how to create a memorable marketing story

You’re telling a story.

Whether you know it or not, or intend to or not … you absolutely are.

Everything you do to market your business is another paragraph, page, or chapter in the story people hear from you. And the story people hear is the one they act (or don’t act) on, and repeat (or don’t repeat) to others.

Now, it’s not necessarily fatal if you’re not aware you’re telling a story, and you’ll never completely control your story anyway. But purposeful storytelling is the mark of the great novelist, screenwriter, and playwright — and purposeful marketing stories are a sure sign of a great content marketer.

So why not tell your story on purpose? Here’s how.

1. Know your audience

The battle is won or lost, right here. Put me up against the greatest writer in the world, and if I understand the audience better, I will kick his or her ass every time when it comes to connection, engagement, and conversion.

What do you need to know? You need to know whom they admire, and what they aspire to, despise, fear, and cherish.

Instead of sitting around dreaming up content you guess people might react favorably to, you tell an educated story based on one or more archetypal individuals who represent the whole.

Understanding your audience at such an intimate level makes creating buyer personas important. It also helps you be a part of the market you’re speaking to, which results in a more authentic story and easier leadership of the community you form.

Research doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s the foundation of any smart marketing plan. The more time you spend understanding the people you’re talking to, the better story you’ll tell them.

2. Select your frame

When you know your audience well, what you’re really tuning in to is the way your people view the world. And when you understand the worldview your prospects share — the things they believe — you can frame your story in a way that resonates so strongly with them that you enjoy an “unfair” advantage over your competition.

Consider these competing worldviews, framed differently by simple word choice:

  • Fitness Enthusiast vs. Gym Rat
  • Progressive vs. Moonbat
  • Businessman vs. The Man

These are extreme examples, and you can cater to audience beliefs and worldviews without resorting to name-calling. For example, the simple word “green” can provoke visceral reactions at the far sides of the environmental worldview spectrum, while also prompting less-intense emotions in the vast middle.

Framing your story against a polar opposite, by definition, will make some love you and others ignore or even despise you. That’s not only okay, it’s necessary.

You’ll likely never convert those at the other end of the spectrum, but your core base will share your content and help you penetrate the vast group in the middle — and that’s where growth comes from.

3. Choose your premise

The premise is the way you choose to tell the story so that you get the conclusion you desire. It’s the delivery of the framed message with dramatic tension and one or more relatable heroes so that your goals are achieved.

  • It’s the hook, the angle, the purple cow.
  • It’s the difference between a good story and an ignored story.
  • It’s the clear path between attention and action.

It’s important to understand the difference between the beliefs or worldview of your audience (the frame) and the expression of that belief or worldview back to them.

Think about your favorite novel or film … the same information could have been transmitted another way, but just not as well. In fact, stories have been retold over and over throughout the ages — some are just better told than others.

The premise is essentially the difference between success and failure (or good and great) when it comes to copywriting and storytelling.

Content marketing as storytelling

“Marketing succeeds when enough people with similar worldviews come together in a way that allows marketers to reach them cost-effectively.” – Seth Godin

That’s exactly what content marketing allows you to do. In fact, it’s the most cost-effective (and just plain ol’ effective) online marketing method ever devised when done properly.

Even better, people aren’t just coming together. They’re coming together around you.

You’re telling a story.

Why not make it remarkable?

Discover a home for content marketers who tell remarkable stories

At Copyblogger, we’ve found that when you build your online presence slowly and carefully, you create a long-lasting asset — an audience of people who want to hear from you, who need your help, and who trust you implicitly.

That investment in your audience pays off in a long-term business that increases in value over time.

Authority is a home for people who create content that’s helpful, entertaining, and engaging in order to attract an audience to their products and services. It’s our flagship program that teaches you how to build your online authority the “Copyblogger way.”

Learn more about Authority

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on December 2, 2010.

