Let me tell you a story…

The importance of storytelling marketing


‘Read a story!’ is one of the most emphatic things that my two-year-old daughter will say to me each day as I put her to bed. I was reminded of this during a presentation titled ‘Why Kids know more about content than us’ during the ManyMinds Give it a Go Digital conference on 30 August. This resonated with me so much, as all of a sudden it seemed so clear. People like stories. As children what we knew as stories fit into a very clear category of fiction, however, in adulthood, the picture becomes much more jumbled as we absorb ‘stories’ almost constantly from a multitude of different mediums, to the point where we stop thinking of them distinctly as stories.

For digital businesses and digital marketers, it is vital that they recognise this near universal affection for effective storytelling. It has become of increasing importance in delivering effective marketing campaigns to potential audiences with campaigns that deliver story type messages being 22 times more memorable as opposed to traditional slogan messages. As such, engaging with this trend will be pivotal for businesses in order to maintain a competitive marketing edge in an increasingly hyper-competitive digital market.

However, it is important to remember that it is not just individual campaign stories that will be of use. Potential stories that can be told permeate the entirety of businesses; from the origin of the business itself, to the stories behind the staff and client success stories. Utilising all of this storytelling potential will help businesses to stand out in the crowded digital sector. Here, we will examine several different important types of stories that have really helped audiences connect with the businesses that told them and what positive potential there is for CDS to engage in this exciting trend.

Savvier audiences?

One question that immediately springs to mind is, why such a move away from traditional marketing messages has occurred. There has been much talk about consumers becoming savvier and more astute when they see marketing messages, which likely has some truth to it. However, more importantly, I believe is the sheer number of marketing messages that are levelled at consumers on a day to day basis. This means that there is so much for consumers to potentially pay attention to that only the most striking and memorable of traditional marketing messages can strike a chord with people.

This means that there has been a huge onus on business leaders to re-strategize how they seek to appeal to potential customers. It has been through telling their stories of how they have made a positive impact as well as having demonstrated need fulfilment that businesses have found a more effective way to do this. We can see examples of this through prominent digital businesses like AirBnb, which for New Year’s Eve in 2015 demonstrated its utility in having accommodated 550,000 customers across 20,000 cities worldwide1.  

This not only helped show the effectiveness of AirBnb’s short-term accommodation platform but also gave the sense that they had helped build a global community of travellers that were celebrating the new year. Examples like this show how businesses can provide compelling messages by showing their successful achievements.

This also helps display the impetus behind the massive growth in storytelling marketing, with the number of marketer listing storytelling as a separate skill going from a miniscule proportion in 2011 to 15% of marketers by 20172. The visible shift in marketing medium reflects businesses moving to exploit this opportunity to engage with consumer and audiences at a deeper level.

Origin stories

A clear starting point in engaging with storytelling marketing is to make sure that the story behind a business is clearly visible and helps to show off the best that the company has to offer. As we can see from the recent cavalcade of superhero-themed movies, stories depicting the origins and original motivations of people as well as organisations can prove extremely resonating with an audience. These stories can also help businesses stand out in sectors that can often leave consumers finding it difficult to see the differences that tell one organisation from another. A prominent example of this can be seen in the accountancy and professional service giant KPMG.

As a member of the ‘big 4’ group of accountancy firms, it is often easy to see these companies as carbon copies of one another with minor variations in the services that they provide. As such it is clear that KPMG has taken steps to mitigate this by emphatically stating its origins in 1818, main services and major milestones such as hiring Ethel Watts, the first woman to successfully pass the ICAEW chartered accountancy exam.

Making these origins and achievements from the history of a business visible helps a company feel unique to consumers as well as helping stand out from competitors. It also represents a visible manifestation of a business’ mission statement that not only proves the fulfilment of this mission to its audience but assists in keeping a company grounded when making future decisions with its original objectives still clearly in view.

Big data!

Listening to music

Additionally, we cannot talk about storytelling marketing without touching on the symbiotic relationship it has with big data in order to be as successful as it can possibly be. Using data to inform marketing stories can help businesses to display tangible evidence of their successes and impact. While also engaging their audience in a more illuminating manner by making sweeping statements that are backed up by raw numbers.

