’s one of the most effective ways to engage and persuade your audience.
Humans are born storytellers and adore visual communication. Storytelling gives life or meaning to a scenario and makes that emotional connection, provoking feelings of ecstasy, sorrow, or peace, and captivating your audience. This is exactly what you need when it comes to your digital marketing strategy.
It is little wonder that posts with visual stories and visual communication generate more Facebook and media channel shares than any other content type.
As it turns out, visual stories and communication (e.g., infographics, videos, memes, screenshots) get widely shared on major social media channels.
Your potential customers aren’t looking for another sales pitch or a proposal that sounds too good to be true. They’ve heard enough of those.
For example, when you write, use relevant images and great visual stories that pique people’s interest.
Or, if you’re recording a podcast, you could use emotion-triggering music and sounds. For video creation, you can use words, images, visual stories, and sounds at the same time.
A study conducted by Forrester Research found that 88% of executives and organizational decision-makers long to have conversations, not pushy sales presentations.
I usually publish new infographics every Friday, and the results have been amazing.
You can also create visual stories and content and submit it to authoritative media sites and platforms, such as Slideshare, Vimeo, and Animoto. This helps you gain a new target market and potential customers for your business.
Corporate Storytelling in Persuasion
Persuasion is the master key that will unlock your conversion vault with your potential customers. Robert Mckee was right when he said that “Storytelling with persuasion trumps statistics.”
Marketing is for people, and people are emotional beings.
Our brains are wired to respond to emotional connections and triggers. Storytelling is the most natural source of those triggers.
So, how do stories persuade a targeted group of readers or potential customers to take action? That’s the goal of setting up a content marketing strategy and writing in-depth content.
Moment of truth: What potential customers perceive to be true will ultimately guide their actions and decision-making processes. Consumer perceptions may or may not be accurate, but they’ll live by them, nevertheless.
When people visit your website or your media sites, what truth do you instill in them? Do you give visitors the hard sell, when they’re still trying to get to know you?
Instead of starting with “once upon a time,” or some variation of it, weave your story into your content. Stories can even appear on your headline, introduction, and, most importantly, on your landing page.
Add experiences, case studies, research studies, and significant results that you’ve helped your customers achieve. These are the foundation of your story.
I’ve used storytelling in the past to engage my readers, as well. For example, I shared a story on how spending $162,301.42 on clothes made me $692,500.
Personality: The Norwegian author Rune Belsvik once said that the concept of story was “one of the first things that came to the world.”
Our personality is born out of stories. We’re created to share and listen to stories, to fall in love with visual stories. So, storytelling is a natural tool to help grow your audience and increase your conversions.
In the same way, storytelling gives your content new flavor and amplify its benefits, because it’s coming from a “personality” – a set of characteristics that makes you special and appealing to others.
In the beginning of your content, open strong, and establish your story. In the middle, build interest in the message.
Highlight the benefits of the topic and close with a call-to-action that’s persuasive, not pushy.
David Siteman Garland, founder of The Rise To The Top, uses this strategy to write his copy. He starts out his story on a strong note, gradually evokes interest by showing the results in the middle, then calls his readers to action at the end.
Here’s the beginning:
Here’s the middle of his copy, where David builds interest through success stories:
And finally, the call-to-action at the end:
Note: Established bloggers and internet marketers who have built solid businesses use content segmentation to improve their conversion rate. And, because they’re creative at storytelling, they’re able to experience greater levels of success.
The sooner you master the art of storytelling, the better for your brand and online business. Social media is redefining storytelling in a significant way. Know your audience and be authentic in your written and visual stories.
You’ve already gone through a lot in life and have endless stories to share.
I don’t believe that you should make up stories; instead, you should tap into the wealth of stories from family, friends, customers, entrepreneurs, and brands.
Then, align those stories to the audience you’ve come to know like the back of your hand.
Step #2: Learn the Elements of Storytelling
When you’re telling or sharing a story with your potential customers, you want to achieve a specific outcome.
You want enough general knowledge to take your content marketing efforts to the next level. Then, make sure to include the following elements of storytelling.
