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Marketing as storytelling

Is good marketing really just a matter of good storytelling? Dr Steven Sparling argues why good storytelling always succeeds for creative marketing.
Large white table covered in books and a multicoloured crochet chain and a big black and white print, there is a red camera screen in the foreground.
© Kingston University

Good marketing is storytelling.

Good storytelling is about the audience.

If you’re telling a story to young children, you will hopefully not tell it the same way you would tell a story to teens – you adapt according to the listener. But also, a good storyteller is monitoring the listener to see how the story is ‘landing’ – how it is being received – and adjusting accordingly. If the audience’s attention is rapt, you might stretch the story out, but if the audience is getting bored, you might quicken up the pace to get to the next action part.

Good storytellers vary the tone of their voice, the speed at which they talk, the kinds of words they choose. Good storytellers use their faces, hands and sometimes bodies to help bring the story to life. They know how to build up tension, release it with a bang, and how to get a laugh from their audience. Good storytellers are manipulative, in that they are manipulating their audience in order for them to have an experience of listening to the story. They take them on a journey. And every good journey has a beginning, a middle, an end.

I want you to view marketing in exactly the same way.

Marketing your business is about spinning a story for your listeners, who are your customers. Like telling a story to a 5-year-old, you must be constantly monitoring your audience: are they listening? What do they want more of? Less of? How can you surprise them, delight them, make them laugh?

And once you’ve done it once, how can you do it again, but differently?

Focus on your audience – educate them, brighten their day, share something meaningful with them – or make them laugh or see the world in a different way.

Focus on these goals, not on selling them something.

Selling will come by getting their attention, but first you need to get and keep their attention. Storytelling is the way to do it.

Let me give you a small example. Yesterday, I sat in a café looking out the window. Opposite was a Tesco truck (a grocery chain in the UK). On the side of the truck (or lorry) was a painted sign that said, ‘No baguettes are left in this vehicle overnight.’

It made me chuckle.

I laughed because it is a witty play on similar signs that one can see on some vans, saying ‘no tools are left in the vehicle overnight,’ or shops where there is a sign to say ‘there is no cash left on the premises overnight.’ So not only is it a clever play on similar statements, but it also implies the baguettes are baked fresh every day, without coming right out and saying it. It demonstrates humour and wit, but also gives you information about the brand. It’s clever marketing. It delighted me while I drank my coffee and I still remember it the next day. Those 8 words told me a story.

We’re going to go deeper into marketing over the next couple steps, but as we look at the nitty gritty, don’t lose sight of the fact that marketing is really nothing more than storytelling.

Become a masterful storyteller and you will be a skilled and confident marketer.

© Kingston University
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