It goes without saying that the digital marketing landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Google’s decision to do away with third-party cookies, while a positive move for consumers, has left many pondering the future of personalization and personal connection in advertising. But there is one solution that has largely flown under the radar.
Known for its power to build connection, foster empathy and inspire action, storytelling is the original form of advertising. It continues to be the most prevalent way in which humans pass down history and culture, share ideas and advice, teach lessons and build trust — not to mention recommend brands and products. And in a world with less individualized information (demographics, behaviors and preferences) to rely on, stories are the most valuable currency we have — sparking connection regardless of who you are or how you shop.
For marketers seeking connection in a cookieless world, storytelling isn’t just a fallback; it’s an effective strategy for building relationships based on universal truths.
A Universal Language
Stories are as old as time, transcending borders, cultures and demographics. One of the earliest known recorded stories comes from ancient Mesopotamia, which developed writing around 3400 B.C. (although, civilizations were passing stories down by word of mouth long before that). “Instructions of Shuruppak” is one of this Sumerian civilization’s oldest literary works. A book of wisdom, similar to proverbs, it was reportedly handed down from the Sumerian king (for whom it’s named) to his son.
Stories have helped keep culture and heritage alive. One way African slaves in America held onto history and culture so was through folk tales, which they used as a means of recording their experiences.
From Shuruppak’s ancient wisdom, to slaves’ word-of-mouth tales, to the everyday exploits we regall to friends and family, to the fairy tales we read to our kids at night, stories are the universal language. Their power lies in their ability to speak to and resonate with everyone.
They also have applications in advertising and marketing.
Capturing Attention with Values
In the digital jungle where every brand is vying for attention, storytelling is what cuts through the noise. It’s not about bombarding people with tailored ads and promotions — which, let’s face it, is the basis of modern marketing. Capturing people’s attention is about crafting a narrative that captivates and resonates — that demonstrates how your values as a brand align with those of your ideal customer. This is the type of content people invite into their lives, and come back for (as opposed to muting or scrolling past).
As Charlena Millar, assistant professor of business in the College of Business at Doane University, said, “Lasting brand value is earned when people see their own values authentically reflected in the organisation and choose to passionately live, breathe and share the company’s story.”
People trust people, and stories — specifically, authentic stories — are the bridge that connects brands and consumers on a fundamental human level.
The Emotional Resonance of Stories
Cookies may have been about showing the right audience the right products to spark a one-time purchase, but storytelling is about connecting with your audience through emotions to inspire lifelong purchases.
The emotional connection is what transforms a passive viewer into an engaged consumer. It’s helpful to know then, that according to Harvard Business School professor emeritus Gerald Zaltman, 95 percent of our buying decisions happen in the subconscious, meaning they’re fueled by emotions as opposed to “logical processes,” per an Entrepreneur article.
When told well, stories can evoke strong emotions. A strong positive response, while not necessarily leading to an in-the-moment sale, sparks more meaningful, long-lasting connections that will likely do much more for your brand and business in the long run. Stories demonstrate authenticity and values, build credibility and trust, contribute to word-of-mouth and so much more.
But don’t just take our word for it …
The Effectiveness of Storytelling
In one study, 71 percent of consumers said they are more likely to recommend a brand with whom they have an emotional connection — with 83 percent citing trustworthiness as the most important factor in a brand. In that same study:
- 60% of respondents said they feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site
- 68% spend time reading about brands that interest them
Additionally, another study demonstrated the power of building connections with consumers — which story, we know, does well. More than three-fourths of consumers surveyed said they would buy from a brand they feel connected with over a competitor, and 57 percent said they are more likely to increase how much they spend with a brand when they feel connected.
Conversely, when consumers don’t feel connected with a brand, they are 70 percent less likely to shop with them versus a competitor. Overall, when consumers feel connected to a brand, they are more likely to recommend that brand to a friend (68 percent).
Stories, unlike cookies, humanize brands, making them relatable and trustworthy, evoking laughter, empathy and excitement.
Crafting Your Brand Narrative
So, how does one go about telling a story that transcends the cookie and cuts through the digital clutter? Start by humanizing your brand. Introduce the faces behind the logo — including your customers. Let your audience peek behind the scenes. Share successes and failures alike, as well as your history. Afterall, transparency breeds trust, and a well-crafted narrative paints an authentic picture of who you are. (Read more from Anecdote on the power of stories to humanize brands here.)
A New Chapter in Marketing
So, as we’ve learned, the demise of third-party cookies isn’t a death knell for personalized marketing. In fact, it’s an invitation to get back to the basics — the universal, emotional, impactful language of storytelling.
In an era where personalization is evolving, stories remain a constant. As we navigate this new digital marketing landscape, let storytelling be your new (or old?) compass.