A Defined Target Audience
Have you defined your audience yet? Before you can successfully tell a story, there must be a qualified audience to enjoy it. Most people get it backwards, if they do it at all.
But, you have to define your target audience first, because they’ll, in turn, define your product both in and out of social media marketing.
As time goes by and you build relationships and engage with your potential customers and target audience, they’ll send you great feedback that will help define and improve your product.
So, how do you define your target audience and your potential customers clearly? There are several ways to go about it, but I’ve personally found that demographics are the first step.
If I can truly understand who my target audience is and where they’re browsing my site from, I can align my content and tell a better story.
Your audience demographic is just a market segment, but it will give you a great understanding of their complete persona or profile.
Here are the four simple steps to define your audience, based on demographics:
Go to Alexa.com. Type in your site URL (e.g., lewishowes.com) and click “Go.”
To find your results, scroll down the Alexa result page and you’ll find this:
From the screenshot above, you’ll notice that LewisHowes.com visitors are mostly female, are college graduates, and browse the site from home.
If I were Lewis, now that I know my audience is predominantly female, I would align my content with storytelling nuggets that will appeal to both males and females, but weighted towards the females. I might not do anything further on the education aspect, because college graduates can effectively read and live their dream lifestyle.
But, since the majority of this target audience browses from home, I’d also try to give them worksheets or actionable tips that they can implement right away since they would have no boss around to audit what they are doing.
Armed with your audience demographics, you’ll want to dig deeper. Knowing your audience’s interests is a critical step in unearthing their biggest challenges and using storytelling to solve their problems.
The suggestions below paint a clearer picture of how you can best utilize each social media channel:
- If you deal in fast-moving consumer goods (i.e., not luxury goods), Facebook is your ideal social media channel for attracting an audience, because the users are mostly young people.
- Twitter is a microblogging platform for news-like updates. Use the social media channel Twitter to keep your target audience abreast of what’s happening with your site, business or community. It’s not for selling.
- Besides clothing and decorative arts, Pinterest favors food and drink-related products. Family and relationship-related products also tend to receive more likes and repins.
- Clothing, accessories and entertainment-related products do extremely well on Instagram because the users are primarily female.
Finally, LinkedIn is the platform of choice for business-related communications. So, if you’re looking to acquire business-minded customers, LinkedIn will out-perform Twitter and Instagram, by a long shot.
The second most important element of storytelling is a measurable goal.
Anybody can set a goal, but how many people can effectively measure it?
Smart marketers want to track their progress.
When you set a goal that you can’t measure, you’ll miss out on the potential of expansion. For example, you won’t know what other factors are required, when you set a bigger goal.
Here are some tips for setting measurable goals:
Start small: I believe in thinking big, but you should also keep your goals realistic. When you start on a smaller note, you’ll certainly hit the target and know exactly where you’re going.
“10,000 visitors in a month” isn’t realistic in the beginning.
But, you can set a smaller, specific, and measurable goal, such as “Generate 1000 blog visitors per week, by targeting 25 long-tail keywords and spending an hour every day at relationship-building on discussion boards and social media platforms.”
This latter goal is measurable because you can check your Google Analytics to determine which keyword phrases are performing well in the search engines. You can also track your social media marketing activities and understand the best times to tweet.
You also want to measure your progress when using storytelling to meet marketing goals. Otherwise, you won’t be able to know whether or how your conversion rate is growing.
Set a schedule: For your goals to be measurable, you have to set a schedule. What will you do daily to achieve your goal?
A schedule gets you organized and increases your productivity.
Your schedule should match your deadline and help you focus on the most important tasks.
For example, if you’ve set a measurable goal to generate 1,000 search visitors per week by targeting 25 long-tail search queries, your daily schedule could be:
- Research and select five longer tail key phrases: If I were in the weight loss/fitness niche, I could select these easier-to-target key phrases: how to lose 20 pounds, I want to lose weight, best weight loss exercise that works, top 10 fat loss programs and help me lose weight fast.
- Read books, blogs, watch videos, etc.: I want to learn about the topic as much as I can before writing. There are helpful resources that I can easily access with a quick Google search.
