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Wielding the Power of a Story

We all intu­itive­ly know the pow­er of a good sto­ry. It’s what makes us lean in at a par­ty, binge just *one* more episode, or scroll a lit­tle deep­er on someone’s social feed. As humans, we’re fas­ci­nat­ed by oth­er people’s lives and expe­ri­ences, whether dif­fer­ent or sim­i­lar to our own. As mar­keters and com­mu­ni­ca­tors, there’s per­haps no oth­er bet­ter tool in our belt than that of a good sto­ry – to catch people’s atten­tion, influ­ence behav­ior, change per­cep­tion or dri­ve a point home.

Think about how you make deci­sions. In the past week or so alone, I’ve asked a ser­vice provider for refer­rals, polled my Insta­gram friends for help in a deci­sion, scoured reviews on a prod­uct and pulled the trig­ger on some­thing that was adver­tised to me after watch­ing a video fea­tur­ing the founder’s per­son­al sto­ry. All of this behav­ior comes from a place of want­i­ng input and sto­ries from oth­er humans, not just a com­pa­ny, brand or fact sheet.

So how do we as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of those com­pa­nies and brands wield the pow­er of sto­ry­telling in our mar­ket­ing efforts?

Stay clear on what you’re selling.

This may sound obvi­ous, but we find it’s an exer­cise worth com­ing back to time and time again, as it can serve as a com­pass, point­ing to the sto­ries that ulti­mate­ly mat­ter to people.

Hos­pi­tal­i­ty and tourism clients we work with aren’t just sell­ing hotel pack­ages; they’re sell­ing mem­o­ries, relax­ation or won­der. Health­care com­pa­nies aren’t just sell­ing tech­nol­o­gy or ther­a­py or devices; they’re sell­ing a break­through, a health­i­er future for some­one or more acces­si­ble or afford­able care.

By stay­ing focused on what you’re real­ly sell­ing, you can more clear­ly iden­ti­fy those who embody these sto­ries — whether cus­tomers, users, founders, staff or oth­er stakeholders.

Con­sid­er where real peo­ple can move front and cen­ter for your brand or campaign.

Most of us have prob­a­bly been told, “data tells, sto­ries sell.” I’d argue that togeth­er sto­ries and proof points cre­ate a home­run pack­age for today’s savvy con­sumers. With our clients, we work hard to help them illus­trate the infor­ma­tion they want to share – pulling out the sto­ries that will res­onate with tar­get audiences.

A man stands behind a podium and speaks to a group of firefighters and reportersWe used this approach with our client, the Min­neso­ta Fire­fight­er Ini­tia­tive (MnFIRE), in its fight to pass fire­fight­er-health leg­is­la­tion known as the Home­town Heroes Assis­tance Pro­gram. Beyond just stats or gen­er­al­i­ties, we shared spe­cif­ic sto­ries with media about fire­fight­ers – those who had lost their lives and the strug­gles they faced, and con­verse­ly those whose lives were spared because of the resources that MnFIRE cham­pi­ons, con­vey­ing the pow­er and urgency of this issue. One of the most pow­er­ful sto­ries we shared was from Jen Frantz, the wid­ow of Rice Lake Town­ship Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment Chief Matt Frantz, who died of a heart attack at age 42. “I believe that if he were still here it would’ve been one of his top pri­or­i­ties to make sure his fel­low fire­fight­ers were stay­ing healthy, not only in body but in mind. And I know he would want to make sure that, for them­selves and for their fam­i­lies and fel­low fire­fight­ers, they had all the sup­port they could get.”

We used a sim­i­lar approach with health ben­e­fits provider Gravie. Rather than bul­let points to boast Gravie’s excep­tion­al cus­tomer ser­vice depart­ment and build trust with mem­bers, we sat down with Han­nah, one of the account reps, to share her sto­ry on Gravie’s blog about what if felt like to be a 26-year-old com­ing off her par­ents’ health plan, con­fused and over­whelmed, and what now dri­ves her pas­sion in help­ing today’s health plan mem­bers nav­i­gate their plan.

Sto­ries and spokes­peo­ple can come from almost anywhere.

Start telling!

Media crave a good sto­ry as much as your tar­get audi­ence and can be some of the best ampli­fiers of your stories.

When man­u­fac­tur­ing client Mal­co pur­chased a defunct man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in DeWitt, Nebras­ka, rather than focus­ing sim­ply on the busi­ness expan­sion or the prod­ucts, we told the sto­ries of the peo­ple in town who had worked at the shut­tered plant and were now head­ed back to work. One sto­ry in par­tic­u­lar res­onat­ed with media: Gene Tyser, a larg­er-than-life char­ac­ter with a deep voice and a mus­tache that enters a room before he does, who spent 30 years work­ing at the icon­ic VISE-GRIP tool fac­to­ry in DeWitt, until it closed and moved oper­a­tions to Chi­na in 2008. Despite the dis­ap­point­ment, Tyser remained a strong advo­cate of man­u­fac­tur­ing in DeWitt: “I tell any­one who’ll listen—before I die, I want to see anoth­er tool come out of this fac­to­ry in DeWitt, and I want to be buried with the first one that comes off the line,” he said. A decade lat­er, he went back to work at the fac­to­ry for Mal­co, bring­ing his exper­tise and pas­sion to the team.

A crowd listens as a woman speaks into a microphone

And when Lin­da Chris­tensen, the long­time but­ter sculp­tor of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court at the Min­neso­ta State Fair retired after 50 years, we saw it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to share her sto­ry, know­ing it would also help tell the sto­ry of dairy. The unique jour­ney she’d been on res­onat­ed with media around the U.S., land­ing every­where from CBS Sun­day Morn­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post. In doing so, it opened the door to talk about how mean­ing­ful our client Mid­west Dairy’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way pro­gram is to the dairy com­mu­ni­ty, pro­vid­ing a plat­form for young dairy lead­ers to con­nect with con­sumers and help build trust.

Lead­ing with a com­pelling sto­ry – and a grip­ping main char­ac­ter – opens the door to share the mes­sages you ulti­mate­ly want stake­hold­ers to remem­ber. Beyond use with the media, con­sid­er where you can lead with sto­ries in your com­pa­ny blog, on social media, on your web­site, in email and direct mar­ket­ing, and beyond.

Break­ing through the bar­rage of infor­ma­tion your audi­ences con­sume isn’t easy, but with the age-old art of sto­ry­telling, we can find oppor­tu­ni­ties to cap­ti­vate, build trust and cre­ate mean­ing­ful and last­ing engagements.

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