How to Incorporate Stories Into Your Marketing

5 Traditional Story Formats

Stories play an important role in this season of miracles. Whether it’s surviving a year against the unfriendly odds of the New England terrain, the birth of a child in Bethlehem or one day’s worth of oil that lasts for eight, stories are at the center of our celebrations. Similarly stories are at the core of marketing and social media content because they create a context for our brands, products and companies that engage prospects and customers.

Miracles aside, stories are narratives that recount a sequence of events. Here are five traditional formats that you can use to enhance your marketing and social media content.

  • Fables. Illustrate a moral lesson through the use of animals and other forms of nature that take on human traits. This special category of stories is distinguished by a pithy maxim at the conclusion.
  • Fairy tales. Often starting with the words, “Once upon a time”, these far-fetched stories that involve folkloric features like fairies, goblins, witches and beasts have their origin in oral history.
  • Legends. These human action stories may include heroics although they are perceived to have actually happened and contain symbolic representation.
  • Myth. These sacred stories focus on how the world came into being and often involve gods and superhuman beings.
  • Parable. These stories have a religious or moral lesson. While similar to a fable, parables don’t use animals and nature as protagonists.

These five traditional story formats can be effectively integrated into your marketing content and social media executions. Some of these formats are used in more literal ways than others. For example, the Cinderella fairy tale appears in many beauty, clothing and pharmaceutical product ads where the ugly duckling is transformed into a beautiful princess through the advertised product. These stories have the following five consistent attributes.

  • Are remarkable. Stories’ basic beginning, middle, and end plots make it easy for listeners to remember. They’ve heard them before. When your brand’s stories contain elements of these traditional formats it makes it easier for your audience to recall them.
  • Identify with central character. In these traditional stories, the audience often identifies or roots for the protagonist to succeed against the odds. Does your product help customers in a special way? Ajax used to literally use the knight in shining armor in its ads.
  • Add passion. Basic products facts alone are insufficient to get prospects to care about your offering. How can you make your product’s story resonate with your target market and instill them with feeling for it?
  • Can be changed. The storyteller can modify and/or embellish a tale to suit his or her purposes, often to make it more dramatic and to increase the audience’s ability to empathize with the characters. Have you pared your plot down to make it easily adaptable?
  • Are easily communicated. Stories can be told in an old fashion way where one person tells another or it can be distributed more quickly via social media forums.

When developing your marketing program, integrate these storytelling elements into your content to give it life. Stories help make your products come to life and add the passion they need to engage your prospects.

Do you have other story related suggestions to add? If so, please do so in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Tip of my hat to Trey Pennington and Copyblogger for their inspiration on the topic of storytelling.

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Photo credit: Dare Darlington via Flickr

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  • jemima

    Excellent article and pointers. Using stories within marketing gives a human element to your brand, engaging with customers arguably more effectively than using a sales approach. Really interesting read – thanks.