Want to sell your brand? Get better at storytelling

Facebook's decision to remove, then reinstate news content from Australian feeds is yet another reminder of the ongoing tension brands face when competing for audience attention, writes Howorth managing director Jacquie Potter.

The world has changed and continues to change around us. The media landscape was in a state of flux for years before news of the pandemic took over our airwaves, papers and feeds. Newsrooms have shrunk, many publications have disappeared, and most have found it increasingly difficult to remain relevant or profitable.

As communications professionals, this means there are fewer earned media opportunities. We must find other places to tell client stories and new ways to make them meaningful. 


Marketing has the opposite problem. The proliferation of digital and social channels means it’s never been easier to reach a specific audience, but industry experts estimate these fragmented audiences are now exposed to more than 5,000 ads per day. As a brand, you’d need to have something extraordinary to say in order to cut through the noise. 

A large and growing number of people have also been tuning out of brand conversations for years now, with ad blocker downloads continuing to rise and regulators providing opportunities to opt out of personal data collection. Accurately targeting audiences is about to get even harder, with Google planning to make third-party cookies obsolete next year.

Whichever way you look at it, reaching the right audience and holding their attention is increasingly difficult. How then should marketing and communications teams ensure that brands reach these fragmented audiences and remain relevant? 

The answer is grounded in age-old social and cultural activity of storytelling, yet needs to be partnered with modern-day tools and analytics.

Neuroscientist Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, discovered through his research that well-told stories release oxytocin. This is the neurochemical that tells the brain it’s safe to trust someone. Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ because of its role in forging human connections and creating empathy.

Marketers and communicators have long used stories to raise brand awareness, but these stories could be doing so much more. In a world where there are fewer earned media opportunities and fragmented audiences are on autopilot, the emotional pull of a story that matters is now a brand’s strongest asset.   

Your story tells us what you stand for and how you’re different from the competition. It tells us how you’re solving problems and helping your audiences achieve their goals. It tells us how you’ve changed and what you’ll never change. It gives us reasons to believe.

Too many stories fail to reach their full potential in the fast and fragmented world of business communications. They’re created, pitched and all too quickly forgotten. They aren’t linked to commercial goals. This is a missed opportunity because good stories sell.

There’s an opportunity to take your brand story and make it work across all channels from awareness through to sales. It should connect what your business is doing and thinking to every audience touchpoint. It’s about telling your story consistently to your customers and other audiences wherever and whenever you communicate with them.

Digital tools and data can help you craft your story in a way that is most relevant to your audience and not just your brand. The most effective storytelling strategies leverage qualitative insights, search trends, social data and content analytics to unlock insights about the themes, emotional drivers and the questions that audiences want to see addressed.  

Going further, we can continue the impact of the message through empowering and enabling sales teams. Through supporting them with the information that their prospects are seeing the conversations they are having become another channel to leverage. Underpinning this is smart measurement that provides insights and enables you to learn and adapt based on how the audience is responding. 

Through bringing the old traditions and new tools together that these micro-moments connect to join the dots – connecting the small details with the big picture. This will help you earn influence and drive growth. In today’s marketing and communications landscape, this is the most effective way to bring your teams together, turn prospects into customers, move the masses and build the future.

Jacquie Potter is the managing director of Howorth.


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