Effective Storytelling: How to Tell Stories in Your Advertising to Build Your Brand

by John McIntyre

Every single day you are gaining more and more competitors. Isn’t it great! Your competitors drive you to get better, be more lean, be more efficient. And one thing that your competitors will never have is your story.

The following is an interview with professional marketer and storyteller, Jenny Sjolund.

Tell us about your current business:

I’ve been a freelance writer for about 8 years, mostly copywriting and currently launching sellingwithstorytelling.com, where I am launching a course and workshop to help businesses develop their brand story and utilize storytelling in their marketing. I also do agency work with The Bay Social where we offer social media marketing services (primarily Facebook advertising) with a storytelling approach.

How did you come to create a business based around stories?

My background is in filmmaking and creative writing, and storytelling is my passion. I fell in love with copywriting and even went back to school to work on a Masters in Strategic Communication. It may have been overkill as I already have an MFA in Creative Writing (writing for entertainment media, script writing basically), but hey, when you love something you can’t get enough right!!

Why stories?  How do they build a brand in a way that doesn’t happen with a celebrity, for example?

Celebrities are actually a great example of branding themselves, but if you’re relying on celebrity endorsements like with influencer marketing, you’re getting a boost, sure, but if you don’t have the foundation of your own brand in place the attention will fizzle out.

Building your brand with a story based strategy helps you stand out, be memorable, and build a loyal following of your own like nothing else. This is because humans are wired for story, story shapes our worldview, and when your brand becomes a part of your prospect’s story, you become a part of their lives.

How do stories fit into advertising?  For example, how could I use a story when I’m selling something through FB ads?  Or through Google ads?  I don’t know if you’ve done things with print media or radio/tv but how do stories fit into advertising on those mediums?

Great question. There are several levels of storytelling, we were just talking about brand story, which is the foundation, and this is the messaging platform that informs the stories you tell across all channels. When you have this level of coherence, your results become exponential, as your all your marketing efforts start to build off each other.

When it comes to the specific stories you choose to tell in a specific piece of advertising, you’re using stories in a way that is incredibly persuasive. You’re tapping into your prospect’s imagination, and through storytelling you are able to let the prospect experience the benefits of your product or service, which is an incredible motivator. Once you get a taste, you’re going to want more right?

The format of your story must fit the medium, but the idea is the same whether it’s a Facebook ad or a TV commercial. You’re a dog trainer right? So one of the most basic story formats is before/change/after. If you took one of the most pressing problems your clients experience, and told a story about, say, a dog you worked with who was also having that problem (before), what you did to fix it (change), and what life was like after the problem was resolved… it will resonate with your prospects in a powerful way. With that story, they will imagine what THEIR life will be like when they no longer have that problem, and you can bet they will be reaching out to you for help getting there!

Again, there are many types of stories of various complexity, but that’s a classic that can work well with almost any product or service.

That’s a great point. In fact, we’ve hired a videographer who films our transformation stories. We get the before, during, and after of a dog in their training and those case study stories/videos are our most powerful marketing. Changing gears, tell me about some successes you’ve had with storytelling.

One of my favorite examples is from my passion project, a shopify store where we are selling pug related merchandise to support pug rescue. I went full fiction and wrote a story personifying a pug sipping tea to relax after a rough day chasing the mailman to sell a pug shape tea strainer. The engagement on that ad was incredible, increasing organic reach and keeping our ad costs low, and it was our first best selling item in the store! It’s important that a story like that does relate to the prospect in some way, in this case it was the theme of relaxing with a cup of tea that made the otherwise fun and fantastical story work.

Give me an example of the type of story you’d use in building a brand or in advertising?

The key here is that the story resonates with the prospect in some way. So even though the brand story is about the brand, it still needs to be about the brand in a way that is meaningful to the prospect.

Many people will say you need to make the prospect the hero of the story, and this is a valid method, but think of a movie like Superman… why do we love Superman? Because we can relate to him, if nothing else he’s an example of what we want to be. So he is the hero, but he makes us feel like we can be a hero too.

How does someone unlock stories that will benefit their sales/advertising process?  Talk to the people who aren’t natural storytellers and don’t know how to find stories in their everyday life.

A quick tip to generate a bunch of story ideas is to look at the frequently asked questions you get about your product or service. Use these questions as story prompts! If you’re just starting out, look at the FAQ section of leaders in your industry for ideas.

But this is where brand story and target audience research is key as well. I like to create what I call the brand story playbook, which includes traditional marketing concepts like USP, mission statement, etc., set in a story based framework. It’s basically marrying the hero’s journey (storytelling) and the buyer’s journey (sales). This makes it easy to generate endless story ideas that are meaningful to your prospects. The course I’m developing will walk people through the process of creating their own brand story playbook to help them easily write stories that sell.

Any starting points for someone who has never used stories?

If using stories seems like something foreign to you, I say start by thinking of them as conversations. Even record actual conversations with friends and family, transcribe, and use that as the basis for a story. This works especially well on social media, as social media is a relationship based platform where conversational storytelling works very well.

Are there businesses where stories won’t work or won’t work as well?

Not that I can think of, though some industries may need a more formal approach. That said, stories are an integral part of human communication, so when you think of it that way, story structure is going to be a powerful tool for any business.

What is the contact info of your business should someone want to get in touch?

You can contact us at sellingwithstorytelling.com and thebaysocial.com

This is a guest post by Ty Brown. Ty tripled his business in two and a half years using stories and persuasive copywriting. Now he speaks, writes,  coaches, and consults with other businesses on how to do the same. Find him at Ty the Speaker.

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