As long as I’ve been able to grasp a pencil, I’ve been writing stories.
I would fill notebooks with tales based on the covers and scribble my own addition to my favorites series. Looking back now, it’s no wonder I ended up in content marketing.
Between Instagram and Snapchat, “stories” may seem like just a marketing buzzword, but the fact is storytelling is one of the most powerful tools you can wield in content marketing (both video and written). Of course, that also makes it one of the hardest things to do well.
What is your brand story? Why should you tell it? How do you tell it and why would your customers even care?
These are natural questions to cross a marketer’s mind when presented with the idea of storytelling in content marketing. So, in this article, I will share:
Why storytelling works in content marketing.
3 storytelling frameworks to help you implement brand storytelling successfully.
Storytelling is a powerful force in content marketing
Storytelling is as human as laughing when something is funny or crying when we are in pain.
From the earliest recorded history, we have used stories to communicate, educate, share, and connect. Cave paintings, history books, recipes, tutorials — these are all just different forms of stories that tell how things were done in the past and then passed down, but why are they so effective and why do they translate so well into successful content strategy?
Storytelling helps make your message and value easier to grasp
What does your brand do? What does it help your consumer accomplish? We’re not talking about what product or service your company creates, but rather, how does your offering make your consumer’s life better? That is the message and value you need to communicate.
Rather than simply stating facts and features, good storytelling puts your lesson or intended message into the context of a narrative. It helps a person more effectively picture themselves in the shoes of those affected.
For example, if you’re an email service provider for small businesses, you don’t simply state that your brand makes a tool that helps me send email to my customers.
Rather, you frame a story of how someone like me purchased the tool, was able to build a stronger bond with their customers, increase revenue, and accomplish their dream of running a successful business. Your brand story is not just that you are an email provider. It is that you are a company that helps grow successful businesses and make dreams come true.
Storytelling doesn’t come off as a sales pitch
Thirty-eight percent of B2B buyers reported that vendors could improve their content by curbing sales messages. In other words, your target audience doesn’t want to be sold to.
People want to do purchasing research on their own and have learned to drown out “salesy” mediums like commercials, radio ads, and billboards, so content that creates the same experience tends to get ignored.
Telling stories in content marketing is so effective because it doesn’t come off as a sales pitch. A great story captures your audience’s attention with the promise of entertainment and keeps them engaged by establishing human connection and empathy.
These traits also lend themselves to another benefit…
Storytelling makes your message more memorable
In his book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, psychologist Jerome Bruner estimates that facts are 22 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.
This is likely due to the emotional connection established when listening to a story.
Research shows that during the experience of heightened emotions (anger, joy, fear), hormones are released in the human brain making nerves more sensitive and likely to form new memory circuits.
In other words, when humans feel intense emotion (like those that can be triggered by a good story), they are more likely to remember everything associated with that moment.
3 frameworks for brand storytelling
Now that you understand the power of stories, how can content marketers harness it when creating content? How can you tell your own story in a way that still sells?
Whether you use these frameworks to draft your social media posts, marketing videos, blog articles, lead magnets, or even landing pages, a storytelling framework can offer an easy-to-follow and effective structure for capturing your brand story and introducing your product.
An adaptation of a well-known story framework called “The Hero’s Journey,” StoryBrand is a seven-part template that positions potential customers as heroes facing a challenge in the story of their lives, and brands as the guide or solution that helps them live happily ever after.
The seven pieces breakdown as follows:
We meet a character (aka the hero, your customer)
The character is presented with a problem (the pain your brand treats)
The character meets a guide (aka your brand/offering)
The guide presents the character with a plan or clear path to overcome the problem
The character has an experience that forces them to take action and implement your plan, which leads to…
The character achieving success, or
The character experiencing failure.
Example of The Storybrand Framework in action
Vonco Medical is physical therapy and athletic training equipment company based in Texas that, with the help of Caffeine Marketing, does a beautiful job of executing StoryBrand on its website.
First, they make it crystal clear what they do as soon as you arrive on their homepage: The easiest way to outfit your rehab clinic or athletic facility with new and reconditioned equipment.
Then, they go on to break down the other elements of the framework.
The hero? Physical therapy clinics and training facilities.
The problem? Easily finding and maintaining the best equipment for their facilities and patients.
The guide? Vonco Medical
The plan? One of their several services centered around delivery, training, calibrations, and repair, or reselling.
The call to action? Scheduling a call.
Success? Saving time and reducing the stress of outfitting and maintaining your facility by working with outfitting experts.
Failure? Delayed opening or facility closing, lost revenue, and poor treatment of patients.
The Three Act Structure
Like The StoryBrand Framework, the three-act structure is about conflict resolution, but it streamlines the template to just three pieces:
The setup — Where you set the scene and introduce the character (in this case your customer).
The confrontation or “rising action” — Presentation of a problem, or build-up of tension (the problem or pain point your customer is facing).
The resolution — Blissful resolution of the problem presented (the conflict is overcome by use of your product/service/offering).
Example of the Three Act Structure in action
An emotional example of the Three Act Structure in marketing can be seen in this holiday ad from online marketplace Etsy.
The setup — A young Asian girl named Shiori is growing up in the United States.
The confrontation or “rising action” — Shiori feels excluded and misunderstood because of her unique name and encounters of a number of frustrating experiences in her day-to-day life (e.g., her name causes hesitation at roll-call during a class at school, she is unable to find her name on personalized novelties in stores, she is given a drink at a local coffee shop with the wrong name written on it).
The resolution — Shiori’s mom uses Etsy to buy her daughter a personalized necklace with her name on it for Christmas. Shiori is happy to see her name in this tangible form and, you can assume, feels more confident and accepted despite what makes her different from her peers — and it’s all thanks to Etsy!
The Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) Formula
Last, but not least, we have the PAS or Problem-Agitate-Solve Formula. While the other two storytelling frameworks are popular in film and novels, this one is more known for its use in copywriting.
The formula works like this:
Identify the problem or pain. This is what your customer’s current state is. It is what they’re experiencing and want to overcome.
Agitate that problem. In other words, elicit an emotional reaction to the problem. Arouse the pain or discomfort that this pain causes or show compassion and understanding of it.
Present the solution. Introduce your product or service as a solution to this pain and problem. Explain and show the future state that is possible with your solution.
Example of The Problem-Agitate-Solve Framework in action
Our friends at Sprout Social make use of the Problem-Agitate-Solve Framework on this content offer landing page:
What is the problem? Not having time to create fresh, engaging content.
How do they agitate? By portraying the quest to find inspiration as an “uphill battle” some days, Sprout Social elicits and shows an understanding of the pain the reader is feeling.
The solution? Sprout Social breaks down how the worksheet will help you overcome your content pains and delivers a call to action.
Brand storytelling can give your business its happily ever ever
Regardless of which approach or storytelling framework you use in your content marketing, telling your brand stories can help you more effectively reach and teach your target audience about your business.
It bears repeating: Modern buyers don’t want to be sold to.
They want to be empowered. They want to work with helpful brands and businesses that share their values, are experts in their fields, and will deliver what they promise.
Use these story frameworks whether you’re writing website copy, articles covering The Big 5, or scripting The Selling 7 videos to grab your audience’s attention and keep it.
Need to dive deeper into these? Check out these courses in IMPACT+: