Don’t Market a Feature. Tell a Story.

theaterOur lives are filled with stories. Great books, TV shows, plays, musicals and movies are all popular in our culture because of the stories they tell. Stories engage us, fascinate us, and sometimes teach and inspire us. The best political candidates have a “great personal story.”

Too many marketing campaigns that I’ve seen are based on features and benefits, rather than stories. A bulleted list rarely engages and inspires. A screenshot has no inherent drama. One of the reasons social media has become more and more popular with businesses is that it engages an audience in the story of your business as it unfolds.

So why don’t more businesses take their products to market with compelling stories? Because telling good stories is hard. Marketing professionals are rarely gifted with the same talents as good storytellers — a sense of character and motivation, a gift for drama and plot, the ability to create an engaging setting.

Here are some ideas for using good storytelling techniques to market your products:

  1. Understand Your Audience: If you’re reading a young adult novel, and it opens with a discussion of theoretical physics, you’d probably put it down pretty quickly. Or if you go to a movie called Robot Invasion and it turns out to be a chick flick, you would lose interest and walk out. Delivering the right story to the right audience is crucial. You want your prospects to see your materials and think Yes! This relates to me!
  2. Use Three-Dimensional Characters: The latest “laptop hunter” ads from Microsoft show how using what appears to be a real person involved in a genuine struggle (to find the right laptop) can create a compelling marketing campaign. Whether you use actual testimonials from your customers and clients, or you create compelling fictional characters whose motivations and experiences are believable, having great, relatable characters in your story is a must.
  3. Provide Real Conflict: If your product is any good, it solves a real problem. Use storytelling to highlight in a meaningful way the pain that affects your prospects and show how your product delivers them from that pain. When the story gets to its satisfying conclusion, and your product has saved the day, your audience will appreciate it.
  4. Deliver a Sequel: The best stories don’t end after the first installment. Keep your audience engaged by creating new scenarios, bigger drama and more powerful resolutions.

One of the ways we’ve put this theory to the test is by creating what we call “Hell and Heaven Slides” — PowerPoint presentations that use graphics, animation and text to tell a story. The first slide is the Hell slide and it shows the viewer how the world looks without our client’s product, and the second slide explains how that Hell is transformed into Heaven when our client’s product is introduced. It’s a simple concept that works because it targets the right audience, introduces relatable characters, and provides conflict and a satisfying resolution.

The next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, ask yourself: Is this a good story?

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