6 Tips to Infuse Storytelling into Digital Marketing

August 15, 2017

by Carla Johnson

John Montagu loved to play cards. As a British politician, an aristocrat and the 4th Earl of Sandwich he ran into a problem. He loved snacking while playing cards but the cuisine of the time left his hands greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.

In 1748, he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. This let him indulge his snacking habit while still playing cards at the same time. This newly invented “sandwich” became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

Now, let me ask you a question. Compare that story with this presentation of facts:

  • John Montagu was a British politician, an aristocrat and the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
  • The sandwich was invented in 1748 by John Montagu.
  • It is one of the most popular type of foods in the western world.

Which are you more likely to remember and repeat?

The first one, of course.

That’s because for over 40,000 years, since the first cave paintings were created, humans have used stories to communicate and pass ideas from one tribe and generation to the next. And we’ve kept it up for one simple reason. People remember stories.

Storytelling and the human connection

There’s plenty of evidence that proves humans make decisions based on emotion, not facts. Psychology Today digs deeper into all of this, pointing out four ways that emotion plays a part in customer behavior:

  • Functional MRI (fMRI) neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).
  • Advertising research reveals emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content—by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.
  • Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
  • Studies show positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes.

What does this mean for marketing?

Genetically, our brains aren’t designed to understand logic or remember facts for very long. We’re wired to understand and remember stories. That’s because a story moves people along a journey. And that journey has intent – excitement, intrigue, mystery, fear. Something that motivates action. It’s this action that marketers work so hard to inspire.

Here are six ways to infuse storytelling into your digital marketing, and examples of companies who do it really well:

1. Know your audience.

Notice I didn’t say customer. Digital storytelling is much bigger than customers. It’s about building an audience that all care about the same thing. You certainly need to know persona characteristics of buyers, but go beyond that and understand what your entire audience looks like. When you understand your audience, you’ll have a slew of new opportunities to tell stories that also shed light on opportunities for better customer experiences and innovation.

Smurfit Kappa isn’t your average paper-based packing company. They’ve done a phenomenal job of tapping into what matters to their audiences and telling stories that hit home. For example, check out their YouTube channel and the cardboard festival tent they created called the KarTent.

2. Get emotional.

Emotion is especially hard in B2B marketing. Marketers and sales people try to rationalize their way through the sales funnel, but no one can make a decision without being in emotion. And it’s emotion that makes the connection first, and keeps people wanting to build a relationship with your brand. John Deere’s The Furrow does an excellent job of this. For example, it’s Life Interrupted series tells the story of a Montana farmer whose near-catastrophic ATV accident showed how quickly a normal ranch operation can go horribly wrong.

3. Be human.

Let’s face it, every B2B marketer knows the reputation for our profession is boring-to-boring. So the more you can add a human element into your storytelling, the better. Humor is one of the best ways to bring humanity into digital storytelling. Brands that poke fun at themselves through humor are more relatable and, therefore, more approachable. I love this example from Schneider Electric, The Song that Saved the World, showing the impact that humor can have on something as stereotypically boring as engineers.


4. Adjust to your platform

Telling a story with consistency across platforms isn’t something that’s easy to do. Which is why most brands don’t do it well. Gusto, an HR software platform, takes their storytelling to a whole new level of seamlessness. The company’s mission is to make the most complicated business tasks simple and personal, and they do the same across all of their platforms, from their website to their social channels – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

5. Stay credible.

Storytelling doesn’t mean the complete omission of facts. Emerson’s “I Love STEM” initiative is a superb example of how to take an overarching, story-driven brand narrative and consistently support it with facts in a way that’s natural, interesting and magnetic.

6. It’s about them, not you.

One of the real beauties of storytelling in digital marketing is the ability to bring others in to the storytelling process. Your story becomes so much richer when you invite others in to help you’re your story. The options here are limited only by your creativity – crowd source content, encourage people to share their story and bring out different perspectives of what matters most to your audience. I guarantee you’ll uncover some hidden gems. T.D. Ameritrade has done this beautifully with their Human Finance Project. The project aims to change the perceptions about the finance industry and feature the stories of registered investment advisors. T.D. Ameritrade collected personal insights by using a traveling storytelling booth.


Doing damage or creating a movement?

As marketers, we’re doing one of two things. We’re either doing damage to the relationships we’re hoping to build with audiences and future customers or we’re creating a movement behind a cause. “But,” you say, “we’re not interesting in creating a movement, we have to sell our products.”

If you’re focused on brand-centered content instead of customer-centric storytelling, you’ll forever struggle to get people to care about what you say or do. You can’t email, post or demand gen your way to bigger revenues and more loyal customers. That approach only leads to one things – fatigue. And what customer wants to do business with a brand they’re tired of?


Are you interested in learning how to create a story that hits home with your audience and makes them take action? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help you develop a sustainable innovation strategy. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author