last Updated 8 May 2024

Storytelling in Marketing: The Key to Captivating Audiences

In 2006, Rob Walker, a journalist with New York Times Magazine, ran an experiment to determine just how powerful stories can be in marketing.

Here’s what he did.

Rob bought 200 ordinary items on eBay. The average cost of each item was around $1. 

So we're talking about things like ornaments, paperweights and other bric-a-brac (which, if I remember rightly from school, is French for “bits of old tat”).

Once he’d amassed this collection of knick-knacks, Rob got in touch with 200 professional authors. He asked each of them if they would write a story to accompany one of the items he’d bought.

Rob then attempted to resell the 200 items on eBay, using the professionally written story for each one in its description.

And did he make his money back?

Oh yes! In fact, the items that had originally cost Rob a total of $197... sold for nearly $8,000. That’s an increase of more than 6,300%!

The lesson? Whether it’s in an email, a blog post, a landing page or a YouTube video, storytelling is one of the absolute best ways to get your message across AND spur someone into taking action.

The importance of storytelling

Why are stories an important part of every successful marketing campaign? First, compelling stories cut through the noise of countless advertisements and grab the reader's attention. Secondly, humans are hardwired to remember stories. They often contain elements—characters, conflicts, resolutions—that our brains find easy to recall. Tell a good story, and your product or service will stick in the minds of potential customers.

In today’s world, consumers crave authenticity and connection. And storytelling is all about connection.

When sharing your brand's story — its origins, its values, its mission — you invite consumers into your personal space and create a sense of inclusion and trust. 

All of these reasons combine into one simple truth - stories are important because stories sell.

Financial Adviser Email Marketing - Storytelling in Marketing: The Key to Captivating Audiences

I know this myself, not just from business but also from my personal experience of selling things on eBay. Allow me to explain.

Over the last few years I’ve sold a number of second hand cars on eBay - the kind of cars which you might expect to have to pay someone to take away. These included:

  • 17 year old Mercedes E-class that had sat unused and unloved in a damp barn for the last 10 years

  • 1998 BMW 3-series with 150,000 miles, no MOT, and sills made entirely of rust

  • 20 year old S-type Jag that was worth so little that my usual insurance company refused to cover it

In each case, the cars sold for WAY more than even the most optimistic Arthur Daley could have hoped - because I used stories in the descriptions.

And this is where so many businesses (especially those in financial services) go wrong when it comes to email marketing. Instead of sending interesting and engaging story-based emails that will get opened, read and remembered, they send dull newsletters full of facts.

In case you’re wondering how I sold the worthless 20-year-old Jag for more than I paid for it, here’s an extract from the eBay description:

“I ended up buying this car due to an unfortunate series of events that occurred in March 2018 – the month when the Beast From The East led to large amounts of snow across South East England. Whilst driving my wife’s car on an ungritted road, I hit some ice, lost control of the car and, whilst attempting to avoid hitting a pedestrian, piloted the car into a lamppost resulting in both the car and the lamppost being written off.

Although no blame was apportioned, it seemed only fair under the circumstances to loan my wife my own car whilst we waited for her new one to be delivered. However, soon after my wife had borrowed my car, it developed a fairly catastrophic oil leak which rendered it undriveable (although I mentally marked this down as one-all, again no blame was apportioned). In addition, my oil-spewing car had also got to the point where it needed four new tyres which were going to cost in excess of £600.

To solve all these problems, I went out and found four almost brand new tyres which I was able to buy for less than £600 and which came with a free Jaguar S-Type attached to them.

We used said Jaguar for about six weeks whilst waiting for our other cars to be repaired/replaced and since then it has sat waiting for me to get round to listing it on eBay.”

Right, so now we’re clear on why writing a good story is worth your time and energy, let’s move on to the how.

The elements of a great story

So, what makes a good story? To captivate an audience, a story needs certain key ingredients. Here’s what sets a great story apart:

Authenticity

Genuine stories resonate. They reflect your brand's true experiences, values, and objectives, creating a deeper connection with your audience. Authenticity builds trust, making your message not just heard but valued.

Relatability 

Your story should echo the experiences or aspirations of your audience. It's about making them see a bit of themselves in your narrative, which increases engagement and empathy. Relatable stories make your audience think, "This speaks to me."

Financial Adviser Email Marketing - Storytelling in Marketing: The Key to Captivating Audiences

Entertaining

A story needs to be engaging to keep the audience's attention. It doesn't necessarily mean it has to be light or funny, but it should be compelling enough to make people want to follow along.

Believable

A good story maintains a grip on reality, even if it’s creative. It should make sense to your audience and not stretch their credulity too far. Keeping your story believable ensures the audience can fully immerse themselves without scepticism.

Memorable 

Lastly, a story sticks with you because of its emotional impact, its unique message, or its vivid imagery. Memorable stories are the ones people recall and share, extending the reach of your message naturally.

Before you begin…

Define your audience 

Knowing who you’re talking to is the first step. Your target audience should influence every aspect of your story, from the tone and language to the platforms where it’s shared. Consider demographics, interests, challenges, and aspirations. This understanding ensures your story resonates and reaches the right people.

What is the end goal? 

Before you craft your story, pinpoint exactly what you hope to achieve. Do you want to increase awareness, drive sales, or change perceptions? Setting a clear objective shapes your narrative, making it more focused and effective.

In other words, what do you want the story to motivate the reader to do? Your list could include some of the following:

  • Motivate the reader to take action:  Whether it’s signing up for a newsletter, making a purchase, or joining a cause, your narrative should make the next steps irresistible and clear.
  • Help them connect with your brand: Brand storytelling is a powerful tool for building brand loyalty. This connection turns casual consumers into committed fans.
  • Create a sense of community: Great stories can bring people together, creating a sense of belonging. Highlighting customer stories, shared experiences, or community initiatives can reinforce this feeling of unity and engagement.
  • To educate the reader about a topic, service or product: Informative storytelling can illuminate the benefits of your product or service, explain complex topics, or share valuable insights. 

