“Tell a story” has become marketing 101, yet I still come across countless websites, apps, advertisements, marketing collateral, and even blogs that only convey what they offer.

They list features and benefits that explain how the product or service is different, what need it fills, or what solution it provides, but more often than not, they explain these things in the least interesting way possible.

Then there are the companies and people who tell a story, who captivate their audience by evoking emotions — by relating to them in some way, or by emulating a lifestyle that their audience wants to be a part of. Companies like Apple, TOMS, or Warby Parker are examples of storytellers.

TOMS

Newer companies — startups — are really gaining momentum through storytelling. If I had to take a guess, it’s probably because they’ve been reading or listening to works from smarties like Seth Godin, Copyblogger, Jeff Bullas, Ira Glass, or they’ve read “Start Something That Matters” by TOMS’ founder Blake Mycoskie. I say this because those people, among others, have indirectly taught me a lot about storytelling and why it’s so important.

Telling a Story: The Why & The How

A good place to start is with your (or your company’s) purpose. If you haven’t read the book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek, or watched the TED Talk, I suggest giving it a listen.

By communicating “the why,” the purpose behind a brand or person, you’re making a connection with your audience. When you make a connection, you’re interacting. Even the smallest interaction can lead to ongoing engagement. You see the cycle? Stories can help you sell. Don’t believe me? Listen to what screenwriting guru Robert McKee has to say about it.

If you think you don’t have an interesting or compelling story to tell, you’re wrong. Everyone has a purpose, everyone has story to tell. Think about your experiences. Ask yourself:

  • How did you come up with your business idea?
  • What inspired you to take action and move forward with it?
  • How’d you build your team? Where did you find them?
  • How did you launch your product? Where did you launch it?
  • Who or what inspired you to keep going when things got tough?
  • How many times did you fail before succeeding?
  • What did you learn from those failures, and how did you get past them?
  • How does your product or service make a difference?

That may look like a lot to digest, but these questions should be no-brainers for you, and they should be fun to answer — that is, assuming you enjoy what you do. By answering one, a few, or even all of them, you can build a basis to your story.

Now that you know what your story is about, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty.

Every story needs a hook. For the purpose of marketing, you’ll want to highlight your hook in key messaging. Consider making it your slogan. Keep it simple and compelling. Think about TOM’s “One for One” or Apple’s “Think Different.” Both of these phrases are powerful enough to make you want to learn what it means, what exactly that company does, and why it’s doing that.

Tell your story through visuals. Videos can be an incredibly effective channel for storytelling. They are often the simplest and most sensible solution for sharing your story within just a few minutes. And if it’s a good video (i.e. compelling), it’s going to be tough for a visitor to “walk away” before the end. My personal test for whether or not a video tells a compelling story is if it gives me the chills, or at least makes me want to get up and go do something that matters (…or buy that product). Some of my favs:

Mast-Brothers-Chocolate

Photos and images can be useful tools in storytelling as well. Take a look at how charity: water and Camp Brand tell a story with photos. Storytelling can even be incorporated into website design.

charity-water

But you still need copy. The words on your website or app page need to explain what your company offers while telling your story. Make an impact with your language. Tell them the solution you’re providing, the need you’re fulfilling, and why you’re the one to fulfill it. Most importantly, tell them why your team has dedicated itself to fulfilling it…then tell them how.

When it comes to capturing your audience’s attention, and then keeping it for repeat visits, try thinking like a publisher. Ask yourself “Why will they care?” Grab them with the hook, then compel them with meaningful and relevant messages.

Have you seen any great examples of a company selling through storytelling? Please share them below.