That tiny green guy. His life is a series of short stories, and everyone now knows GEICO car insurance because of him. The GEICO Gecko, and several other characters created by companies, all have brand stories to tell.
The point of all of these brand stories and the characters behind them is that not until the very end is the product even mentioned. Instead, we watch because of the story.
There is a great lesson here for small businesses promoting their brands online. A story takes only imagination and creativity, not money. And if you can use great storytelling in your content marketing, there are a number of ways that you will benefit at little to no cost. Here’s a look at five, in particular:
1. Stories lend credibility.
In ancient times, perhaps no one knew poinsettias, that beautiful Christmas plant, were poisonous. Until someone ate one and died, of course.
The story of that first death was then told by a mother to her children. Now, a mother had two choices. She could say,“Don’t ever put this plant in your mouth – it is poisonous,” or she could say, “Your Uncle Oga ate some of this plant and it killed him.”
Which is more credible and which makes a more lasting impression on a child?
We are all like that child. When we hear a story, rather than just a fact, it makes an impression and we remember. Any time you can use a story to connect people with your brand, you become more memorable.
Maybe it’s the story of a customer; maybe it’s a story you create. A story can be used in almost any type of marketing content – a “how to” blog post, a case study, even a list driven infographic. Begin with a story. Our brains are wired to automatically tune in.
2. Stories establish a real bond.
There are certainly many places for your own stories to be told – on your personal blog, on your “About Us” page, on Facebook, and even on Instagram, with pictures. And if you can share emotions while you tell a story, all the better.
The reader has likely felt those same emotions and can totally relate – this is what bonding is all about. The reader and you share something.
Two of the best examples of this are Toms Shoes and Headbands of Hope. From the company names, you already know what they sell. What you may not know is that they both support charitable causes. They both tell some really “feel good” stories by way of content – with photos and a small amount of text.
ModCloth, a company that sells young adult clothing, features stories of its customers – readers bond with those customers and thus with ModCloth.
3. Stories grab attention and engage.
If you want to promote a specific product, then tell a story about that product first. How did you come to make this product or how did you come to decide to carry it? How did a customer solve a problem with it? Always tell a story first – your reader needs some drama to “hook” into your brand.
For example, Heinz, the American food processing company, always packaged their ketchup a glass bottle. Then they changed to plastic so customers did not have the experience of dropping the bottle and breaking it, having both a mess and wasted money. But that was not the end of the story.
What the company came to understand is that people were tired of turning the bottle upside down and having to pound or shake it to get the ketchup down to the spout.
A product engineer for the company finally got fed up with this at home, during a barbecue party. He came up with the idea of the larger spout, so the bottle could be stored on its head, with the ketchup ready to pour, immediately.
What kind of story, even if it is fictional, can you tell about your products or services? Readers love fiction as well as true life stories.
Develop a fictional character and start telling his or her stories about existing products and new ones as they are offered. Of course, you may have to improve your writing skills to be more entertaining and creative, or hire a copywriter, but it will be well worth the effort.
4. Stories are memorable.
You can enlist the help of your customers on this. They may have funny or shocking stories to tell. Jack Daniels, a brand of Tennessee whiskey, does this well. It openly solicits funny bar stories from its customers and publishes them on its site. It even holds contests for the weirdest bar that its customers have ever been to.
Readers visit the site often to hear the latest story; the stories are promoted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The company has developed a huge following just because of these stories. Jack Daniels doesn’t even need to promote its product in these stories. People come for the entertainment. And when they are ready to buy, they choose Jack Daniels.
How can you engage your customers and future customers by humorous or shocking stories? And here’s the thing. It costs nothing to do this!
5. Stories drive people to take action.
I return to Toms Shoes and Headbands of Hope to clarify this point. Compelling stories can make your audience decide to take action. You may not have stories about providing shoes for kids in underdeveloped parts of the world or little girls with cancer receiving a decorative headband to add femininity to their bald heads.
But you may have customers who have solved problems and relieved “pain” through the use of your product or service. Their success stories motivate potential customers to want the same success.
This is often far better than a discount or a free trial. These are testimonials to your reliability, quality, and trust that others have in your brand.
In today’s market, the customer is king. A customer decides if a company is trustworthy, ethical, and worthy of his or her business. “Hard sells” don’t work anymore, not when there are companies out there who are “selling” others things first – relationships, trust, entertainment, information and inspiration.
You can sell all of these things through stories, and you’ll have fun doing it!
This article has been edited and condensed.
Julie Ellis is an entrepreneur, editor and the author of over 50 articles on the topic of marketing and self-development. Julie received a master’s degree in journalism and devotes her life to the study of Internet marketing, social media and applied psychology. Follow Julie’s Twitter to find more.