60 Comments

  1. Randy Kemp says

    Brian:
    I’m glad you decided to continue with storytelling this week. Considering that there were 2 other popular Copyblogger posts this week regarding storytelling – wise choice.
    Knowing the audience does take some research. Perhaps hanging around forums, where your target audience hangs out, and find their pain points? Just one of many approaches.
    In addition to the premise, I would mention the theme. The online business dictionary dot com defines this as, “Central marketing idea or message, or a product benefit or feature, known (or is likely) to have greatest appeal to a targeted market segment.”
    I did find your background interesting, as presented in yesterday’s radio broadcast.
    Good post and message today.
    Randy

  2. Brian Clark says

    Randy, thanks for the comment. As for theme, I see theme and frame as interchangeable. Fox example, in fiction, the theme is the author’s expression of a worldview or belief. With marketing stories, it’s the same, except you start with the audience and then frame the story according to the theme they already subscribe to.

  3. Rick LaPoint says

    Hi Brian,
    You’re spot on about understanding your audience. It’s very frustrating writing for people who aren’t there to read it, and in the process, turning away those who are.
    Some may regard the idea of tailoring your content to those who actually show up as ‘selling out,’ but it’s really just good business.
    One must decide if they should change themselves / style / content to fit their audience, or invest greater effort in attracting a different audience.
    It can be a lot easier leading those who choose to follow than it is chasing those who have no interest. That isn’t compromise, it’s filling an obvious need.
    Rick

  4. Brian, this is great continuation to story telling here at CopyBlogger.
    As you said, knowing the audience is the key. If we know the audience, we are best in the world, else we are dead.
    One great point you brought up is focusing on the core group. Keeping everyone happy will only bring in lot of problems and also alienate the the core group. Something that many bloggers tend to forget.

  5. TrafficColeman says

    You have to get in the minds of your audience and step in their shoes. People don’t realize how much more they can help their readers just by getting into their lives and understanding their situation.
    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  6. I really like the idea of marketing as storytelling. If you have a great product or service that you *know* will be useful to people, why not figure out the best way to impart that knowledge to them?

  7. SmartAboutThings says

    “Marketing succeeds when enough people with similar worldviews come together in a way that allows marketers to reach them cost-effectively.” ~Seth Godin
    This sounded so much like Kotler

  8. Thursday Bram says

    I think storytelling is deceptively simple: I talk to so many business owners who want blogs for their companies. I ask them why and they either tell me it’s for marketing, or they say ‘so I can tell my story.’ But when you ask them what their story is, they aren’t always sure.
    Finding that great story — what makes you stand out — is tough. Brian, you’ve offered some great insights into the process here. Now, we just have to buckle down and spend the time on it!

  9. Brian Clark says

    Thursday, I think people need an opportunity to think about what story they want to tell, and some points to guide them in the process. Hopefully this post helps a bit.

  10. Sonia Simone says

    It’s always interesting to me when people think that storytelling is a “technique,” when it’s really about 90% of the whole thing.
    As Brian said, we’re telling a story every day, whether that’s intentional or not.

  11. Hashim Warren says

    ” you’ll never completely control your story anyway”
    This is why listening is so important. I’m finding that the parts of my story I think are the most interesting isn’t what’s connecting with people and the parts I think are boring or obvious is what people are sharing.
    For example, I thought the best part of my story is how I used social media to build an audience for my work. But the part of my story that is getting the most heat is the part where I turned that attention into a steady stream of freelance and full time work in my industry.
    This is very surprising to me, since many people in my industry claim to be about the art and not about the money. And even a survey on my blog showed that people claim to not care about money as much as creative expression. But my traffic stats tell me something different about what they want
    So, what do I do? I listen and adjust how I tell my story.
    Thanks for this post, Brian. I think I need to find who my audience admires so I can tell a better story. Someone who is known for creativity, but isn’t shy about making money.

  12. Sonia Simone says

    Yes, interesting, isn’t it, how what people *think* they value is different from what they demonstrate that they actually value.
    Also interesting how often that involves money.

  13. Frankie Cooper says

    This post is extremely helpful and useful.

