Our guide to finding, telling, and sharing stories in your marketing, with Chad Illa-Petersen
It can be hard to tell stories. You can feel like maybe the person had to be there to understand or if you get caught up in a story you might lose someone because they’re not interested.
But … stories are one of the best sources of marketing content out there. I don’t think there’s many people out there who would say I HATE STORIES. From your best friend giving you the tea on what your old classmate is up to, all the way to huge box office smash hit movies, stories are everywhere.
But, like, how do you use storytelling in your marketing?
There was really no better person to talk to this about than the Story Catcher himself, Chad Illa-Petersen.
“I think about the white papers I get sent or the case studies or the spam emails with ‘we do this, this, and this,’” Illa-Petersen said. “I never want to read them.”
I mean, how can you not agree that he is right???
There is nothing worse than a dry white paper with numbers and solutions and blah, blah, blah. You skim the headlines, but do you ever dive into the meat of the article? Most of the time, I’m sure the answer is nope.
“When I was a kid, my mom didn’t read me white papers and case studies before I went to bed, she read me stories,” he added.
Bingo! There’s something about stories. As a kid, they spur your imagination and lead you to act them out, play the characters, and act out the scenes.
“The power of a story, if you hear them, or see them, or read them, is you can imagine yourself in the story,” Illa-Petersen said. “You get sucked into them!”
That's it. Stories help people empathize and feel what the protagonist, the main character, is feeling!
“When people can feel the same things you’re feeling, trust goes through the roof,” Illa-Petersen said.
And, of course, trust makes it a hell of a lot easier to build relationships.
How to find stories that are worth telling
It can feel a bit “cheesy” to tell stories. Or, like maybe it’s too superficial and not meaningful enough. Plus, whose story do you even look at things from? A personal story from the owner? From the company or brand? And many people are stuck with the mistaken belief that the story needs to revolve around the product or service itself.
Not true, my friends.
It’s about how you make people feel!
Here’s a tip. Instead of thinking about the STORY, think instead of the EMOTION. Great stories aren’t about the story itself. It’s in the emotions that drive it. The struggles, the pain. And then the triumph. The determination, the grit, the energy, and the heart it takes to win.
From your perspective, where does the emotion lay? What emotion is your ideal audience feeling right now, before they get your product in hand? And then, how do they feel after they start to use it?
“It doesn’t have to be about the widget—at some point, you’re going to want to introduce the widget—but maybe not in that story,” Illa-Petersen said.
Illa-Petersen also said the best stories come from your customers. The people who have bought it and used it and talk about it are much more trustworthy than a brand that says, “here, take my word on this.”
Best places for stories:
- Websites: paint a scene with a couple of gripping sentences and lead visitors to inside pages where you have longer-form content waiting for them to read.
- Social media: obviously using images or video on places like Instagram or Facebook can be great for short little messages and snippets of stories. Occasionally longer written posts can work really well too.
- Blog: perfect for longer written pieces that dive into the meat of the story.
- YouTube: videos of all lengths and kinds can share stories with your audience.
- Photographs: even photographs and images can have meaningful messages and stories.
Choosing which format to tell your stories will just depend on the message itself.
“At the end of the day, every story is different,” Illa-Petersen said. “Some need to be written out and read, some need to be put into a video.” And, even though people may be interested in short-form content and videos, a well written, engaging story will captivate readers and keep them interested.
“How many times have you seen a movie … and the book was better?” he added. Sometimes written stories just work better, Illa-Petersen continued. Long-form stories can still be engaging and audiences still want to see read them!
How to tell stories that are worth sharing
Number one top tip? Keep a journal! Or, a spreadsheet. However you want to organize the things that happen. It doesn’t have to be the whole story. Just collect ideas and come back to them if and when you think you’re ready to tell them.
Here’s an example of how to do this.
Possible story ideas
- Chidi said he heard his customer, Meredith, talking about how messy her accounting spreadsheets were before she started using our software. She went through three stacks of sticky notes a week!
- Michael was telling me about how he was stressed to the point of nausea before we were able to step in and help him create social media images and live streams.
- I heard Aaliyah say she has never had an easier time ordering parts since she found us. She was chuckling about one time how she had to order parts from us last minute and we delivered them to her by hand at midnight.
- Mo was talking today about his client today who was really excited about the new software for approving edits. Before the client was confused about how to handle feedback and this makes it much easier for him.
You see how these aren’t fully-fleshed out stories. They’re little tidbits, pieces of conversations saved. If one stands out, you can always go back and ask for more information. You could even ask to interview the person and eventually create a video or series of videos on it.
How to share a story that speaks to your audience
Whether they’re written, a video, or an image, the intent of a story isn’t in telling, it’s in showing.
If you’re writing, paint a picture. Use words that can describe the smell, taste, sound, or visuals of things. You want to help put your audience right there in the story, so they take over the main characters spot and visualize what the experience is.
If you’re making a video, talkings heads are great but they don’t allow your audience to really see things. Capture b-roll footage of events taking place, people interacting, and show the viewer the story!
Don’t forget drama! Yes, good stories hook you in with a problem, the drama that surrounds it, and then the triumph!
Here’s how a storyline can look:
- My lord, your client used to deal with so much paperwork. Paperwork everywhere, post it notes and scraps of paper. They were downright unorganized! A hot mess! You can’t even see their desk right now.
- And, to boot, they HATE paperwork. It gives them anxiety to see all the paperwork piled up. It’s sucking the joy out of their job. Honesty, sometimes they think of quitting so they can avoid ALL THE DANG PAPER.
- Enter your product. Your product solves the ridiculous amounts of dread this poor person is feeling on a day-to-day basis. No more scribbling numbers on scraps, no more spreadsheets. You have an easy-to-use tool that fixes it all for them.
- They can relax! They’re once again happy to come to work, they can focus on their job more efficiently. Your product has made a difference!
I don’t know about you, but I can picture myself in that person’s shoes. That’s how a great story is told!
Do you have any brilliant stories you remember from marketing campaigns? I think a really timely one is the Frida Mom commercial, which really captured what it’s like to be a new birthing parent. There are tons of others though, so please share one that you were drawn to!