Marketing and Branding as Storytelling

Branding is an immensely powerful tool, but a lot of people ignore it entirely. So, to ensure you don’t do the same, I’m going to use a different term for it. The “B” word sounds too much like something a marketing department spits out when they want to reach “target demographics” or improve “ROI”.

Forget buzz words for a second and think about what this actually means. What we’re actually talking about is adding a face to your voice online. When you build a website or write a post as a freelancer, people think or see one of two things – either A) who the hell is this guy?! or B)Who is this guy?

In either case, it doesn’t matter how good your content is – if the person reading it can’t figure out what you’re point is, you’re going to have a hell of a time figuring out how to stand out amongst a crowd of competitors.

It’s Storytelling

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to create a more visible and interesting narrative about me and my company. Basically, I wanted people to see me as the plucky underdog that I often felt I was. I’m not a corporate shill. I am intimately involved in every project I undertake and I work tirelessly to produce killer (and often interesting) content for my clients.

I never thought of it as branding even though I knew that was exactly what I was doing. But, I like to think of it as storytelling.

Call me a romantic. Call me a former creative writing major with $20K in student loan debt trying desperately to justify the 10 years of monthly payments. But don’t call me a marketer. Call me a storyteller.

We Are All Storytellers

Every day you walk out of your house you are a storyteller. The clothes you wear, the teams you support and the books you buy scream that you are a certain type of person and that you expect a certain response from the people you interact with.

I was reminded of this the other day as I walked into a Barnes and Noble near my house with my 16 month old son. I was wearing a ridiculously geeky t-shirt (courtesy of TeeFury – check it out) and a Mets hat and my son was wearing a shirt declaring that he was a ninja and that no one needed to worry in his presence and a hat declaring his staunch support for the Seattle Mariners, my home baseball team.

As I stood in line to buy a copy of America Again, the new book by Stephen Colbert and later that night as I watched Daily Show clips and old episodes of Community, I realized that literally everything I did projected a certain image of myself to other people.

I’ll let you piece all of that together, but the point is that when I leave the house I am telling a story simply by walking down the street. You do the same thing and so does nearly every person you meet. Are you the sum of all these parts – of course not – but people read them all the same.

So why not when you run your business?

The Purpose of Storytelling

Obviously, not everyone tells a legitimate story. That’s how marketing works. To sell something, a business or individual will put on a mask that they think their target audience wants to see.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but regardless of end results, storytelling is effective because of the innate human desire to hear a relatable, intimately familiar story told by someone you trust (or can come to trust).

That’s what a story does.

It shows people that you are like them. That you are someone they could theoretically know. At the same time, it shows that amazing things are capable in life. That the person hearing or reading the story could someday do something incredible, or in some cases, experience those incredible things through you.

A story simultaneously taps into what makes each of us human, regardless of income level, race or country of origin. We all have the same raw, core emotions in us somewhere. Stories speak to that.

Telling a Good Story About Your Business

When you create a narrative around yourself or your business, your first step is to ask “what do people in my niche desire or need?” Your goal doesn’t need to be to solve that problem – your product and its marketing materials do that. Your stories – the kind that are used to populate social media and drive blog readership – are designed to create a connection between you and those readers. So, what will that connection be based on?

Ask yourself this question and then start creating a story that speaks to its answer. People want to know the real you, but they want to know it in a certain way. Certain tones. Certain manners of speaking. Certain approaches to what you say and how you say it – these are the things that will help you stand out.

I’ve been pretty vague about who all this applies to and for good reason, because it applies to everyone. You can own a Fortune 500 company or be a freelancer just starting out and this will get your name out there in exciting new ways. So, give it a shot and don’t be afraid to tell an exciting story about yourself – we all have them in us somewhere.

About Anthony

Thanks for reading my blog! I've been in the digital marketing industry since graduating college in 2006 as a writer and strategist. I have an incredible family, a son with more energy than I can fathom, and an undying love for baseball and board games.

4 Responses to Marketing and Branding as Storytelling

  1. Ruth P November 2, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    I don’t know why I wasn’t reading your blog before, but I just clicked over after you left me a comment at my blog. I love this post! I have been thinking a lot about this recently, too, and I love the idea of being a storyteller rather than a marketer. I think you’re right it can apply to all business, but especially online it can make such a huge difference. I also want to practice the storytelling more in each and every blog post I write. This is not something I’ve done before but I think if I can wind some sort of personal story into each post – for example the way you wrote about what you and your son were wearing here – it’ll help reinforce the brand and help people relate to you more deeply.

    • Anthony November 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Hi Ruth, thanks for reading. I am admittedly not great at posting regularly of late, but it’s great to get such awesome feedback. I have been going down the marketing route more of late and, like you, I prefer telling stories. Plus, I have fun keeping my eye out for things that I can weave into the posts. Makes it more fun to blog (something I woefully keep forgetting to do), instead of it being a chore.

  2. Lisa November 7, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    I totally agree and want to use this technique MUCH more in the coming months. It’s a bit of an art though and so I’ve got some mastering to do! It seems hard to me for some reason but I’ll be using this technique combined with video – oh boy fun times ahead! 🙂

    • Anthony November 8, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      It is tough sometimes – especially when nothing interesting is happening life, haha. Some of the older posts on my site will attest to that – there’s a fine line between storytelling and rambling and I, at times, cross well over it.

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