Why Storytelling Is Not a Content Marketing Panacea
Go ahead and access any content marketing guide. We’ll let this be your choice for our brief experiment. You’ll find a vital tip: storytelling is a must! This technique is being presented as the panacea for content marketing. It’s the ultimate solution for all troubles you may encounter throughout your efforts to promote a product or a service.
The argumentation is valid. They will tell you that National Geographic engages hundreds of millions of followers. And that is the absolute truth; that brand does manage to engage a massive audience through storytelling. But hey, storytelling is not content marketing for National Geographic. It’s the brand’s essential goal. They are telling stories for the sake of telling stories.
When you’re selling products or services, storytelling is not your essential goal. For you, it’s all about boosting sales. So maybe it’s time to put your inner Tolstoy on a leash? Let’s see why storytelling is NOT a content marketing panacea for every campaign. Of course, we’ll also pay attention to the good aspects of the storytelling method since we’re not here to deny its entire value.
The Good Things about Storytelling
Storytelling is a creative approach to writing content. We’ll mention Wait But Why as another good example. This blog is a huge success thanks to the storytelling method. However, the author does not use storytelling as a marketing technique. It’s simply his style of expression. That’s why it’s so effective in this case, just as it is with National Geographic.
The main argument that storytelling has in favour is that our affection towards stories has been baked into our DNA. The human brain practically loves stories, and there’s a scientific explanation behind that claim. Scientists found that character-driven stories boost oxytocin levels in people’s brains. This neurochemical signals that it’s safe to approach others, and it does that by enhancing the sense of empathy.
When you position these findings in a business setting, you’re focused on telling your brand’s story. You may add customer experiences through stories, so your audience will see how your products and services improve people’s lives. That may work.
Through storytelling, you will build an emotional connection with your target audience. A great story will awaken their sense of empathy and trigger action. If, for example, you’re donating £5 of each sold product to a great cause, someone’s story related to that cause will make this campaign much more powerful.
Plus, a story will add length to your content. Instead of presenting solely facts and dry information, you’ll add a valuable element. This will boost your Google ranking. At least that’s what the SEO guys say – long-form content will rank higher.
All these arguments are valid. Great stories will add value to your content marketing campaign. But are they the universal solution for every situation? Nope!
The Truth: Why Storytelling Is NOT a Universal Content Marketing Solution
Let’s remind ourselves: why do people use the Internet, anyway?
There are two immediate needs they need to satisfy: entertainment and problem-solving.
They prefer watching videos and cute photos or reading punchy stories to get entertained. However, when promoting a business, you can hardly make your posts attractive to the audience that wants entertainment. They don’t need promotion. They are not particularly interested in buying something. They just want to spend their time in a stress-free online environment.
The other major category of Internet users is looking for information. That’s where you can fit your business in. When people are looking for information about your products or services, you can serve it to them, along with recommendations to buy specific things from you or take another action you want to trigger.
When you’re promoting a brand, you’re trying to offer solutions. Your target audience is looking for specific answers to specific questions. Take Google’s Answer Boxes as an example. Let’s say you’re selling essential oils. People who are interested in such a product will use the Internet to get information. They don’t want a story on how an essential oil changed someone’s life, okay?
So this person will probably put these keywords in Google: “best brand of essential oils.” This is what Google will answer:
It will launch an answer box, which instantly responds to the user’s query. You want your brand featured in that answer, so the potential buyer will easily get attracted to it.
Let’s take a look at the source from the answer box: What are the best essential oil brands? In the article, there’s enough information about different brands, so the reader can decide what the best one is.
If you’re promoting such a brand, you’d want it featured in such an article, so you’ll engage in guest posting and influencer marketing. Those posts will not be based on stories. They will share information. They will show solutions to specific problems. That’s how they will trigger buying decisions.
In Some Situations, Storytelling Doesn’t Work at All
Have you seen those food blogs that rely on the storytelling method? For example, you’re trying to find a good recipe for a gluten-free cake, so you’ll do what any reasonable person would: ask Google.
So you see this awesome vanilla cake in the photo and hit the link. Suddenly, you start reading a story. The blogger shares her eternal love for vanilla. She tells you about September being a month of birthdays in her family. Or, she tells you how she went on a romantic weekend with her husband and surprised him with this cake. Whatever story she decides to tell, the content goes on and on and on. You keep scrolling and wondering: “where’s the damn recipe?”
Such a story will hardly evoke any emotion and won’t awaken your sympathy for the writer. By the time you get to the recipe, you’re already frustrated. You may like and try the recipe but won’t like the blog.
So no, storytelling doesn’t work every single time. In fact, there are specific situations when you’d like to avoid it in your content. Suppose your audience is looking for straightforward answers and solutions. In that case, the story will be irrelevant, and it might make the on-site experience frustrating for them.
So What Does Work, Then?
Susan Green, a content marketer at BestEssays, shares her experience with this method: “When you’re new to content marketing, you’re willing to accept any recommendation that’s being forced in online guides,” – she says. “That’s what I did. Storytelling was a huge trend, so I assumed I must stick to it. I based the content marketing campaign for my startup entirely on storytelling. And it didn’t work. At all! When I started working for BestEssays, the manager made me realise that I was missing an important element in that campaign: data.”
Let’s get back to Wait But Why again. Access any article from that blog. You may access an article from National Geographic, too. What do you notice? It’s not just a story. The writers also provide data you can learn from.
As an example, check out this article. It starts with a story, and it immediately engages you. Then, it gives you valuable information… infused into a great story. That’s not pure storytelling. It’s an approach that combines value and entertainment into one.
Let’s be more precise: what content marketing strategies work for businesses?
Relevant stories that evoke emotions
Storytelling will work only when it’s relevant, and it awakens people’s emotions. Suppose you’re relying on content marketing to promote a business. In that case, it’s challenging to think of a story that would trigger emotions. At this point, you may rely on user testimonials, but they must not be fake or inflated. Remember those TV shopping channel commercials? Those stories are fake and reasonable people know it. You don’t want reasonable people to consider your business fake. The stories should be genuine and trustworthy.
When people are after information, they want credible data. If, for example, you’re trying to sell a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you should show some percentages. You won’t do that through storytelling; you’ll do that through case studies. You will show how your product helped businesses improve their customer relationships.
Calls to action
This is where storytelling often needs to catch up on the boat. The story may be significant. It will draw the audience in, and it may even help them identify themselves with your brand’s values. The story evolves, and then it serves its ending. But then what? What should the reader do? Failure to deliver a proper call to action won’t trigger the reader’s desire to buy, subscribe, or share.
A simple list of features and solutions with a call to action would work much better when promoting something.
If you use storytelling, your story must make the reader hungry for what you offer. It should evolve into a call to action. Otherwise, all that effort will go to waste.
Final Lesson: There Is No Panacea in Content Marketing
Panacea – a solution or remedy for all difficulties or diseases.
Is there such a universal solution for every obstacle you face throughout the development and execution of your content marketing strategy? Absolutely not. What worked for another campaign will not necessarily work for yours. Storytelling is a huge trend, and it does work in some situations, but it’s not a universal trick.
The lesson is: find what works for you. In content marketing, the key to success is analysing the target audience’s needs and delivering solutions in a format that works for them. Some prefer data. Others want stories. Some want videos, and others like long-form content. Your audience has the solutions, so analyse them well!