There's a reason we tell our kids stories before bed, rather than listing off a bunch of facts or ideas. Stories have a way of capturing the imagination, pulling us in, and leaving us wanting more ("One more story, Daddy?")

But stories shouldn't just be relegated to a child's bedroom. Stories can be a powerful tool for brands wanting to connect with their customers on a more human level.

In a 2012 TED Talk, Pixar's Andrew Stanton said, "The problems of information overload in making your voice heard are many, but their solution is simple - your story, told by you." This is a powerful testament to the impact of an authentic story.

This post will look at how businesses can get their voice heard through stories, as well as some examples of brands who are successfully using storytelling as part of their online marketing.

Why your business needs to use stories

There's certainly nothing new about storytelling. Stories have been used for centuries to entertain, educate and inspire.

But many businesses still haven't caught on to the power of storytelling for their brand.

Storytelling infographic

Image sources: LookBookHQ and Beutler Ink

Following are just five of the many benefits of using stories in your marketing.

1. Stories convince and persuade in a non-threatening way

Stories can help build empathy in your audience, reducing the risk they feel in buying from you. Listing the features and benefits of your products will never do this, no matter how eloquently they're written.

Jane Praeger, who teaches strategic storytelling at Columbia University, explains it best: "As people in [the] audience begin to empathize with the characters in the story, their tendency to be defensive and counter argue, begins to recede. That's why storytelling is a great tool for getting people on board with a new idea."

2. Stories let people experience your product/service before they ever even try it.

In his book, The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall describes stories as "feelings we don't have to pay [full cost] for". In other words, stories allow us to feel certain emotions without having to live the experiences ourself. Use stories to draw your prospects in, allowing them to experience those emotions that help them connect to your brand.

3. Stories humanize your brand.

People increasingly want to buy from other real people, who they know and trust. It's how brands become bigger brands. Stories can help with this. As you'll see in the examples below, stories have a way of making your business more personable and relatable, and help lower the risk your prospects may feel in doing business with you.

4. Stories boost the viral factor.

A product page is unlikely to get social likes and shares - at least to the point where it goes viral. A story, on the other hand, is perfect for sharing.

According to Sumo's analysis of the 10,000 most shared articles online, those that evoked awe, laughter and amusement were most likely to get shared. Try evoking those emotions with your product page!

5. Stories are memorable.

Long after your marketing campaign has ended, the recollection of your story will remain (assuming it was done right!). A well-crafted story not only draws readers in, but also leaves a lasting impression. Why settle for boring, forgettable copy when you could be using stories to leave a permanent (or at least long-lasting) mark?

Three companies who are doing storytelling right

As you can see, there are many benefits to using storytelling in your business. But how exactly do you incorporate these stories into your marketing? How do you use stories to connect with your audience, while also helping to grow your business?

Following are three examples of companies who are doing it right, along with takeaways you can implement today in your own business.

Greats Footwear

Greats footwear screenshot

In 2012, friends Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi decided to launch a different kind of men's shoe company. Tired of the inefficiencies and high costs of dealing with third party retailers, they wanted to try something different: selling high-end shoes for less, direct to the consumer.

A quick Google search for "Greats footwear" reveals far more than just links to their products or website. What you'll mainly find are articles that retell Ryan and Jon's story (much like I'm doing in this post).

The company has achieved tremendous success since its launch, both in terms of sales and PR. In fact, they sold out of many of their styles in the first 90 days after launch.

Why is this? Many believe it's because their story of origin resonates with so many people. They don't need to continually retell their story, because their entire business is built on their story.

Their business model is so closely tied to their story that the two are now virtually inseparable. You can't buy a pair of Greats without understanding how and why the company came to be.

Takeaway: Why did you start your business? What common problem were you trying to solve? What's your business's mission, and why are you so passionate about it? Tell your origin story in a way that clearly communicates the passion you have for your brand.

Five Senses Coffee

Five Senses coffee screenshot

Founded in 1997 by then-school principal, Dean Gallagher, Five Senses Coffee company was borne out of a desire to provide excellent, ethically-sourced coffee.

Their website details their story of origin, from Gallagher's initial desire to get involved with the local families who were growing coffee beans, to roasting beans by the kilogram in a hot tin shed, to eventually building their own mill in Sumatra.

They go beyond a simple origin story, however. Even their beans have a story. They recount the journey of their beans, from origin, to roasting, to cafe. This journey is detailed in text and images, providing a clear narrative from farm to cup.

Detailing these journeys goes a long way to connecting their audience with their product. Once you hear their story, you'd be hard-pressed not to think of it every time you enjoyed a cup of Five Senses coffee.

Takeaway: Don't limit yourself to your story of origin. Keep it going by telling the story of your products and processes. Use both text and images to detail your personal journey, as well as the journey your products have undergone to get into your customers' hands.

Sugru

Sugru screenshot

You may not have heard of Sugru, but they've achieved some pretty amazing press and sales numbers over the past few years (they were rated above the iPad in Time Magazine's 2010 top 50 inventions).

The concept is simple: Sugru is a silicone putty that can be used to fix or make just about anything. Think of it like a functional type of Play-Doh.

The company regularly shares stories submitted by happy customers. For instance, how Jim used Sugru to add grips to his ski poles while trekking in the North Pole. Or how Eimear used it to fix her student's wheelchair (see picture above). Or how Stefan used Sugru to redesign his camera so his three year old wouldn't break it.

Takeaway: Don't underestimate the impact of user-submitted stories. Ask your customers to submit not only reviews, but personal stories of how your business or product has impacted them.

Final thoughts

Stories can be used in virtually every area of your online marketing. If you're having trouble figuring out how/where to start, here are some places that are ideal for telling stories:

Do you use storytelling in your online marketing? In what ways? Share below!

 

Published on: Jun 10, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.