More and more, companies of all kinds are recognizing the need to create and market high-quality content that is noticed and embraced by the target audience. And increasingly, companies are turning their attention to stories as content that can capture customers’ attention and differentiate the company and its offerings. But not all stories are created equal. Some truly capture customers’ fancy and help drive loyalty and sales, while others miss the mark (sometimes by a long shot).
What makes a story engaging to customers and effective in motivating them to buy? In our experience, there are eight fundamental characteristics of a great story.
#1: It’s relevant: Stories that aren’t meaningful to people will have no impact. Thus, companies should make sure they know what’s important to their customers—whether by conducting traditional customer research, using analytics, or monitoring the chatter on social media—and build their stories around what customers are thinking. Often that can mean creating different versions of the same story, each tailored to a particular need, concern or area of interest.
#2: It’s credible: While people love to be entertained by the stories coming out of Hollywood, that’s typically not the case when it comes to corporate narratives. People asked to consider buying a product or service, however subtly, want to know that they’re not dealing with smoke and mirrors. They generally don’t like to take a leap of faith in their dealings with product or service providers, but rather, want proof that what they’re buying “works.”
#3: It’s compelling: If a story can’t grab the intended audience and hold their attention, it’s either not worth telling or it’s not being told in the right way. What makes a story compelling is generally a combination of factors—subject matter, words, imagery, sound and others—all working together to create an experience in the minds of readers, viewers or listeners.
#4: It’s persuasive: Great stories don’t simply keep people interested. They also excel in motivating people to do something—and for companies, that typically means ultimately buying something from them. Similar to the previous hallmark, persuasiveness is not the result of any one factor. But imagery and words generally play a dominant role in making a connection—emotional, intellectual, or both—with customers and moving them to action.
#5: It’s timely: Unlike the classics of literature and film, which people can read or watch over and over, storytelling in a marketing context must align with a person’s need within the buying cycle. That means it must be informed by an understanding of when customers or prospects are considering a purchase, the context in which they are determining whether and what to buy, and the information they need to help them make the purchase decision.
#6: It’s understandable: A story may have a great underlying message with real potential to inspire and engage prospects and customers. But it will never live up to its promise if the target audience has trouble deciphering what a company is truly trying to get across. Regardless of medium, a story needs to unfold logically, making it easy for the audience to “connect the dots” and follow the narrative.
#7: It’s informative: The most effective corporate narratives are those that educate and inform, that provide insights on something people value. Such stories convey an air of authority or credibility, often through research, that benefits the companies authoring them. By telling the audience something they didn’t know (but should), these stories position the company as a place the audience can turn for help addressing a particular personal, professional or business challenge.
#8: It’s authentic: People, whether business buyers or consumers, hate to be fooled. They avoid companies they perceive to be insincere or untruthful. Thus, if companies want their stories to have a positive impact on their audience, they should strive to ensure that their stories are true—and, more important, are true to the essence of the company.
The bottom line is that if a company wants its content to make an impact—i.e., attract customers’ and prospects’ attention and spur them to action—it must tell a great story. Anything else is just additional noise and clutter that discourages people from wanting to learn more about a company and its offerings and, ultimately becomes another unwanted obstacle in the buying process.
(For a more in-depth discussion of the eight hallmarks, including examples of companies that are doing it right, read our white paper “Creating Stories That Inform, Enlighten and Inspire: The Eight Hallmarks of a Great Corporate Narrative.”)