Soar to Greatness Now founder Emily Liu began her session at HubSpot's annual INBOUND conference last week by confessing to us her deepest fear.
Earlier in the day, Big Leap Creative founder Lisa Gerber kicked off her presentation with eight powerful words: ‘I was two miles from the finish line.’
And in the opening moments of her session — my first this year — StoryFuel founder Melanie Deziel introduced us to Rusti Miller-Hill. This remarkable woman’s moving story captured the attention of the room, which Melanie used to demonstrate how the power of storytelling can be orchestrated to build relationships between a brand and its readers.
Primed by that first session with Melanie, I found myself making notes of how every speaker I listened to first addressed the room. Unsurprisingly, almost every one of them did so with a narrative. Why, and what can we learn from this?
Our brains are wired for stories
I say unsurprising because storytelling is commonplace in public speaking. Nobody wants to chuck facts and figures at a room for 45 minutes, and nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that either. You want to be understood and to understand. Storytelling means opening yourself up to, and establishing a connection with, your audience.
Look a little closer: Emily shared a personal truth with us. Lisa inspired us with a struggle she experienced. By writing about Rusti's story, Melanie put a name and a face to an otherwise dry statistic about women in the US penitentiary system.
On its own, a statistic doesn't mean a huge amount. But Rusti? I cared about her. I engaged with her story. I wanted to know she was going to be okay.
As marketers, as salespeople, and as business owners, we want to elicit the same engagement, that same sense of empathy and connection, from our content.
Discover more about the art of business storytelling (including nine awesome tips from professional novelists, content marketers, and storytellers).
Telling the stories that engage your prospects, wherever they are in their buyer's journey
Taking a stronger editorial stance in the articles and video marketing you’re producing by telling relevant, relatable stories is one of the single most powerful tools you have up your sleeve — especially when you consider the fundamental role content plays today across marketing, sales, and services.
When most of us think of brand stories, we bring to mind brilliant marketing campaigns and viral ads of the sort that would make Dove, Nike, and Deloitte proud. Storytelling has been embedded in marketing and advertising since the dawn of time (or thereabouts).
But it's not enough for you to think about marketing as a standalone unit anymore — and your story doesn't stop there anyway.
President of Influence & Co Kelsey Raymond's session on sales enablement content last Thursday reminded me of just this. The statistic was there — 'Only 46% of companies say their sales and marketing teams are aligned' — but by characterising the fundamental rivalry between sales and marketing teams in a way that an audience comprised of both parties could recognise, she drew us in and held our attention.
(Check out what the co-founder of communication giant Galvanize Jeff Gadway had to add on the subject of storytelling in sales content in thisquick video. Two minutes well spent if you’re in the sales space.)
Storytelling also comes hand-in-hand with the fundamental theme running throughout INBOUND this year, that being the renewed importance of serving and delighting your customers. Engaging your customers across the buyer's journey with exciting, emotional, or helpful stories is an incredibly effective way of building meaningful relationships between your customers and your brand. More explicitly, HubSpot's new Service Hub provides plenty of ways for you to incorporate storytelling into your customer service activities.
If sales and marketing are where you tell your stories, services is surely where you live them, and in doing so move your story forward, one happy customer at a time.
A huge part of INBOUND this year has been an insistent reminder to put your customers at the heart of your business. You need them, and for better or worse you love them, but most of us could stand to serve, celebrate, and delight our customers a little better. Telling the stories they want to hear is just another way of putting this into practice.
Make sure your story is relevant to the person you want to read or watch it
In case you were wondering what Rusti's story has to do with branded content, I wanted to add that Melanie's client at the time was Netflix and the campaign she was working on was season two of Orange is the New Black.
Like any business launching a new product or service, Netflix was excited to promote season two of its award-winning show. But they were surprised to learn that most of their viewers thought the story was fictional. Recognising an opportunity to surprise, inform, and engage the show's fans with knowledge to the contrary, they brought in Melanie to tell the real stories of women who had lived through many of the issues explored in the show.
As well as capturing the interest of the Orange's core fanbase, this content also added depth and meaning to the fictionalised series, furthering the viewers' experiences of, and connection with, the newly launched season.
The takeaway here is that it's important to find the intersection between your brand story and your customers' interests. Often, these will be closely aligned anyway, but it's something to bear in mind as you begin building more storytelling into your content marketing strategy.
Outside of the breakaway sessions, one of my favourite moments was the founders' keynote. I’d never heard Brian or Dharmesh speak before, but an hour into their talk, it was radiantly clear how HubSpot has grown into the customer-centric success story it’s recognised as today: they both care a huge amount about looking after their many thousands of customers and partners around the world — and they know how to tell the stories that communicate this.
The result? Yes, they’ve built one of the world’s leading marketing automation platforms together, but more importantly they’ve also grown a community of advocates who live and breathe the platform every day.
The sessions have been great, but I need only have stood at the entrance of the convention centre and looked across at the 25,000 people willing to travel the globe to hang out with and learn from one another for a couple of days to see the real power of a brand story in action.
Discover how to use storytelling to drive a successful content strategies in our free ebook, 'The Beginner's Guide to Content Strategy and Implementation'. To download it, click the image below.