Marketing is Storytelling


When was the last time you heard a really good story? I’m talking about one that absolutely captivated you, one that evoked genuine emotion, or one that made you really think or question something. Storytelling is an extricable part of almost every culture in the world, and, in most societies, verbal artistry is revered because entertainment is a high value experience, despite the intangible nature of it.

To paraphrase the brilliant Seth Godin, marketing is storytelling. Whether it’s a commercial, radio bit, print ad in a magazine, or even a listing on and ILS or Craigslist, your marketing tells a story. But the question is, what story are you telling? Here are a few tips and ideas to help you develop a marketing story that sells:

Storytelling and Writing are Different Things.

Don’t misunderstand me – good writing is somewhat essential to storytelling in the world of marketing. Grammatical errors and misspellings are never acceptable. You’ve got to know your Your/You’re, your To/Too/Two, and your There/ Their/They’re, but that will only take you half of the way there. I have known many proficient technical writers who couldn’t tell a captivating story if it was the only thing in this world that would get them another breath of oxygen. The creative side of writing has to factor in first – then you can unleash your inner editor.

Keep it Universal and Short.

Storytelling is not the same thing as “Noveling.” Yes, a novel is a story, but not all stories are novels. For the purposes of marketing, we are looking for the micro-story, or even the nano-story – very similar to the time frame that is often covered in the chorus of a pop song. When Taylor Swift sings that she knew you were trouble when you walked in, she’s focusing on that single moment where you know in your gut something is bad (but fun!), and you decide to take the risk anyway. The rest of the song fleshes out the story, but the song’s chorus is what hooks you because it is a universally relatable emotional moment in time.

Unless you’re going to be doing a series of marketing pieces that interlock like the old Mac vs. PC ads from a few years ago (and cheers to you if you do!), the story you’re looking to tell is one of a few moments in the day, or even a few glimpses of a day at different times. Often times, we try to tell too big of a story in our marketing pieces, but consider the power of a single moment after a horrible day, when you come home to find that

a package you really needed has arrived, but the front desk is closed. You look through the door, and you can see your package, right there, on the desk…just beyond your reach.

The visual image alone is enough to make you want to rent someplace else, and words can be superfluous at that point. That second is a powerful moment in someone’s day, and a marketing storyteller, it’s one that you can capitalize on!

Storytelling is NOT About Making the Overt Sale.

Does marketing help you sell your product? Does it push more traffic through your front doors? Absolutely! But storytelling in marketing is about creating desire, not closing the deal. Your goal is to pique interest and desire so that the consumer takes the additional step to investigate your community or product a little bit more closely.

You want to expose those moments in their day that you can improve, or uncover a void in their life that they might not have even known they had or, create one and trick them in to believing that it exists. To see a good example of this, look at the early marketing for Apple’s first generation iPod. If you didn’t have one there was quite obviously a party you were missing…and everyone pitied you. Or so their marketing would have you believe. The story in that moment is the same story in the moment where you were picked last for kickball on the playground as a kid, or the first time that a friend of yours got invited to a party, but you didn’t – it’s the story of exclusion, and, as previously mentioned, that’s a universally relatable tale.

Remember Your Audience.

While the fair housing laws don’t allow us to target certain audiences with our ads, that doesn’t mean that you should forget your demographic completely. Each property has personality of its own, and will have its own distinct flavor of story. Think about the locked up package scenario that we talked about earlier – is that something that would be a sales point for your property or not? Are better sales points things pointing to community (short distances from farmers’ markets, frequent resident events, etc.), or that you’re a short distance from the major employment centers and can save them money that way? We frequently talk about selling not features, but rather, benefits when we train people on sales, but there is a step between those two things from a marketing perspective – there is the story. The story tells you why those benefits matter to your prospective resident, and that story is what initially can make them connect with your community.

A Good Story is Honest.

People crave honesty in today’s world. Call it by whatever buzzword you’d like – Transparency, Genuinity, Authenticity – when you’re marketing, especially to members of Generation Y, it’s a crucial component to your finished product. People respond to real honesty. They value their friends’ points of view, but they also look to sites like YELP for a candid opinion from strangers. If you’re going to tell a story with your marketing, make sure it’s an honest one. Is it a story about how your company delivers a resident’s packages to their apartment? Is it a story about how waking up with a view of Puget Sound makes for a beautiful, awe-striking morning? Whatever it is, make sure it’s real, and you’re telling someone a story that can actually be theirs. There’s nothing worse than being told you will be Harry Potter and finding out that all you really get to be is Draco Malfoy.