Good Marketing is Good Storytelling

Marissa Cohen

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What does it take to tell a good story, connect emotionally, and have it shared? Good marketing is the art of telling a story which allows your customers to connect emotionally with your brand. We'll look at some of the most viral videos of our century and dive into what makes them a good example of corporate storytelling.

Whether we’re obsessing over characters from the latest episode of our favorite show or settling down to read our favorite book, storytelling makes us feel. Good marketing isn’t any different. In fact, basic storytelling principals can be used to enhance marketing. Thanks to social media, every brand has the immediate chance to tell their own story. But are you telling it correctly?

The Main Marketing Character 

Marketing expert Seth Godin famously said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make; it’s about the stories you tell.”

Good marketing creates a narrative around a company. In all narratives, there is a main character – someone with whom the audience can identify. Strong characters drive a story forward, making us care about the human drama unfolding in front of us. In marketing, the strong character can be the company itself (think about the mystique of Apple as a company), the company’s founders, or the main character in a 30 second spot. What matters most is that the audience sees parts of themselves in the presented character.

For example, take the stressed, freaked out mom in the below spot for online photo company Chatbooks. Chatbooks, Mom says, is FAST.

It's a good thing too, because Mom explains she hasn't slept "more than four hours in twelve years." Raise your hand if you too have frantically searched for one of your kids in a laundry pile or taken advantage of momentary quiet to inhale pita chips in the darkness of your pantry while your Little Monsters were elsewhere.

Several of last year’s hottest ads also used strong, relatable characters to draw the audience into a unique story.

Brands need a human face to make an audience care.

Emotional Storytelling 

The most powerful stories take us on an emotional journey. Emotional storytelling builds upon a core message. A big question that marketers can help companies answer is what is the company’s motivation? What inspires the company?

Apple’s famous 1997 “Crazy Ones” ad campaign cast the then-rebranded company as another example of geniuses such as Albert Einstein. Apple’s core message, “Think Different” grew out of this historic ad campaign – and it’s a great example of emotional storytelling at its best.

This message leaves room for the audience. Is the audience brave and rebellious enough to “think different” and buy an Apple product?

Another strong example of this technique is the famous “Carousel” scene from Mad Men. In arguably one of the best moments in television history, Don Draper’s pitch to Kodak becomes a heartbreaking and beautiful look at his own life.

Even though Mad Men is set in the 1960s, this is still a prime example of what strong emotional storytelling looks like. Draper didn’t focus primarily on statistics or numbers. Instead, he told a story that made everyone in that room feel the pain and joy of the passage of time. Good marketing strikes an emotional chord in us.

Is Your Marketing Story Multicultural? 

We live in a multicultural society. By 2042, more than half of America’s population is projected to be made up of minority groups.

Your marketing story should embrace multiculturalism. This will build cross-cultural brand awareness. The more that people recognize themselves in your marketing storytelling, the more they will be attracted to what you’re selling.


What conflicts are in your marketing campaign? All storytelling thrives on conflict. Conflict makes audiences care about your brand. Is this Storytelling 101? Absolutely, but it’s also one of the most important elements in a narrative structure.

As Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey says in the below video, “Conflict creates tension and tension keeps people engaged.”

Among the most common conflicts in storytelling are Person vs. Self, Person vs. Fate, or Person vs. Society. Where and how are you using the power of conflict to transform your marketing campaigns?

Are You Winning the Attention Contest?

Perhaps Seth Godin said it best: “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” Use these storytelling techniques and make sure that your marketing campaign grabs the audience’s attention from the start.

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