A wide variety of businesses have tapped into this opportunity such as Maltesers in 2016 where it uncovered the fact that 80% of disabled people feel underrepresented in media and sought to draw attention to this by producing a range of adverts that depicted disabled individuals discussing awkward situations about their disabilities3

A further example of a company using data in marketing, was produced by Spotify whereby the company-built data on its users listening habits and then used this in order to suggest further music content that would be geared towards individual listeners4. In each of these cases, the businesses were able to use data to establish marketing narratives that cast them in positive lights to their audiences. Maltesers were widely seen as championing disabled representation in the media and Spotify creating a superior music listening experience for its users.

They both show that with using data as hard evidence businesses can use this to vastly improve their customer journey experiences. It gives real insights into customer habits and preferences that allow businesses to accurately predict their future purchasing behaviour. In addition to this, as shown by Maltesers, data can also allow companies to tap into relevant societal trends in order to cast themselves as forward-thinking and progressive thus making themselves more appealing to new customer groups.

Feel good stories

Consequently, a significant growing trend has been the scrutiny into the effects that businesses have on wider society, from their employment practices to their environmental impact. While for some, this has seen companies receiving negative media coverage for lax regulations, it has also presented helpful marketing opportunities for businesses to show the positive impact that they can have and use their products to achieve. An effective instance where business have created a marketing story that portrays its positive impact is evident through a campaign run by IBM to illustrate the capabilities of the new AI technology ‘Watson’.

Running a campaign titled ‘Outthink Melanoma’ in March 2017 IBM were able to show that ‘Watson’ could detect Melanoma skin cancer 31% more effectively than the naked eye. This was done by setting up at Bondi Beach during peak season and having people stand in front of a mirror to be analysed by ‘Watson’ using determinants including; age, gender and sunscreen coverage. If any irregularities were observed by ‘Watson’, then individuals were referred to an onsite specialist for further potential treatment. Over the course of a single weekend, over 800 people were analysed by ‘Watson’ with 22% of these then being referred for follow up treatment5

From this, we can see that a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility can really help companies stand out to customers and show that they are more than just about the bottom line. This is becoming more and more important as companies are coming under increased scrutiny about the impact that they have on wider society. Businesses that fail to keep up with this trend may see themselves becoming pariahs to audiences. This is perhaps even truer for B2B businesses as partnering with a business with a poor record of corporate responsibility may tar another business with the same brush.

Tales of CDS

We can see from these examples of varieties of stories that storytelling marketing is extremely multi-faceted. If engaged with successfully it can become an extremely powerful tool in a business’ marketing arsenal that can help it engage to a greater degree and with a wider variety of audiences. So what stories can CDS tell that will help it use this type of marketing to its advantage? We have only to scratch the surface to see that CDS has a plethora of exciting stories to tell that meet all the criteria of the different types of story discussed already and more.

From when its staff and management boldly placed a bid and became the first successful management-employee buyout from the Civil Service in 1994 to the amazing work that CDS has done in combating the Ebola crisis in 2015 with its eLearning tool for the British army. CDS has a wealth of stories that show it to be a company that is determined to meet its mission statement and make a positive difference with its work.

The key, therefore, is to take full advantage of all the stories that CDS has created to create a compelling narrative and then broadcast this as loudly as possible.

Applying the same logic, CDS can help other businesses to unlock a large and engaged audience that will help spread information about their great services and products.

Blog author: Ross Johnston, Service Analyst at CDS: call +44 (0)800 138 4308 or email via our contact form.



2 https://business.linkedin.com/en-uk/marketing-solutions/blog/posts/content-marketing/2017/The-Rise-of-Storytelling-in-Marketing-as-told-by-LinkedIn-data

3 https://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/09/06/why-mars-using-diversity-creative-springboard-unlock-more-effective-advertising

4 https://insights.spotify.com/us/2017/05/24/how-students-listen-2017/

5 https://www.ibm.com/cognitive/au-en/melanoma/

Go back to News page