Think about the last time you went on a first date. If you’re an old married person like me, this may require some deep thinking, but I bet at least a few memories are locked in for life.
For me, the good first dates were those with shared stories and laughter. The details of those conversations are now a little hazy, but I remember the emotional connection and going home feeling excited about the next rendezvous.
On the other hand, I remember every agonizing moment of the bad ones. There was the guy who spent two hours telling me how cool he was and how much he worked out (a little too much, if you ask me), and whose eyes wandered every time he passed a mirror or an attractive waitress walked by. Then there was the world’s longest dinner with the most boring man I’ve ever met. Getting him to say more than a few words took all the conversational skills and creative energy I had. When he finally started talking, listening to him was so tedious that I suddenly missed the uncomfortable silence.
Content marketing works the same way. More often than not, brands waste our time tooting their own horns (wake-up call: that’s the job of advertisers, not content marketers). Or they bore us with forgettable facts, figures, and industry jargon.
Then there are the brand storytellers who make us laugh, who tug at our heartstrings, who inspire us, and who create an emotional connection.
Storytelling is as important in romantic relationships as it is in content marketing. Whether you’re on a first date, are still in the getting-to-know-you stage of a romance, or have been with your partner for years, sharing stories is a way to connect, to relate, to entertain, and to reveal who you are and what matters to you.
This is exactly what audiences want from brands. Ninety-two percent of consumers say they prefer when brands create ads that feel like stories.
So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are five storytelling strategies that help build emotional connections, whether you’re wooing potential mates or potential customers:
We’re all a little weird in our own ways. Choosing an ideal mate is about finding someone who “gets” you, who thinks your brand of weird is endearing or hilarious, not offensive or annoying.
My husband proposed to me wearing a scary clown mask from the movie House of 1000 Corpses. Weird and inappropriate? Absolutely! But he gave me a unique proposal story to tell and makes me laugh every day, so after I screamed and punched him, I laughed and said “yes.”
The lesson for content marketers: Set your company apart by showing some personality. Perhaps your brand is silly, creative, off-beat, or even a little inappropriate. If your audience is into that, then leverage your creative thinking and ham it up.
Red Bull, for example, has built a brand around adventure and living on the wild side. While sharing stories of athletes and daredevils, it inspires and engages with an attitude and voice that might not appeal to everyone, but certainly hits home for Red Bull’s target audience. For example, its YouTube channel organizes company- and user-generated content into such categories as “Not Your Average Selfies” and “Earth Porn.”
No one is perfect, and thank goodness, because how boring would that be? A willingness to poke fun at yourself with a little self-deprecating humor helps you seem more relatable and breaks the ice during awkward dating moments.
The lesson for content marketers: While the goal of marketing is to shine a positive light on your brand, telling customers how great your company and products are isn’t the least bit original. But owning up to your flaws and laughing at yourself can be a powerful way to connect with your audience.
Hootsuite embraced this concept with its video, “Mean Tweets: A Hoostuite Dashboard Update,” where members of the product design team read negative—and often hilariously worded—feedback on the look and feel of the user interface. At the end of the video, Hootsuite shows images of the new-and-improved dashboard it created in response.
Where most brands go out of their way to downplay or hide negative feedback, Hootsuite meets it head on and then corrects the problem—proving the company is not only willing to admit to imperfections but also to listen to its customers.
To make an emotional connection with potential mates, every sentence shouldn’t begin with “I.” Sharing stories that aren’t about you reveals what matters to you, without making you sound self-absorbed.
The lesson for content marketers: In brand storytelling, your company doesn’t always have to be front and center to make a good impression. Sharing inspiring stories about causes or customers is a great way to say, “We value what you value, and we value you.” Research shows that’s both a powerful and profitable strategy.
The Adidas “My Girls” campaign, for example, includes stories about extraordinary female athletes and the challenges they have overcome to achieve their dreams. All the athletes are pictured wearing Adidas attire, but the company isn’t mentioned once in the written content. It’s powerful storytelling with subtle marketing: the perfect recipe for making an emotional connection.
Sharing stories is a powerful way to connect, but so is listening. Asking insightful questions—and then paying close attention to what your dates have to say—shows you care what they think and value their opinions.
The lesson for content marketers: Supporting a cause that matters to your brand and to your audience is a great first step. Getting their input on how to do it turns a smart move into a stroke of brilliance.
This is exactly what Unilever did by building the Unilever Foundry—a global crowdsourcing platform dedicated to solving global sustainability issues. Users submit ideas for solutions to certain environmental challenges, provide suggestions to improve other people’s ideas, and vote on the best ideas. Unilever then funds and/or implements the winning solutions.
Remember what your mom said about free milk and the cow? There’s something to be said for leaving a little mystery and keeping your date wanting more.
The lesson for content marketers: If you’re posting content on social media, take the opportunity to drive users back to your website. Include teasers for more great stories, helpful tips and tricks, contests and giveaways, or other valuable content.
Here’s wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day, and year full of storytelling that makes customers fall in love with your brand!
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