Ample anthropological evidence suggests that humans were exchanging stories long before we had even developed a coherent spoken language. If the impetus to tell stories is so powerful that we don’t even let something as critical as language get in the way and we communicate stories via gestures and grunts, then it is evident that it is a fundamental human necessity. It would also be evident that the impact of storytelling would permeate all forms of online marketing in a social media age where the onus has shifted away from top-down broadcasting of advertising dictums and towards a chummy relationship with each customer where engagement and relationship have become the key concepts. That’s why it’s so surprising that it hasn’t and storytelling is still a very rarely used marketing tool when it can be the most successful of all.

Master Storytellers Connect on an Emotional Basis

It’s not a coincidence that a master storyteller like George Lucas chose to begin Star Wars with a “story-starting phrase”: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Indeed, once upon a time is one of the most time-honored and proven ways to connect with an audience on an emotional basis, bringing to the fore the basal memories of our species when our ancestors would huddle around the fire and tell stories of events that happened in the distant mists of the past in magical faraway lands. Once transported into a fanciful fictional universe, the audience becomes absorbed in the story and a curious but scientifically proven phenomenon takes place, as the information is processed in such a way that continuity errors, inaccuracies and other missteps are much more likely to be glossed over if they are perceived at all.

Fiction Is More Powerful than Facts & Figures

Fiction is more effective in changing beliefs, values and attitudes than factual writing. This factor where the audience enters into a form of an altered state when being exposed to a compelling story is an extremely persuasive one, and yes… it can be used towards profoundly unethical advertising and marketing ends. The vision of scheming criminal marketers drawing their hapless targets into a masterfully concocted storytelling session that has them almost hypnotically buying their shoddy wares is inescapable. It can only be hoped that an element of marketing that is so overwhelmingly affecting would be used for legitimate and ethical online marketing to build value in brands that have something positive to offer the consumer.

Social Media Participants Are Already in a Pre-Storytelling Mode

Storytelling and social media seem to be absolutely made for each other. The social networking consumers are not passive stooges lying on their couches being mindlessly exposed to advertising messages in the middle of their favorite television shows because they can’t afford to buy a Digital Video Recorder and zip through them at 60x speed. They are actually choosing to participate in the social media presence of your brand and therefore have already taken a critical step of acceptance of your message. While the shouted exhortations to buy a used car by a checkered-suited salesman can seem to be a disjointed intrusion into the viewing of a love story film, when a social networking user reads your posts or tweets, they are demonstrating that they are open to your suggestion and therefore are already in a pre-storytelling frame of mind.

Storytelling in Marketing Is Limited Only by Your Imagination

There are essentially no limitations to how far your branding can go when it adopts storytelling as the core of its online marketing strategy. There is literally no business that does not lend itself to the telling of a story, even the ones involved in the most technically complex and singular product or service. The story does not have to be about the item per se, it can center on the experiences of the company, the individuals within it, the overall mission statement… the limit is only established by your imagination.

A marketing approach that begins with once upon a time is not an example of a marketer gone mad, but the sign of an exceptionally insightful one!