Marketing and storytelling go hand-in-hand, to the extent that some organizations have alternative titles for their CMOs that highlight its importance: Chief Storytellers or Chief Storytelling Officers.
Stories are powerful things. A good story is incredibly memorable, builds an emotional connection, and will often be retold and shared over and over. These are all principles that good marketing should be built on, so it makes sense to approach them both in a similar fashion.
This means it’s essential for CMOs and marketers to understand why good stories are so important to marketing, how to build and tell an effective story, and where the most valuable storytelling opportunities lie.
In this guide, you’ll find a hub of insights from some of the world’s leading CMOs (which makes them some of the marketing world’s leading storytellers too), to help you hone your skills as a storyteller and your ability to apply these skills in a marketing context.
- What makes a good story, and why is it important to marketing and brands?
- The components of a great brand story
- Emotional brand storytelling
What makes a good story, and why is it important to marketing and brands?
A trap that many CMOs can fall into when it comes to their marketing is to focus too much on the positives. Conflict, no matter how minor, is essential to a great story, and if you work too hard to keep everything free of negativity, there’s no story for your audience to remember and connect with.
The power of conflict in marketing
As Gaston Tourn, CMO of Appear Here, says:
“We're always trying to show the shiny side of things, we're always trying to show people running for the fields, having ice cream, and being happy. That's not life, life can be miserable. But actually, when you show that side that's is a bit more negative, and it's a bit more, perhaps less nice, you connect with your customers at a deeper level and a more meaningful level…
“I love a quote from John le Carré: ‘the cat sat on a mat is not a story. The cat sat on a dog's mat is a story.’ You need a dog, you need conflict, to make a story interesting. One of the questions I always ask my team, whenever they present me an Instagram post or a press release, is ‘who is the dog?’
“Because obviously, without a dog in that piece of communication, there is no story, it's not going to be interesting. So always think who is the dog in your story? Who is the dog in your presentation to the board? Because if there is no conflict, people are going to probably switch off and go to the next post or the next website because you need conflict to make people interested in what you're saying.”
As Gaston says, when it comes to any piece of marketing, it’s important to think about the emotional core of the communication, whether it’s a single social media post or a large-scale campaign, and ask “Why should people care? What do they gain by paying attention?”
The simplest way to answer those questions is to work out what story is being told.
For more on the importance of storytelling, along with the principles that are important to telling stories with marketing, look no further.
Gaston Tourn on marketing storytelling
We spoke at length to Gaston on our CMO Convo podcast on how CMOs can become better storytellers. Hit the links below to either listen to the episode or read a write-up of what we discussed.
The components of a great brand story
If conflict is important to the narrative of a brand story, then you next need to think about who the characters of that story are going to be.
A danger when it comes to brand storytelling is to focus too much on the brand. There might be an interesting story behind the brand, there might be a great narrative going on right now or in the future. But there’s a key ingredient missing if you’re just talking about your brand, one that’s essential for crafting a story that’s engaging and relatable to your customers: people.
It’s a lot easier for people to empathize and build emotional connections with people, rather than faceless brands (no matter how cool your logo might be).
Incorporating the people who work at your organization into your brand stories plays a dual purpose. Not only does it add a human element to the work you’re doing for your audience to connect with, but it also encourages employees to feel more connected with the brand, which is a very powerful thing.
Humanizing brand storytelling
Erin McLean, CMO eSentire, shared these insights on the importance of building your brand stories around the people you work with:
“You want to give that nod always to your roots and in our case, our origins in financial services and the hedge fund space and in private equity space. But you want to say we're operating globally, we've built an incredible business that is capable of supporting 1000s of customers and making a real difference each and every day. So you've kind of got to dance that line a little bit.
“And one of the things that are so important as you really look at the why from a service perspective, is it's very easy to just have a bunch of bullets and a bunch of statements being like ‘Our platform's the best, we do this, we ingest this many signals every day, we disrupt attackers all the time’.
“But having individuals on the team showcasing their abilities, telling their stories, and really giving a face to what we do every day is so so important. So a huge focus of ours is elevating our internal team, talking about their promotions, their certifications, talking about the successes that they've had on behalf of our customers.”
This people-driven storytelling also extends to your customers. Encouraging your customers to tell their stories and successes related to your brand can make for an incredibly powerful tool, both as a means of having them act as advocates for you, but also build stronger relationships with them. You’ll show how much you value them and celebrate their successes.
Sharing your customers' stories
Erin has advice to share on this as well.
“[We want] our customers to talk about us. It's a delicate balance, we're in a space where information is extremely confidential, as it should be, cyber-attacks are not something you want to be prominently known for, certainly.
“But I think that there is that really delicate balance about partnership, about creating a sense of proactive defense, and about being proud of who you're partnered with and working with.”
Even if you’re not putting your customer stories out externally, listening to them can inform how you tell your stories. CMOs and their marketing teams should be continuously engaging with and listening to their customers on a regular basis, as doing so can be a huge help in how you tell your stories, especially if they dispel any misconceptions you might have on the story you should be telling.