  14. Jen Gresham says

    This is terrific. I was just trying to explain to someone yesterday why it’s so important to understand and narrow one’s audience and then get inside their heads before starting a new venture. Now I can just forward this article.
    One thing that helps is understanding the 10 or so most timeless story themes. Is your story The Great Adventure (e.g. Huck Finn or The Odyssey) or is it more Little Guy as Hero (e.g. David & Goliath)? Fitting your story into one of these themes can help with structure and ensures what you have to say contains the necessary drama to keep readers reading.

  15. Guts N Glam says

    i believe blogging is telling a story… how can one become successful or how can one a failure. eitherway, you are giving examples so it’s basically telling them a story.

  16. I love how simple you made this article but it had so much useful information on great writing. We so often become trapped in writing sterile content that we forget to tell the story and entertain our readers in the process. Awesome as always.

  17. BarnabyA says

    Hi Brian
    Thanks for sharing this with us all. Story telling is exactly what blogging is and in fact is the whole premise of any marketing strategy. Telling the story of the individual or a business is paramount to us understanding the whole “reason of being” behind the blog.
    I like the idea that Jen has of the different story types – must try and consider my own story.
    Learning loads from this site – thankyou.

  18. Ricardo Bueno says

    Brian: I completely agree that research (first) is an essential component. I always ask our real estate clients for example to think of their customers and prospective customers. Where do they hang out online and offline? What kind of content do they respond to? What kind of questions are they asking that you can provide answers to?
    You have to answer these basic questions before you start building out your content. Doing the right research and answering this question early on makes your content more effective (imo).

  19. Anita Nelson says

    To give you an idea of your reach, you just inspired me to write, “Glam vs Natural? Which is Better?”. I am attracting the “Natural” crowd, which is fantastic to know and happens to be my tribe.
    Did you ever think CopyBlogger would reach into the beauty industry the way it does? Thank you for the idea – most retweets in a while =)
    Anita Nelson @ModelSupplies

  20. Mash Bonigala says

    Hey Brian,
    But what would you do if you target audience is almost all businesses? I know that might sound silly – but for a graphic design firm providing all kinds of graphic and web design services to any company, how would one go about crafting a story?
    Thanks,
    Mash

  21. Sonia Simone says

    Who signs the contract that gets you the work? You can work right through steps 1, 2 and 3 of this post for that person.
    B2B marketing goes off the rails when we forget that people make the actual decisions about whether or not to buy. A company can’t decide anything, only the people who make up the company.
    Sometimes with B2B, we’ve got several people we have to convince — in your case, possibly a marketing director and then maybe a senior exec who has to sign off on the budget.

  22. Mash Bonigala says

    Thank you for the input Sonia!

  23. Alexander Norman John (Funny Name, Serious Marketer) says

    My copywriting friend, Keith, was just telling me about becoming a story teller in your marketing writing.
    Great stuff this just cleared my mind!
    Alex

  24. Adriana Dakin says

    Digital storytelling (see storycenter dot org) … aka short movies that combine visuals with voiceover and/or music … has become one of my favorite ways to convey a story. Good to get these reminders (your blog post or from a book like Influencers) why an ago-old thing like storytelling is powerful. In Kyrgyzstan the old manaschi (bards) could recite thousands of lines about heroic feats at one sitting to a rapt audience. Now the challenge is to convey something powerful in a minute or three, something that instigates the imagination even after the story has ended.

  25. Mike @ Blog Success Resource says

    Brian,
    Knowing your readers/audience always helps but what do you suggest when you are trying out new niche/area where you do not have established readers/clients or audience yet? I am assuming we have take a guess and tweak until our writing/sell copy is aligned with what readers may want.

  26. Sonia Simone says

    You’ll have to take a few leaps of faith, but also remember that social media is a fabulous listening device, not just a great talking device. There’s a lot of recon you can do on twitter, facebook, and reading through blog & forum comments (depending on the topic & where your audience hangs out, obviously).

