Connecting to your market through storytelling

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“People are no longer buying stuff, they are buying your why.” Shonté Jovan Taylor, neuroscientist and author1

The concept of brand storytelling is a critical part of successful marketing. Now, I don’t mean a “Long long time ago, in a faraway land…” type of story (we’ll call those tales). Brand story really means understanding and clearly conveying why you matter as a business, and importantly knowing to who you matter the most.

Communicating your “why” encompasses both the “what” (your brand definition) and the “how” (what you say, how you say it, to who, etc.). We talk a lot about defining your brand to understand the basis of your story, or the “what” of your why. With this blog post, I want to look at the “how.”

Understanding the power of the right brain and left brain

Humans are defined by their feelings. According to Harvard Business School Professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchase decisions are made in the subconscious, in the feeling mind, in the right brain. So while our left brain needs validation, statistics and proof, it’s our right brain that has more pull when it comes to making the decision.

This means that it’s important to facilitate a human connection between the preferred, logical choice (buy our product) and the decision to do it (Do I buy? Who do I buy from?). This is where storytelling comes in. The more people connect to a narrative, the more likely they are to change their attitudes and beliefs in line with that narrative. There are various ways to facilitate this connection, but one of the main considerations is the impact of language.

The power of words

Storytelling is as much about the way you tell the story as it is about what you say. In this way, language plays a large role in the impact you can have with your brand.

I am often challenging my clients to be specific and deliberate in language. What you say can be abstract (“he hates that”) or concrete (“he slammed the door in frustration”) and there’s power in both. Abstract language reflects things we know through our intellect—hate, truth, kindness—, whereas concrete language refers to things we know through our senses: the left brain and the right brain, respectively.

Multiple neuroscientists have advanced that a concept (or story) that lights up both sides of the brain is more likely to be remembered. So it’s important to use both abstract and concrete language to communicate about your brand.

As marketers, it can be easy to rely solely on abstract language (e.g., “great customer service”). Though this may sound great, it might be hard for anyone outside your organization to understand what you mean. The solution is to explain what makes your customer service story so great (i.e., “We’re here for you 24 hours a day by phone, tweet or email. We’re ready for any comments, questions or issues you might have.”).

Know your audience

The other side of the language equation is understanding who you are trying to connect with. Segmenting and personifying your audience is a common marketing strategy. Not only does this help you focus your efforts, but it also gives better guidance to the how of your storytelling.

Words have power and connotations can carry a lot of weight. Trust in the strength of your brand story and the language you use to share it, but always be conscious of how your message might be received. Understanding your segments means understanding the language that resonates strongest for the desired response.

Does this mean you need to have all the answers before you go to market? No. But it does mean you should have a plan from which you begin to shape your story. This plan should be informed by cultural, geographic and other contextual factors that are always at play in the world of your buyers.

Listen to understand what works

Listen to your customers: They will guide you.

Look at the data you already have; your existing customer database(s) and analytics platforms are the perfect place to start understanding how customers are interacting with you and what their expectations are. You want to look for key trends in their behaviours and motivations (i.e., email open rates for discounts vs. submitting a form to get a quote) as well as the language that resonates (i.e., keywords, ad click-through rates and calls to action).

If you don’t have this data, start building more robust data collection throughout your marketing platform. Once you have a baseline, you can start methodically testing your messages to continually refine and optimize the how of your why.

1. 15,000-Year-Old Marketing Strategy: Why it Works Presentation at the SXSW 2017 Conference, Austin, Texas.

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