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Using stories in marketing has been discussed ad nauseam. But where most articles and conversations stop short is discussing what type of stories your marketing is telling — and what type of stories are actually best for acquiring new customers and creating loyalty in existing customers.
As I’ve touched on before, stories are important because they can elicit different emotions. Those emotions are critical when you’re trying to not only create sales, but also build a relationship with your customer. The reason for this is simple: People make decisions with their emotions and then validate that emotional decision with facts.
The question then is what type of stories, and emotions, are most effective at not only building a long term customer base, but also building a customer base that identifies and wants to promote your brand?
There are four primary emotional motivators that are seen in most advertising. Here’s what they are, and which one is actually the most effective.
Fear and outrage
First is fear. Fear can be a powerful motivator, and we’ve all experienced the ad or sales pitch that uses fear as the primary driver for action. This fear can range from dire predictions of what will happen if you don’t purchase the product to the simple fear of missing out on what everyone else is buying. But research has shown that fear has a shelf life. People become immune to the warnings, requiring constant fear mongering to attract business and seal the deal. I can’t think of a single long-term successful brand that has fear at its core.
Controversy, or outrage, is another emotion that can elicit quick responses in the moment but hurt you in the long run. Similar to fear, outrage will only work for so long, and is unproductive for any company wanting to build a healthy customer base. Also, controversy often fires up half of your audience while alienating the other half.
Put another way, outrage and fear are usually poor tools for creating loyalty with customers; they might meet a need in a moment of raw emotion — but there is no long-term connection with the customer. Your company and product might also be associated with the negative emotions that motivated the customer in the first place.
Another problem with fear- and outrage-based marketing are the limits they put on your potential reach. Many people will be hesitant to share outrage marketing out of concern for offending others, and sharing fear-based ads can cause people to feel vulnerable — that they are revealing a personal weakness about themselves.
On the other side of the story-telling coin are aspiration, inspiration, and humor, all of which can be very productive in connecting with your customer base.
Aspirational storytelling is most used by luxury brands like Jaguar, Coach or Rolex and connects the customer with what they want to be. It allows someone to feel successful by owning the product connected to the lifestyle, celebrity or athlete that they identify with.
Inspirational and endearing stories not only elicit positive emotions but can also expand the reach of your marketing as people share a feel-good story with their social network. Inspirational marketing can be a powerful way to connect with customers and make your company a brand that people are excited to associate themselves with. But even these stories can have limitations for a company’s marketing — while they create an opportunity to reveal the heart and motivation of your company, you can still lack the chemistry to gain their full trust.
That’s where the last element in storytelling marketing comes into play—humor. In fact, humor can be the best marketing tool when it is done right and is not rude or offensive.
Humor based marketing not only connects your company with a positive emotion it also creates a bond between you and the customer. Scientists have found that laughter releases oxytocin in the body, a hormone that aids in forming social bonds and increasing trust.
Using humor, especially self-deprecating humor, conveys that your company doesn’t take itself too seriously. This communicates authenticity, that you’re confident enough in your product or service that you aren’t afraid to let your guard down.
It also speeds up the process of people feeling free to open up and disarm, thus making humor a great tool in addressing difficult or even taboo topics.
A recent example of this is the ad from Third Love, a women’s underwear, bra and lounge wear company that is not only trying to bring change to its industry but also change how women’s underwear is marketed in the U.S. It used humor to address women’s relationship with their bras and why its approach is unique. It’s no wonder that the company has a loyal and growing customer base — and other companies in the industry are now having to respond, with Victoria’s Secret recently announcing a major rebranding campaign. On top of all that, the Third Love ad was shared widely on social media, earning it organic, and essentially free, marketing.
This brings us to the next effective element of using humor based ads: They are the most shareable type of marketing. Who doesn’t want to share a smile or pass along the video they know will make their friends laugh? This creates opportunities for your marketing to have a much broader organic reach, as your customers share your ad with their like-minded social network. They become brand advocates without you having to ask. This built-in shareability also has the practical effect of making your advertising efforts pack more punch per dollar than your competitors’ efforts.
Finding tasteful humor in your product or service doesn’t have to be rocket science, it can be as simple as playing off of a well-known joke about your industry, or a funny phrase that you already use with existing customers. Another effective method is to joke about a common human predicament. This could include a common struggle or frustration that your customer can identify with, or something taboo that you can approach in a sincere and honest way. Depending on your brand, this might already be built-in.
That was the case for Chatbooks, a photo book printing company that used humor to highlight the plight of busy moms — and then contrast it with the simplicity of its product. Being willing to talk about the frustrations of life, something we all deal with but sometimes hide, has enabled it to successfully grow its user base even in a saturated market. At one point, nearly half of its customers were first-time users of photo-printing services. Humor has been key in helping the company stand out and compete with other well-known players in the space.
Connecting with your customers through light-hearted humor will create loyal customers who feel a connection with you and are eager to share that connection with others. Laughter can not only be the best medicine, it might be the prescription to take your company to the next level.