Kelly Borth: How to drive customers to action through the persuasive power of narratives Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2013
Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest

Storytelling is the hottest trend in marketing today, and it’s no wonder. In a world that is moving at the speed of sound, it is nearly impossible to get your message heard. To do so takes imagination, creativity and enchanting your audience in a way that draws them in to hear your story.

When done correctly, storytelling removes people’s awareness that the message is an overt attempt to persuade them, and as a result, it has the staying power to drive them to action.

From the day we’re born, storytelling has helped us make sense of the world. Stories grab our attention and let us have experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Stories give us a glimpse into the past and into the future, stir our emotions, and take us places we never imagined.

Storytelling is an ancient art that has evolved in a myriad of forms — from the Bible to books to Broadway to movies and beyond. Creative storytelling captivates audience members, transforming them to active roles, and forms a positive and memorable experience with your brand that gets passed on within social circles.

In 2002, Verizon launched its “Can you hear me now?” campaign. The campaign, as you likely remember, took a Verizon technician to remote areas of the country to test the company’s wireless service coverage. Verizon could have simply stated that its service coverage was good, but embedding that message in a fun and interesting way within the “Can you hear me now?” narrative proved especially effective.

In the first year after the campaign began, Verizon’s net customers grew by 10 percent. In the second year, net customers grew by an additional 15 percent. Customer turnover decreased by nearly 30 percent in the same period.

Simply telling a story, however, is not enough. How you tell it can make all the difference. Here are three things every story needs to give it persuasive power.

Creativity

The first goal of any story is to grab your audience’s attention. Halftime of the Super Bowl has become an event in itself because of the creativity of the television commercials. We pay more attention to a gecko or a talking duck because the out-of-the-ordinary is more entertaining. A boring story will put your audience to sleep, but a creative story accomplishes the first step of directing attention to your message.

Involvement

Once you have their attention, get your audience members involved in the story. The story should become their own. Have you ever stayed up too late reading a book because you just couldn’t put it down? Even though we know the book is fiction, we “get into” it. It draws us in and makes us feel like we’re experiencing the action ourselves.

We relate to the Verizon guy because we’ve all been in a cellphone dead spot and know how infuriating it can be. The “Can you hear me now?” message, then, became our own message because we’ve all said those words before. We become involved in the story — our emotions and thoughts are more pliable. People are more apt to be persuaded and to adopt the message as their own when the story becomes their own.

Connection to the brand

Have you ever seen a TV commercial that is creative and involving, but by the end of the commercial, you forget what product or company the commercial featured? The most persuasive stories create a memorable association with your brand so that when someone is ready to purchase, your brand is top of mind.

So what story are you telling? Now more than ever consumers control what they pay attention to. It is up to you to captivate your audience.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.