Which of these sentences is more compelling?
Our hotel offers day-room rates.
Don’t spend that 8-hour layover propped up in an uncomfortable plastic airport chair—book a day room at our hotel and spend that time lounging on a private balcony.
You were probably more interested in what was going on in that second sentence, right? Humans crave a good story, and we’re drawn to the specific over the general. Specificity in a story allows us to imagine ourselves in different scenarios. In fact, studies of fMRI scans have shown that while reading straight data activates just the language centers of our brain, reading a story activates the language centers and the parts of the brain we would use if we were actually experiencing what we were reading about.
This is useful information not just for novelists but for digital marketers as well. Using specific storytelling in content marketing can help your brand forge an emotional connection with a niche audience. And, as much as we like to think that our product or service descriptions are what draw a potential customer to our brand, research shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers place more emphasis on emotions than information.
In addition to building an emotional connection, using storytelling in your content marketing can make you stand out. Let’s say you own a flower shop and decide to write a short, very general blog post titled “The Best Flowers for Spring.” Let’s take a look at some of your competition in the search results:
Clearly, a lot of major publishers have already written about the best flowers for spring, and you’re not likely to stand out or rank anywhere near them with your blog post. But if you write a blog post called “How 5 Spring Flowers Starred in an Unconventional Wedding,” you’ve got a topic that’s unique to your brand. Your content might appeal to a smaller audience (in this case, people who are trying to get unique floral arrangement ideas for their wedding), but that audience will be more qualified than the average person entering general search queries about spring flowers.
So how can you incorporate storytelling into your digital marketing in a way that resonates with your audience? Let us show you using some examples of storytelling marketing from brands who nailed it.
When I started thinking about digital brands that have mastered storytelling, women’s fashion retailer ModCloth was the first company to come to mind. Creative storytelling has infiltrated every part of their site, even their product names and descriptions. Check out this page:
Let’s zoom in on that product description in case you didn’t get a good look:
Is the product description a little cheesy? Yes. But is it also memorable? Definitely. The descriptions may not directly apply to most of the site’s shoppers—I know I’m not currently completing an internship that allows me to drift around an art gallery—but you can imagine yourself in that situation, wearing an outfit from ModCloth.
The ModCloth blog also allows shoppers to imagine themselves in new situations inspired by clothes from the retailer. For example, a recent post called “Valentine’s Day Looks Inspired by Our Favorite Love Stories” recommends outfits inspired by books like Atonement and The Price of Salt.
The Takeaway: It’s not about the product, it’s about how the product makes you feel.
With its vintage-inspired clothes, ModCloth is targeting women who might frequent consignment shops or occasionally shop at fast-fashion stores like Forever21 and H&M. ModCloth’s prices are (generally speaking) higher than those you’ll find at consignment stores and fast-fashion retailers, so to win over customers, they focus their content marketing storytelling on the experiences a shopper might have while wearing ModCloth clothes.
The stories that ModCloth tells are aspirational but not out of reach. Shoppers can picture situations in which they would wear the clothes, which makes it easier to push that ‘Add to Cart’ button.
Tom’s of Maine
Tom’s of Maine is a personal care company (think toothpaste, deodorant, body lotion) with a focus on sustainability. Like ModCloth, Tom’s of Maine is slightly more expensive than some of their bigger name competitors, but they’re not trying to compete on price point. Instead, they use their website content to attract consumers who care about sustainability and responsible manufacturing.
Check out some of the content on their homepage right now:
This page encourages readers to:
- Meet the winners of two recent community contests
- Learn how companies can reduce their environmental footprint
- Learn about using recycled materials for product packaging
- Watch a music video encouraging kids to brush their teeth
- Explore Tom’s of Maine products, knowing that 10% of profits are donated to charities
That’s obviously not just one story (in all honesty, it’s probably too many calls-to-action for one page) but it paints a clear picture: Tom’s of Maine cares about their community.
When you visit their blog, you’ll find that this thread of community caring runs through all their articles. Topics include healthy living, natural products, DIY projects, and parenting tips, all of which tie into the story Tom’s of Maine is trying to tell.
The Takeaway: Don’t just be a seller—be part of your audience’s community.
People like a story that they can relate to, so when you’re marketing through storytelling, look for ways to align your narrative with the things that matter most to your audience. This approach will help you build trust and position yourself as a member of your audience’s community, rather than just a seller.
BoutiqueHomes is a short-term vacation rental company, much like Airbnb or HomeAway. However, unlike those larger competitors, BoutiqueHomes carefully curates short-term rentals with interesting architectural features, luxury amenities, and spectacular views. They cater to a niche audience of travelers who are passionate about home design, and the stories they tell on their website are tailored to that specific segment of customers.
BoutiqueHomes’ blog, which they call their Journal, highlights some of their properties but also includes posts on design trends, films made in interesting locations, unusual furniture, and more. They also feature interviews with some of the homeowners with whom they partner, which helps them put human faces to their brand.
The Takeaway: When you’re going up against big competitors, tell the story of what makes you different.
BoutiqueHomes can’t compete with Airbnb and HomeAway when it comes to the number of vacation properties on their site, so they’ve made their story about something different—the care they take in selecting architecturally significant properties. Since they’ve focused their digital brand storytelling on their passion for home design and travel, it makes sense that their blog content aims to reach an audience that shares those passions.
Mint is an app that lets you track your spending, set budgets, and manage your bill payments. To use Mint to track your personal finances, you have to submit sensitive banking information—something that can understandably be a hard sell. Mint’s marketing team recognizes that they have to win their users’ trust, which is why their website content focuses on stories about finding solutions to financial problems.
The MintLife blog has become a valuable resource for young professionals who are trying to become more financially literate. Topics range from navigating student loans to identifying tax deductions, and every post includes actionable advice that readers can apply to their financial life. MintLife even has a monthly Money Audit post, in which a financial expert helps a real Mint user analyze their current finances.
The Takeaway: Identify your audience’s pain points and tell stories that offer solutions.
Mint uses content marketing storytelling to walk site visitors through common financial dilemmas and their solutions. By identifying the biggest money-related pain points that their audience members face and offering actionable tips, Mint has established themselves as a trustworthy financial advisor. It’s a strategy that has paid off—Mint now reaches over 10 million users.
Final Notes on Storytelling in Content Marketing
Although they operate in different industries, there’s one thing that all four of the brands described above have in common: they have a deep understanding of their target audience. The key to getting specific with your digital brand storytelling is to develop detailed buyer personas based on data, not just what you think your audience is like. Once you know what kind of consumers want or need your products or services, you can start creating the types of stories that will appeal to your specific audience.
Not sure where to begin when it comes to buyer personas or storytelling in content marketing? Contact Leverage Marketing to learn how our team can develop SEO-friendly content that connects with your audience.