Why Your Storytelling Approach is Wrong (and 3 ways to fix it)

The effectiveness of storytelling is one of the few constants in marketing. Many companies pour significant resources into initiatives that will help “tell their story”, but once deployed, they find that it was ultimately for nothing because no one even saw it.

Do people not care about your story? Not necessarily, but companies that do this are overestimating the weight that storytelling has on its own. They have idealized storytelling as a romantic endeavor while expecting it to have a pragmatic effect, i.e. increasing sales, web traffic, etc. And while these results would certainly be rather romantic for the CEO, consumers won’t feel the same.

Today’s audience has a way of sniffing out corporate interests in advertising, and when successfully sniffed out, the romantic intentions ring hollow to the ears of people who have better things to do than listen to a corporate channel drone about a successful 20 years in taking their money.

What many companies fail to realize is this: stories are only as good as the value they create. If you make an incredible video series detailing how your products have touched the lives of your diverse consumer base in a myriad of ways, what’s the point if no one sees it?

We’ve all seen these videos in our YouTube recommendations with the attention-grabbing title and empathy-producing thumbnail image. And as though spurred by an unseen force, you click, whereupon you are treated to a beautiful story with the production quality of a short film. Impressed, you look at the viewer count to see how many others have shared your emotional moment, only to see that jarring 3-digit view count and 2-year-old posting date.

Brilliant content, terrible execution.

Great content on its own achieves nothing. But content that is a part of a larger strategy operating behind the curtain yields success that is the stuff of legend. So how do we go about achieving it?


Your content must be strategic.

Before you can even think about creating a story, you need to clearly define who is going to see it and why. This is where knowing your audience comes into play. If you know who you’re marketing to, then you can pinpoint what subjects, trends, and events they care about, which will inform the messaging you create.

Let’s be clear: no company tells a story for its own sake, and you will be no different. The only reason you’re interested in telling a story is to figure out a way to get consumers to connect with your brand more. Storytelling is a sales pitch, you know it, and more importantly, your audience knows it.

But it’s a sales pitch that can resonate with them and may play a crucial role in their decision to purchase your goods or services. Would you make a sales pitch to someone without knowing whether they would be even remotely interested in what you’re selling?

Your strategy should shape your story, your distribution channels, your target demographic, and so on.


Define your story’s lifespan.

Not all stories are meant to live forever. They, like anything, only have a limited amount of time before they start to become ineffective. Think of any brand you know and love. How many times have they started a new campaign in the last 2 years alone?

I have seen many companies confuse story with mission. That is, they take one key message and run with it for years on end, adding little snippets here and there to sustain their singular campaign when the same effect could have been achieved by a simple mission statement.

This is entirely backwards.

Your brand should behave like a living thing—it ebbs flows, ages and transforms. As it grows in size and scope, your company should be able to tell a great many stories that resonate with your viewership. Change is a sign of progress, and stagnant messaging one of…well, stagnation.

Chart out a timeframe for each of your stories to ensure that your audience is kept engaged with fresh content that communicates not only your company’s evolution, but also an increasing number of reasons why they should continue to rely on and support you.


Have a goal.

Remember what I said about stories being sales pitches?

I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing exactly what you want to get out of your content. Whether it’s to have immediate results, being directly responsible for conversions, or “softer” results like keeping your brand top-of-mind, it is imperative that storytelling is purposeful. Nothing is less effective than content thrown into the void to do nothing in particular.

Every piece you create is a gear in your marketing machine, and gears must turn, otherwise what is the point?


Use these tips to elevate your storytelling and give your messaging strategy direction.