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The aim of marketing is to place your business story in the thoughts and conversations of your buyer (in a way that creates sales).

It used to be that the precursor to an effective business story was pushing out a big and brassy advertisement right in the middle of whatever consumers were enjoying. If they were listening to radio, you made them stop for the commercial break. Same thing with TV; you gave them eight minutes of viewing and then made them wait through several minutes of ads before they could see the next section of their show.

It's especially dramatic if you are attending a professional sporting event. To make room for these commercials, the game stops during television timeouts; players just stand around and wait.

All of that is best described in one word: interruption. It's about as valuable in marketing as it is in a conversation.

When measuring how strategy works in marketing, researchers look at three things:

  • Ad recall—Do consumers remember the ad?
  • Brand awareness—Do consumers remember you?
  • Purchase intent—Do consumers intend to buy?

Interruption-based marketing is having to work harder and harder to achieve these outcomes when up against new digital formats; social media, for example. That means traditional methods cost more to achieve the same effect. That’s also why smart money is moving so rapidly to digital marketing.

Here’s the heart of the change.

The most powerful way to achieve all three is found in that most basic human invention: the story. The closer the marketing format is to a native story, the more powerful it becomes. The story rules. It’s what people remember and share. It has greater emotional impact and connects to decision-making more powerfully.

This isn’t just opinion; it’s backed up by large scale research conducted by marketing leaders like Nielsen. If you follow the money of large advertisers you’ll see all of them moving to story-based approaches. Best example: Super Bowl ads that cost millions and are now entirely based on story.

Free Ebook. Smarketing: Creating the right hand-shake between sales and marketing.

So how to do small- to medium-sized businesses and nonprofits stop paying to interrupt people’s lives and start introducing powerful stories?

Here are four simple steps to storytelling:

1. Discover the Story OS (Story Operating System) that your target consumers use. This is the way they consume and share stories, news, and information. For most, this is now on their smart phones. It includes specific social networks, email (yes, this is still a very viable form of marketing), magazines, blogs, and other media formats. Be in the digital space where they already consume and share stories. In short, put your story where they live.

2. Examine all advertising from a business story  perspective. First, look to see if you're giving them value that meets a need for humor, information, or connection. Is the content interesting? Does it meet a need (their need, not yours)?

3. Make a transition of your marketing resources into story-based marketing that adds value and feels like it’s a part of your audience's daily routine. This will require more than just a single 'magic bullet' advertisement; it is a shift in your marketing strategy.

4. Track, improve, and adjust (digital advertising should always be trackable). Fine-tune what you deliver, the marketing channel on which you deliver it, and when it is delivered. You’ll need a system and some new skills to make it all work, so allow time for the learning curve.

David Mills

Written by David Mills

David is one of the founders of Story Collaborative and serves as the Chief Growth Officer. He is passionate about finding the right strategy for each client and helping them move into sustainable growth. He is a veteran of organizational development and communications and has worked with thousands of businesses and nonprofits across the country.