Building your story on customer insights
Doing so was extremely useful for Yoni Solomon, CMO of Uptime.com, who shared how customer inputs and stories informed the direction he’s taken Uptime’s messaging and positioning:
“I interviewed everyone across the company and I would end my interviews with a quick question of "I'm just curious, between us, what's your quick elevator pitch for Uptime?" Everyone was always kind of caught off guard.
“But I took the three or four most, what I would call common pitches that I got from people, from co-founders all the way to the people on the front lines in sales and support and I put them up on a slide.
“And so, for instance, one of the descriptions I got from someone was, 'We provide excellent monitoring tools and features at a great cost'. Okay, that's a great what, but what's missing there's the why.
“And then on the very next slide, I showed some of my favorite nuggets from these customer interviews and these reviews where one of them was 'Uptime gives me peace of mind so I can go to sleep at night. You guys are our eyes' these really high EQ emotional statements.
“I compared one to the other: ‘Look how we describe ourselves. Great Uptime monitoring tools and features at a great cost versus this person who's literally saying you guys are our website lifesaver. That's powerful and different.' So we smashed those misconceptions right off the bat by showing the differences between our describing of the ‘what’ versus the people who we literally support giving us our ‘why’.”
For more on the power of people-driven brand storytelling, take look at the articles, podcasts, and presentations below.
Erin McLean on humanizing your brand story
Erin joined us on our CMO Convo podcast to discuss how and why she's putting people at the heart of eSentire's brand story. Listen to the episode or read a write-up of what we discussed by following the links below.
Yoni Solomon on creating messaging based on customer stories
Yoni Solomon is a regular guest on our CMO Diaries podcast, and in one of the episodes, he discussed the importance of customer stories in creating an effective messaging and positioning narrative.
Check out the episode, or read a write-up by following the links below.
Leading CMOs on the importance of customer stories
At our CMO Summit in November 2021, Erin McLean joined two other leading CMOs, Amanda Malko of G2 and Cassie Gasson of THRIVE, to discuss the steps they're taking to enhance and celebrate customer success through storytelling. Watch the talk OnDemand by following the link.
Emotional brand storytelling
Building an emotional connection with your audience is one of the most powerful things a marketer can do, and it should be something you strive towards with your brand storytelling.
The emotional elements of great brand stories
Maury Rogow, CMO of The Video Bot and CEO and founder of Rip Media, has this advice on the emotions we should be aiming for when it comes to marketing:
“There are really five great emotions or great elements to any story that'll make a difference and those are STUFF. I'm full of acronyms.
“S for is it sexy or does it sizzle? Now, this doesn't mean actor/actress on the beach, that kind of thing. In commercials, you can do that but it can mean ‘18% returns out of my stock portfolio, which means I can take that vacation, which means I can do this or that’. That sizzles.
“Every company has the opportunity to either make your customer the hero. How can you make them sizzle, look sexy, etc?
“T is touching. There was a great campaign by Google for Gmail. It was all about bringing families together, a father sending his daughter, who was like two years old, messages to her that she would read in 10 or 15 years, it was beautifully done. Very simple, but beautifully done. How can we touch the heart? Or how can we inspire?
“U is a funny one. U is it's got to be completely unique. If you're playing catch up to the big brand that's ahead of you, or the great technology next door, you will lose. You need to be unique, you need to find out what your customers' ‘aha’ moment is. Go poll them, talk to them, ask them, get this together and say ‘Oh my gosh, we found out it's not the interface they love it's the customer support, it's the care that we'll wait until eight o'clock at night to solve a problem instead of going home’.
“So whatever makes you unique, celebrate that and talk about that.
“Then the two F's are funny and fear. Funny is really difficult. Most companies back away from it because if it doesn't hit, it can go south, it can be sour, but you can always lean on humor. You don't have to be too risky with going for funny. So funny, think about Dollar Shave Club, there's Budweiser commercials, the Budweiser frogs, the Geico geckos, these kinds of things, they're all going for funny, totally unusual, different, unique, and fun.
“Fear is a great one and Silicon Valley uses this every day, it's FOMO - fear of missing out. What about your product can you help people realize if they miss out on this, they are going to be left in the dust. They will not have the job, they will not be able to buy the doll for their kid or their action figures, they will be at home without a job or they're just going to get passed by for that promotion.”
When it comes to lessons on how to build emotional connections through storytelling, great storytelling CMOs like Gaston and Maury advise looking beyond examples from marketing. They believe CMOs should be looking to literature and cinema to learn how to instill emotion into their narratives.
For more on building emotional connections with brand storytelling, dive into more of our articles, podcasts, and presentations.
Maury Rogow on bringing Hollywood storytelling to marketing
We spoke to Maury on our CMO Convo podcast on how CMOs can tap into the tropes and techniques of cinema to enhance how they tell stories.
Follow the links below to either listen to the episode, or read a write-up of his advice.
Want to explore more on CMOs and storytelling? Join the conversation at the CMO Alliance community!