- Write my headlines: This is critical if you want people to click, read, and share your content. Spend 20 minutes to an hour on your headline, because if you don’t nail the headline, you’ll waste a lot of potential. In order to save time on headline writing, find a headline in any industry that catches your attention, then use it as a model to create a better one that’s relevant to your own industry.
- Write the content: First, create an outline for your content, then expand on it to create your content or video.
- Set a deadline: According to Nolan Bushnell, “the ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” Without a deadline, you aren’t inspired to act now to achieve a significant result, because the clock isn’t ticking.
In leveraging storytelling to increase your conversions, every piece of content that you write and every landing page that you create should have a measurable goal with a schedule and a deadline.
Relatable data: The grudge match between storytelling and statistics rages on. But instead of choosing one or the other, why not combine both when creating your content?
I rarely write content without using data to back up my claims. Personal opinions have a limited ability to engender trust in your target audience. But, if you can prove what you say with statistics, then you win loyal customers.
Take a look at my recent post, to see how I positioned myself as an authority, by referencing something that Google said:
Sharing a story on how you went from being broke to being a millionaire may not do much for your customers unless you use data to prove it.
If there’s no data or case study relating to the story that you’re sharing, you can share your own data.
Go ahead and create charts and make it plain that this is what you found after a series of experiments.
The fourth element of effective storytelling is persuasion. You can’t influence people if you can’t persuade them.
In his bestselling book, Influence, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini noted that reciprocity, commitment, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity are the strongest factors in the psychology of persuasion.
The focal point is this: these six factors move people to change behavior, follow the course that you’ve set, subscribe to your email list, and buy your product, even if they don’t necessarily need it right now.
Let’s see an example of how social proof can increase sales.
Cialdini defined social proof as “the art of doing something because you see others who do the same thing.” You simply follow the crowd.
Here’s an example of how social proof increases conversion: Modcloth is a clothing commerce site.
It’s a great community, where shoppers vote on the styles that they believe the site should sell more of in the future. Such styles have a “Top-Rated” badge.
The evidence of this unique form of social proof is that products with this badge sell twice as well as products without it.
Here are other examples of top brands using social proof:
To learn how the other five principles of persuasion increase conversions, see Peep Laja’s resourceful post, how to use Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion to boost conversions.
Use Storytelling to Increase Conversions
I’m amazed at how Huggies used storytelling to increase their conversion rate. Huggies and Ogilvy had a definite and measurable goal – to connect with and deepen a relationship with expectant moms. They wanted to build engagement even before the baby is born.
To accomplish that goal, Ogilvy decided to get expectant moms involved. Through their campaign, “Delivery Hugs,” they created a powerful video that triggered a strong emotional response from people – especially mothers and moms-to-be
The video was viewed by millions of people. When those people shared the video and the story behind it, people were moved to tears.
Here are actionable ways to increase conversions through storytelling:
Develop a Content Strategy for Storytelling
The content structure gives you ample opportunity to boost the effectiveness of your content strategy.
And, you can easily achieve that by leveraging social media. Taking inventory of the leads that you acquire, the sales that you get, and the underlying trends in your industry is critical, when you’re developing a content strategy.
Leverage a Story People Already Know
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You could leverage other people’s stories to create a powerful, high-quality, evergreen piece of content. Stories are the secret recipe for other people’s success.
In All Marketers Tell Stories, Seth Godin poses three essential questions to every marketer:
- Do you have a story?
- When the right people hear the story, will they believe it?
- Is the story true?
The harsh reality is that if your story is great, but you can’t tell it well, no one will believe you. All marketers tell stories, but only those who have mastered the art of storytelling catch our attention.
Millions of other people’s stories are available online. All you have to do is find one or more, create tailored content around the stories and reference original content.
This has nothing to do with duplicate content, plagiarism, or content curation. You’ll be creating unique content based on other people’s stories.
For example, I’ll be creating an in-depth article on how Shopify tripled their sales. I’ll give all due credit and appreciation to Shopify, but the content will increase my search traffic and probably bring in clients.
You can read people’s stories on blogs or by listening to their presentations, reading their books, or engaging them in one-on-one conversations.
There should be a beginning, a narrative to show what happened and the lessons learned, then a conclusion that shows exactly how the same story can change the reader’s life for the better.