  27. Ande Waggener says

    Brian, I’m having one of those “duh” moments. What you’re describing here is exactly what I teach my fiction writing students. Even in fiction, you need to be “speaking” to a real person. I KNOW this stuff!
    But in my blog writing, I haven’t had a clear idea of who my audience really is. I know who I think it is, but I’m not sure I’m right about that because I’m not getting as many subscribers as I want. This post is giving me much to think about in reaching for the true character of my audience. Thank you!

  28. Sonia Simone says

    When I used to hire writers, fiction writers were my favorite marketing writers. If you can write fiction and are willing to learn a few simple techniques, you’ll write great marketing stories.

  29. Bangalow Accommodation says

    I love this post – I have just retweeted it. I love the points you raise about nailing a framework – it is so true that tweaking one word or two could mean the difference between edgy and old school. Love it.

  30. BlogTechOnline says

    Thank you for sharing a wonderfull tip .

  31. Chip Tudor says

    Thanks for this word, Brian. I echo this theme to my clients and potential freelance copywriting clients. Writing advertising/marketing copy is not just writing drivel, but creating a story that connects to the audience. And effective copywriting is just like a good novel in that it contains a message that engages and draws the reader in. If you don’t maintain reader interest, they won’t stick around long enough to hear anything you have to say.

  32. Michael Newman says

    A heart-warming post.
    Once in while,someone comes along who simply and authoritatively captures some of the ”facts” floating in our minds.Stories have always had a universal and compelling appeal.About time,we marketers recognize its profound powers.
    I used to write short-stories,now,I just have to learn how to integrate them with my marketing.I found Sonia’s comments insightful.
    It’s ALL a story.
    Thanks.

  33. Karin Caro says

    Wow, nicely written and excellent advice! This came just when I needed it…so thank you!

  34. E Shops says

    As a start up ecommerce blogger your three point plan is welcome advice, it has certainly helped me focus on a few ideas that will hopefully result far better than any previous copy writing attempts I have made.
    Thanks for the informative post.

  35. Chris "The Traffic Blogger" says

    Understanding your audience is also very important for initially building traffic on your blog or site. If you spend all your time writing posts and not getting out there to interact with your audience then your blog will be snuffed out before the fire even begins to burn.

  36. Richard says

    Telling a story is an art form. If done well, you can really build a connection with your listener and develop a relationship that may lead to a long time customer.

  37. Jef Menguin says

    I like the idea of story as a tool for positioning.
    I am trying to find my voice in my writing. Maybe I should start writing like a storyteller.

  38. Adriano Ramos says

    yes, when you write in the first person is much better. Not only helps to create a connection with the visitor, and it is also easier to make sales.
    I learned this from experience.

  39. Tito Philips, Jnr. says

    The essence of Knowing one’s audience cannot be overemphasized. Your marketing success begins and ends with it. How else would one sell anything without first getting to know those who might need it?
    Thanks for the tips Brian.

  40. Mary E. Ulrich says

    Thanks Brian. LIke the 1-2-3 punch and the idea of looking at your opposites.
    I’ve got my story, know my target audience, I’m writing the great content–but my audience is in the swamp fighting with the alligators. Wondering if my frame is how we can kill alligators together.

  41. CR Cataunya Ransom says

    I am a firm believer that people must be engaged! With that said to tell a good story you do need to know your audience and also have credibility. The best way to get that kind of influence is through media recognition.
    Thanks for posting!

  42. Barb Chipperfield says

    I really learned alot from this post. I have always been a story teller but putting it down in writing has always been a challenge for me. I have recently started a website and I am starting to realize how valuable my stories can be to inspire other people.
    I am also realizing that this could also make me money.
    Thanks

  43. Kyle Jackson says

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the fantastic post, a very inspiring one as well as informative.
    When I read Copyblogger, I find a great thing that makes it personal is the “About the Author” section at the bottom of the emails.
    I was wondering, what plugin (if any) do you use for this.
    I have on at the moment, but it is very cluttered and garish.
    Thank you in advance,
    Kyle

  44. Ravi Kumar says

    Do agree knowing your audience is a big thing before we market something to them. Also, is there any way to know what they expect from us in future….

