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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistMon, Jan 18, 2016 8 min read

Why Stories Are The Foundation Of An Inbound Marketing Strategy

Stories Turn Inbound Marketing Content Into Leads

Inbound Marketing Strategy Needs StoriesA lot of CEOs and even some VPs of Marketing are quick to blow by the importance of marketing strategy. These misinformed individuals think the tactics are more important than the thinking, the positioning, the differentiation and the stories people tell about your business.

But, today, we have hard, scientific data to the contrary. Even more exciting than arbitrary research, we also have real-time tactical data showing that clients who have solid inbound marketing strategy get more visitors and more leads than companies who simply apply the tactics without the compelling messaging.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Human Brain Physiology Doesn’t Lie

There’s no question that storytelling evokes a strong neurological response deep inside our brains. In Harvard Business ReviewThe Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool, Neuroeconomist Paul Zaks research shows that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus, while the cute factor of the animals (or babies or faces of people who look like us) releases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy. Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine, which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.

Keep This In Mind When Evaluating Your Own Marketing

As business leaders, you need to apply these findings on the neurobiology of storytelling to your business.

Recent experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points that a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.

This is why the standard PowerPoint presentation pales in comparison to a solid story. This is why we typically rework almost every single client sales presentation from the standard capabilities presentation to a more compelling story with a start, a middle, an end and a hero at the center of the story. The hero has to be your prospect, not you. That's another big mistake most people make. All of your stories have to highlight your client as the hero.

Invest Time And Money To Get YOUR Story Down

Every organization has its own story, and in most cases, this story never gets told. In some cases, it gets told differently by different people, further confusing your prospects. Stories need to be created and packaged in a way that everyone tells them the same way.

This typically gets done during the strategy and planning phase of an inbound marketing engagement. The best stories have to do with the way you deliver your services, as well as the impact those services have had on your clients. Other compelling stories have to do with the deep-seeded reasons behind the business. If you’re a product company, why did you create the product in the first place? What challenges forced you to consider this product as something other people need or want?

Make sure your stories evoke an emotion with your prospects. As humans, we all make our purchase decisions emotionally. If we’re connected emotionally, you have a better chance of getting the sale later on, after all the rationalization is complete.

Still not convinced that this is critical? Here’s more data.

Stories Improve The Performance Of Advertising

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, Keith Quesenberry and his research partner Michael Coolsen focused on brands use of specific strategies to sell products, such as featuring cute animals or sexy celebrities in their advertising, but they also coded the commercials for plot development. In other words, how good were their stories?

They found that regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success. They stated, "People are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures and relate to other people."

No one should be surprised. Humans have been communicating through stories for upwards of 20,000 years, back when we wrote on cave walls. It’s literally in our DNA. Stop trying to pretend your marketing success is dependent on your website, PPC budget, landing pages or content marketing. Whether you get enough leads has more to do with your stories, or lack of stories, than it does with your tactical execution.

Leveraging Stories For Click-To-Close Inbound Marketing

Inbound uses stories strategically to create an experience for your prospects from the first time they visit your website, while you nurture them and then again as they get ready to say “yes” to what you do. When visitors arrive on your website, they should be greeted with stories, not a request for a proposal. In the first 10 seconds of their very first visit, they should see themselves in your story and get a feeling that you’re able to help them.

Over the next set of interactions, you need to deliver more stories: stories illustrating that your stories are true. This usually looks like social proof, or people talking about how you helped them. You need to tell stories placed strategically during the prospect’s buyer journey, stories that address specific concerns or objections and stories that educate and, in some cases, even entertain your prospects.

These stories need to be mapped out and strategically implanted into the prospect’s experience. Then, you need to use your inbound marketing tactics to deploy these stories. Yes, this can be complicated and perhaps take more effort than simply showing up at a series of trade shows and hoping people stop into your booth. But, we’re in 2016, folks, and you have to be much smarter than you’ve been in the past.

If you want your inbound program to generate leads, look for an agency with the strategic chops to create these stories for your business, map the same stories to your buyer’s journey and create the tactics to deliver them. This means you’re looking for an agency that has the systems, processes and methodology to help you with your stories.

10 Questions You Need To Ask Before You Hire An Inbound Marketing Agency Start Today Tip – Do a quick inventory of your current marketing strategy. Does it have stories? Are they emotionally compelling? Does your current marketing deliver your stories to your prospects? My guess is the answer is going to be NO more times than YES. If the answer is no, you need to take a pause with all of your tactics and get those stories created, deployed and active in both sales and marketing processes. If you want to get this done faster, find people who have a process for this part of your marketing strategy and work with them to get the stories ready to go. Afterward, you’ll see a marked improvement in the number of leads you get across your entire marketing program.

Square 2 Marketing – Inbound Results Start With ME!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.