Lead With Dialogue
Storytelling that focuses on two-way communication will yield faster growth.
Seth Godin says that “fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights them that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.”
I have to agree because when your product isn’t worth talking about, no amount of marketing will help. Both the content and the product have to be highly useful first, then everything else follows. It’s all about getting feedback from your target audience.
Vanessa Van Edwards, the founder of The Science of Things, uses dialogue in storytelling.
Vanessa understands that when her audience gives honest feedback by taking a quiz, she can use the data pertaining to body language from 5,000 readers and create high-quality information products for them.
She even goes the extra mile by accepting research studies from readers. This single act gives the readers a sense of belonging. They’ll look forward to getting Vanessa’s newsletters and participate in anything related to body language because they’re a part of the community.
QuickSprout provides an interactive tool, as well. It literally talks to you, when you plug your URL into the search box.
Sonia Simone tells thought-provoking stories by leading with dialogue. A few years ago, she posted a simple question that got my neurons fired up:
If you already have an audience via social media networks, an email list, or a mastermind group, you can get feedback from them by sending questionnaires through SurveyMonkey.
Focus on Emotions
Our brains respond to stories more than anything else. Robert Plutchik’s “wheel of emotions” reveals some of the underlying emotions that influence your customers, which – when leveraged – can boost your conversions.
Lisa Feldman noted, in her book The Science of Emotion, that for the most part, people have little control over their emotions. Often, they’re automatic responses to our experiences. What we like or hate and what we perceive as pain or pleasure are just two kinds of emotional triggers, among many.
Happiness is one emotion that makes us want to share. Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott noted that our response to our mom’s smile with a smile of our own is usually the first emotional response we make in life.
When your content drives people to a state of happiness or joy, they will automatically respond to your offers, feel obliged to share your content, and will stop at nothing to tell others about you.
It literally functions from there. But, it may remain dormant until something – such as a story – triggers it.
A baby’s social smile further tells us that when happiness is shared, it ultimately increases and creates an atmosphere that encourages more happiness. What you share will actually come back to you multiplied.
Speak to your customer’s mind, but appeal to both logic and emotions.
Measure the Impact of Your Story
If you’ve ever wondered why most brands get media publicity with ease, while others stay on the sidelines, it’s because they were able to use storytelling to its full potential. You have to measure your success – because it’s critical to making smarter content marketing decisions.
Planning, execution, and consistent learning are key factors that will help you increase your conversions. But, you have to measure the impact of your brand story.
Measuring social media activities is easy. But, measuring the impact of storytelling is a little more difficult, because it has so much to do with emotional communication.
Step #4: Build Authority Through Storytelling
Social networks influence nearly 50% of all IT decision makers. Truly, the world as we know it is changing.
It was all about mass media in the past. But today, social media is taking over. We’re living in the age of authority. Traditional media might still be popular, but it lacks effectiveness because it’s a one-way communication channel.
Social media is different. When you send a tweet, you can get a retweet or comment from a follower and, over time, build trust.
When it comes to building authority through storytelling, you need a level of influence in your business, family, society, and spheres of contact, before people can trust you.
What you believe in can be amplified if you’re able to convince a select group of people.
So, how do you start building your own authority? Here’s a simple three-step game plan that’s proven to work:
- Affirm that you’re an authority in your industry
- Focus on your creative voice
- Share stories that pull people instead of pushing them
Affirm You’re an Authority in Your Industry
There is power in affirmations. When you affirm to yourself what you want to happen in your life or business, you can see it come to pass when coupled with smart action. Of course, you can’t just fold your arms and expect miracles to happen.
But, if you think you’re not qualified, competent, or decisive enough to influence people, it’ll show in your conversation.
Affirmations are positive statements that describe or convey a strong desire to achieve a specific goal or state of being, which is then repeated consistently until it’s imprinted on the subconscious mind.
For example, you can wake up every day and affirm, “Today will be an awesome day.” And, it most likely will be for YOU (though maybe not for EVERYONE).
Affirmations work because when you continually repeat a statement verbally, it influences your thoughts and actions.