  45. Daniel Z. Chohfi says

    After hearing Brian talk about Joseph Campbell, I think my hole perspective of marketing changed (again). The hero’s journey helps me a lot in understanding the big picture of a product, service and how to empathize with them. Thanks Brian, again.

  46. Greg De Tisi says

    Great post. I think that, at the end of the day the more real you higher chance of success. People can feel B.S a mile off and of course we ‘all have stories’ and some may or may not be relevent to our marketing but there are ways to weave them in. As long as we are providing excellent value and coming from a place of trust, strong vision, message and delivery we cannot go wrong. Stick to being the best by being yourself, standing out from what others do and deliver the goods. That’s what took me from marketing failure to happy and successful coach expecting a relative revenue for giving honest quality.

  47. Dee Anne Stiles says

    It would really help to have some examples that show/demonstrate your story telling main points – maybe even those helpful before and after examples.

  48. Siobhan Bedford says

    I’ve been blogging for about a year and I’m still finding my blogging voice. I’m an artist and and abstract one at that, so writing “story content” about my work doesn’t always come easy. I’ve found that being honest and sharing what I do in my studio is helpful in writing posts. I very much agree that you have to write for your audience. It takes time to figure out exactly who that is.
    Some story examples would be really helpful to see what is “sharable” content.
    Thanks for your very helpful posts.

  49. Ayodeji Awosika says

    Hey Brian,
    Once again, you provided succinct yet highly actionable tips we can take away. My writing changed when I realized it was all about the readers and not about me.
    Off to share!

  50. Nicolas Puegher says

    Amazing post. Knowing your audience is quite important but not easy to do, it takes time and a lot of dedication. Sharing our story can make a huge difference but always saying the truth, not bullshit.
    People can identify themselves with our story and that’s an amazing what to make a connection, same for people who share our passion, the connection will be much better than forcing things.

  51. Fantabulous piece of work. Thank you for sharing this information. I will definitely try these tips.

  52. Hassaan Khan says

    Storytelling is certainly a hook that captivates the audience and stops them from going off the rails. I learned a lot about storytelling in the past 6 months when I started digging deeper into vlogging, then I realized that I have to do the same in content marketing and it’s changing the game for me.

  53. Igor Dias says

    Brian Clark, you are the man! I will follow your tips for the rest of my life. Tks for all

  54. Michael LaRocca says

    You are not the hero in this story. Your customer is. You’re Yoda to their Luke Skywalker.

  55. Kayleigh Toyra says

    Haha love this Yoda for the win! Agreed.

  56. Timmy Brain says

    Marketers are one big-time researcher.
    While the scientists researh on atoms, blood, muscles and kidneys, we dig into the buyers’ mind to garner his story (buyers personas and journey) to know which story (product reviews, reports, blog posts, ebooks) will best suit him.
    Thanks Brian, this is actionable.

  57. Micheal A says

    Hardly will one make any noticeable progress in today’s marketing without knowing the act of “story telling”… This is the key in recent, knowing how to do this better, will definitely give you edge over competitors. Thanks so much. Brian

  58. Kayleigh Toyra says

    Thanks for sharing this evergreen post again. Still super relevant stuff in here!
    Love the focus on expression when it comes to telling stories. Shows that a story is more than just a sum of it parts. The story is indeed in the telling…

  59. Dustin Ford says

    Hi Rick,
    When I think about things like “know your audience” and “plan ahead” I think about big data.
    How much do you think the marketers will use big data to create campaigns or to plan a campaign?
    Also, one question that I have is if big data offers you personalized details about everyone, do you think someday in the future companies will target each individual (using also other techniques like real time marketing) and will not focus on a group of people?
    Thanks!

  60. Jitendra vaswani says

    Crafting a amazing story always helps to get more user traction in any business. Seth Godin once said, “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread or you’re going to become irrelevant.” Simon Sinek’s TED talk on the Golden Circle Theory is a must watch for founders. It helps you get past selling “what” you do and “how” you do it and instead focuses your story around the “why.”

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