Why Online Marketers Need to Embrace Storytelling

storytelling-marketingAs Marketers, we sometimes forget that most people simply do not understand the “in the weeds” metrics that we deal with everyday. Our job is to decode this data and plug them into sales projections, future strategies and testing. However, this standard metric decoding is not enough and we need to find a better way to communicate successes and failures that the client can understand. That is why the idea is telling a story is just as important now than it was when we are in Kindergarten and the teacher read us a story in a circle.¬† In this post, I will highlight the importance of storytelling with the client which not only helps the client understand, but also reinforces the client-agency relationship.

Storytelling is also a Science

As marketers, early on we are classically trained to become proficient in Excel, Powerpoint and (my personal favorite) writing on whiteboards so that we can be perceived as smartest one in the room. These elements of communication comprise of bullet points, summarizations, goals and objectives, sales vs. cost projections, etc… On the contrary, we are most likely doing it all wrong. There have been many studies and published articles that debunk this MBA/classroom method and reinforce the one of oldest and most fundamental communication methods.

In an very “eye-opening” article by Lifehacker.com published back in 2012 entitled “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains“, author Leo Widrich states “It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens. When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. So in essence, telling stories not only puts our entire brain to work it also allows the storyteller to put ideas and thoughts into the listeners brain as well.

Managing the Complexities of Online Marketing with Storytelling

For most clients, they do not care too much about CTR%, AVG positions, bounce rates, etc… they want to know what is causing their cash register to ring below are some of the common questions they are mostly concerned about:

  • What’s working and why?
  • Whats not working and why?
  • Why are sales down this month as compared to last month?
  • How can we generate more sales without increasing the budget, etc…

Because of this difference in understanding¬† success metrics, marketers need to take all of the Analytics data (which are considered very complex by clients) and transform them into a story/language that they can understand. For example, lets suppose that the client saw a 50% increase in sales coming from their “Brand Terms” in Adwords as compared to the previous month. Instead of just providing them with increased performance metrics such as CTR%, Conversion rates, etc.., marketers need to do a little digging around and form a story that they can understand.

A story would be something like:

“Well, since we added more generalized “non-branded” terms as well as your interview on the local TV station, a larger audience of people who were not familiar with your brand before, typed your brand into Google and clicked on the PPC Text Ads. ” It is this type of success story that can create that “light bulb” in the heads of the client to ensure them that they are prospering their investment in you or your agency.”

Leveraging Web Analytics Data to Feed the Story

Just looking at common performance data is simply not enough to tell a story. Marketers need to look at various layers of data to comprise a story that can makes sense to the client. Identifying these interesting and important metrics such as hour of day, day of the week. GEO by state, metro area, city, direct/bookmark, conversion funnels, etc… These are examples of the metrics, combined with overall performance data is what makes up the holistic story that the client needs to hear. Moreover, these stories often lead to future optimization strategies and testing which is great for the client-agency relationship.

In Conclusion:

Trying to explain all of the intricate metrics and what they mean to a client is hard enough. But simplifying the data and creating a story around it, even as an “ice-breaker” at the beginning of the conversation, helps the client feel like they made the right choice in hiring you. The one thing we need to remember is that a story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect and that is what clients need to understand.