For example, repeating to yourself, “I’m increasing my sales this month,” plants the thought into your subconscious mind, which then begins to imagine the amount of money that you’ll make.
Repeat to yourself, “I’m telling better stories” and again, your mind will call you to order and nudge you to search out a powerful story for your next blog post or product.
In his bestselling book, You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One), Jeff Goins said that “becoming a writer starts with a simple, but important belief: you’re a writer and you’ve got to start writing.”
And today, Jeff Goins runs a successful online self-publishing business. Even if no one ever believed in him, he affirmed it to himself repeatedly and it became so.
Jeff’s latest book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, is also full of affirmations. Goins’ work has been endorsed by the biggest names in the internet marketing world.
If you want to truly become good at something, you first have to believe in it.
Focus on Your Creative Voice
Storytelling is an art and therefore requires uniqueness and creativity. Your creative voice is what sets you apart from the crowd, just like your Unique Selling Point.
A post on Oprah’s website suggests that you find a quiet place to meditate and assimilate all of the information that you’ve accessed during the day.
When everything else fails, your creative voice will give your story a rhythm. It’ll alleviate boredom and take people on a journey of experience.
In summary, here are a few ways to discover your creative voice and focus on it:
- Heed Oprah’s advice. Set aside quiet time to meditate.
- Learn from other people. Position your brand to benefit from their own.
- Know your target audience inside and out.
- Use storytelling to express your worldview, not to impress anybody.
Share Stories That Pull People, Instead of Pushing Them
Storytelling is meant to pull people in, not push or repel them. It’s about helping people become better.
Your story shouldn’t just be about you. Instead, it should relate to your audience and customers. It should pull them in and retain them.
When using stories to capture an audience, keep in mind that they may not necessarily want to know every detail – the outcome is what counts. Many people don’t want to know how painful giving birth to a child is, but we all want to hear the cry of a baby, right?
Seth Godin has authored over 20 books. His style of writing, which incorporates storytelling, pulls people in. Godin has many brand associates, who regularly refer clients to him. Take a look at this opening in a post:
As a content creator, writer, and business owner, you’re in this world to make a difference.
It’s not all about the money that you’ll make, but the joy of seeing your target audience and customers improve their lives, meet their goals, and smile again.
Step #5: Learn from Storytelling Success Stories
I’ve shared several success stories of how brand distinguished their products, customer service, and relationships with customers, all by telling real stories.
But, there are more storytelling success stories left to tell.
ITV’s Storytelling Launch
ITV had plans to create a new multi-screen ad format, which could be synced into other platforms. Their audience was mostly composed of smartphone and tablet users.
When ITV combined this innovation with visual storytelling, they were able to merge the benefits of broadcast TV advertising with modern tablets and smartphones.
During the X-Factor finale last year, the ad format was launched and it resulted in over 1,300,650 page views, with an average click-through rate of 8.75%
Jon Morrow is one of the bloggers that I deeply respect.
He once shared a powerful guest post on Problogger, telling the story of how he was hit by a car in April 2006.
His leg was broken in 14 places. For the next three months, he endured significant pain and misery.
Then, he got brave and quit his job. He sold everything he owned and stopped paying most of the usual bills. The story got even more interesting, when he recounted how he moved to paradise to get paid to change the world.
In that post, Jon persuaded readers so strongly that it generated over 72,000 visitors.
Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News, a regional media company in the U.S., wanted to expand its reach through social media. They understood that traditional media is fast becoming tiring for viewers and fans unless it’s integrated into their social lifestyle.
Using Hootsuite, they were able to control their social activities from one portal, streamlining their endeavors.
They empowered and persuaded their team to cultivate the habit of sharing news and updates on social media platforms. This strategy increased the company’s engagement with a growing local readership.
And, they succeeded. Here’s the result of their social media integration:
The human brain is wired to remember memorable and visual stories.
The sooner you start using storytelling in your content creation and marketing, the easier you’ll find it to increase your conversions.
There is no shortcut to improving your ROI as a content marketer and blogger. You have to consistently feed Google and your target audience with fresh, high-quality content.
Have you leveraged storytelling to increase your conversions? What is your experience and how do you respond to other people’s stories?