Your guide to crafting a compelling story

You could choose from several storytelling methods: the Hero’s Journey, the AIDA writing formula or the four Cs of storytelling. A quick Google search will give you a breakdown of each, but we’re going to focus on the first method.

Financial Adviser Email Marketing - Storytelling in Marketing: The Key to Captivating Audiences

The Hero’s Journey

Step 1 - We need a hero!

Start by introducing a character that your audience can root for. This character, or hero, should be relatable to your target audience, embodying their aspirations or challenges. It’s important for your audience to see themselves in the hero's shoes, making them more invested in the journey.

Step 2 - Who’s the bad guy?

Every hero faces a challenge or adversary. In marketing, this 'villain' could be a problem your audience is grappling with—anything from a mundane inconvenience to a significant pain point. Clearly defining this problem sets the stage for a compelling narrative, as it's something the audience wants to see resolved.

Step 3 - And now solve it

This is where your product or service shines as the solution to the hero's problem. Show how your hero overcomes their challenge with your offering, effectively transforming their situation. This part of the story should highlight the unique benefits and features of your solution, demonstrating its value in a memorable and engaging way.

Step 4 - Wrap up the story & provide a clear CTA

Conclude your story by showing the positive change in the hero's life, thanks to your solution. Then, transition smoothly into a clear call-to-action (CTA), guiding your audience on what to do next. Whether it's visiting your website, signing up for a trial, or making a purchase, your CTA should be direct and easy to follow, capitalising on the emotional and motivational high point of your story.

You want an example, right? Let’s give you one.

“Meet Sarah, a single mother aiming to buy a home for her family. Like many, Sarah faces several obstacles: high interest rates, strict lending rules, and a confusing array of mortgage options. These challenges make the journey to homeownership feel daunting, especially for first-timers or those on a tight budget.

Thankfully, a knowledgeable mortgage broker stepped in, offering the guidance and expertise Sarah needed to navigate the process and secure a loan that fit her budget and dreams.

Are you facing similar hurdles in your home-buying journey? Contact us today to see how we can help you, like Sarah, find your way home.”

Do you want something more light-hearted?

Financial Adviser Email Marketing - Storytelling in Marketing: The Key to Captivating Audiences

“Meet Bob, a spirited chap who thought buying a house was as easy as pie, or at least as simple as ordering one. He quickly found himself in a jungle of high interest rates, strict lending rules, and a bewildering maze of mortgage options that made him miss the simplicity of choosing toppings on a pizza.

Just when he was about to throw in the towel (and order that pizza instead), a witty mortgage broker with a knack for decoding mortgage gibberish came to his rescue, armed with solutions that turned Bob's frown upside down.

Feeling lost in the home-buying wilderness? Give us a shout—let's turn that perplexing process into a piece of cake (or pie, if that's what you prefer).”

Still struggling to write your story? Why not draw inspiration from existing clients?

Here’s how.

Share client success stories

This is a strategic way to showcase the real-world impact of your products or services. Start by selecting stories that demonstrate clear before-and-after scenarios. 

For each selected story, collect detailed information about the client's journey. This includes the challenges they faced before using your product, the solutions you provided, and the outcomes they achieved. Quantifiable results, such as increased revenue, time saved, or improvement in efficiency, can be particularly compelling.

With the information collected, craft a narrative that follows a clear structure: the situation before your intervention, the action taken using your product or service, and the positive results achieved. Use direct quotes from clients to add authenticity and emotional appeal. 

If possible, why not record a brief video where your client can tell share their own stories?

How to share your story 

So now you have a great story to tell - How do you share it?

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are ideal for sharing in-depth written stories, updates, and insights directly into your subscribers' inboxes. This platform allows for controlled storytelling, where you can measure engagement through open rates and click-through rates, making it easier to refine and target your stories over time.

The key to success with email newsletters is segmentation and personalisation, ensuring that the stories you share are relevant and engaging to each segment of your audience.

Blog Posts

Blog posts allow for a mix of long-form content, images, videos, and interactive elements. They are great for building a repository of stories that can be easily shared and accessed at any time. They help in establishing your brand as a thought leader in your industry, offering valuable insights and solutions through storytelling. 

Social Media

Each platform has its own strengths—Instagram and Pinterest are great for visual stories, Twitter for concise and impactful messages, LinkedIn for professional and industry-related stories, and Facebook for a more general audience.

Social media enables real-time engagement, allowing your audience to react, comment, and share your stories, increasing their reach and impact. The key to success on social media is consistency and adaptability, ensuring your stories resonate with the platform's audience and trends.

If you’ve truly come up with gold, why not edit and share your story on multiple platforms? For example, my story about selling cars on eBay - First part of a newsletter and now here in a blog article. 

Conclusion

"Anybody can argue with facts. It’s impossible to argue with a story."

Engaging stories, with their unique blend of authenticity, relatability, and memorability, can elevate the mundane to the extraordinary, transforming how we connect with audiences in a crowded digital landscape.

Here's the thing: In a world where everyone's bombarded with information, a well-told story isn't just a breath of fresh air; it's your secret weapon. It cuts through the noise, hits home, and leaves a mark.

Stories move people. A well-written one can motivate potential clients to give you a call or sign up for your newsletter. If you’re in the mortgage or financial advisor industry, you know how valuable such leads are. 

Ready to turn stories into your superpower? Sign up for The Predictable Pipeline programme. Let's make your marketing unforgettable together.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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