January 5, 2021

Marketing Foundations: Captivate your audience with storytelling

By Diana Ishak

The Marketing Foundations blog series aims to equip partners with marketing best practices and introduce some of the Go-To-Market with Microsoft resources available through your Partner Network membership. 

Today, there is a flood of content pulsing from countless digital devices, vying for our attention. Storytelling is perhaps more valuable than ever as a tool to cut through the noise and capture the minds of your audience.

This isn’t only useful for novelists, film producers, or dedicated journalists – storytelling is a powerful marketing tool for building a bridge between your customer’s pain point and your solution or service offering.

Elevate your brand through storytelling

The way we make decisions isn’t purely logical – even in business. Storytelling is an age-old method of engaging the mind and emotions of others, whether to pass on history, make an argument, or – in our case – to sell a solution. Successful marketing campaigns aim to engage and delight the customer, and storytelling is perhaps the most irresistible approach.

Storytelling is inherently empathetic. By placing the customer at the center of the story, you demonstrate you understand their pain points and how your brand fits into the vision they have for their organization. Stories ignite our imaginations and transport us beyond our environment. For marketers, that’s a powerful tool for leading the audience to see themselves on the other side of their challenge – and how you got them there.

Writing your million-dollar story

Great storytelling can be worth millions of dollars to marketers. Take what some consider the pinnacle of advertising: the NFL Super Bowl. Each year, companies budget as much as eight-figures to place tv ads during this one event. In a two-year study, Johns Hopkins University professor Keith Quesenberry discovered that the stand-outs among them had one thing in common: a compelling story.

The same storytelling framework that captures our imagination through film or novel serves marketers today. Freytag’s storytelling pyramid defines this framework in five acts: exposition, rising action, turning point, falling action, and resolution.

Let’s explore each act and what it looks like in marketing.

Act 1 – Exposition

The exposition is where your story starts. It sets the scene and introduces the major characters. The objective is to build the world in which the story’s conflict will occur. End your exposition with the inciting moment – the event which starts the main conflict of the story.

Act 1 example: Company A needs to migrate their server and entire Office suite to the cloud. For the project manager, it’s an important and visible project. Get it right, and they’ll be the office hero, making the entire organization more productive and efficient.

Act 2 – Rising action

The rising action explores the story’s conflict up until its climax. As the situation worsens, develop the world of the story – reveal pieces of the backstory, explore motives, and perhaps foreshadow the climax. Looking back at the end, it should be clear how each detail ties into the climax and resolution.

Act 2 example: Get it wrong, and the migration can quickly turn into a disaster with expensive downtime, disruptions, data loss, compliance violations and spiraling costs…among other things. The bigger the migration, the greater the risk for failures and problems.

Act 3 – Turning point

The turning point, or climax, is where the story peaks and we learn the fate of the characters. The central conflict is addressed in a way that cannot be reversed. This is also an opportunity to comment on your story’s driving concept and provide your audience with an emotional takeaway.

Act 3 example: Since you’re probably already aware of the risks and have maybe even experienced an IT project-gone-wrong, you might find our solution interesting.

Act 4 – Falling action

The falling action is where you explore the aftermath of the climax and begin tying up loose ends. Did it spark additional conflicts? How did the characters respond? As your characters return to normal – or establish a “new normal” – expand the world of the story to hint at the new possibilities that now lie within reach.

Act 4 example: We’ve been a trusted resource for IT professionals like you who need to migrate to the cloud or an extra set of hands to assist with time-consuming, critical back-end IT functions and free you for more strategic activities. With so many years supporting companies in your industry, we have deep and specialized expertise in the specific challenges – and opportunities! – that face your company. 

Act 5 – Resolution

The resolution ties up the loose ends of the climax and resolution. Ending a story that continues in actuality can be a challenge for any storyteller, especially when it follows a dramatic climax. Once you’ve followed the aftermath and tied the loose ends, conclude by giving your audience something to think about – this will likely be your CTA!

Act 5 example: Here are the outcomes we’ve seen [offer proof points] and an offer for a free consult or webinar.

The example above is just one way to apply the storytelling framework. Remember, your content mix will balance sales-focused content like this with content that demonstrates your industry expertise, speaks to your audience’s interests, and highlights your brand personality.

How to map your content strategy to the storytelling framework

If using storytelling to reach customers feels daunting, consider the progress you’ve already made: creating customer personas and crafting your value proposition. These two elements are the source of life for solid, business storytelling and here’s how:

  • Exposition – Your customer persona encapsulates key details about the world and the characters at the heart of your story.
  • Rising action – The conflict you explore here draws on your persona’s pain points.
  • Turning point – Where you come in with your solution or service value proposition.
  • Falling action – Goes a level deeper into the customer-experienced benefits of adopting your solution or service (already identified in your persona- and value prop-building).
  • Resolution – Explores the resulting big-picture customer outcomes and offers a CTA for those who want this to be their story!

Screen shot of the Marketing Foundations Storytelling Worksheet - click to download the PDF.
Fill out your own storytelling worksheet – download here

Key takeaway

With your customer persona and value proposition as a guide, your marketing team can use the storytelling framework to create stronger engagement and connection with customers.

Next steps

Coming up

The next post in the Marketing Foundations series will explore the broad potential of social media and steps to optimize your social strategy.

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