Updated 7 months ago by Oskar Duberg
Humans have been storytellers for millennia – long before we could even write stories down. In fact, neuroscience has proved that stories tap into our brains in a unique way. So when a story captures our attention, we listen to it, and we remember it.
What does this mean for marketers? They need to give customers exactly what they crave: a memorable story. No one understands this better than Dave Gerhardt, CMO at Privy and former VP of marketing for Drift.
Gerhardt has written extensively about how brands can tell better stories. And today, he’s crafting compelling narratives on Privy’s podcast, “The Ecommerce Marketing Show,“ which helps online sellers learn how to cut through the noise to attract the right customers to their store.
We recently spoke to Gerhardt about the importance of storytelling in marketing, and he provided us with a wealth of information that will help every brand tell a story that’s authentic, engaging, and impactful. Read on for his key takeaways that will empower your brand do just that.
Many companies make the mistake of thinking their brand is simply their logo, their signature font, or the colors on their websites. But Gerhardt is quick to point out that a brand is far more than just these few elements.
“A brand is something that has a clear point of view,” he says. “Everything starts with the story. And if you nail the story, the rest is easy. With the right story, you could go build a brand and have a website that looks like Craigslist."
How does a brand find its story? By being able to clearly and succinctly answer questions like the following:
Answering these questions enables marketers to identify the brand’s unique perspective, or its positioning.
“Those stories are not going to change; they’re just going to continue to evolve. When you have a clear story from a brand perspective, positioning is actually easy because everything fits within that narrative.”
Brands often attempt to frame their stories in a way that explains why they – or their product – are better than what’s currently out there. This is a mistake, according to Gerhardt. Instead, brands should shape the narrative around the new category they’ve created.
He references Al Ries’ and Jack Trout’s bestselling book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, which states in its first chapter that it’s better to be first than it is to be better.
Gerhardt uses the example of launching a microphone company to illustrate this point. “The first thing everyone is going to ask me is, ‘How is this different than the other microphones we already have?’” he says. “But the best opportunity is not to try to be the different microphone – it’s to create a new category of microphone.”
Why? Because even if you do have the best microphone on the market, people aren’t just going to believe that because you say so.
“No one is going to say ‘we’re worse,’” Gerhardt says. “Everyone’s going to tell you their stuff is the best. But nobody wants to be sold to. And so, one way around this is to create a category where you can be the first company in it.”
Now that’s a story people want to hear.
“There’s no room for vanilla positioning and messaging today,” Gerhardt says. And yet, he finds that a lot of brands have nothing original to say, which is often a “CEO problem.”
Even if you have your unique selling point and your marketing message is consistent, if your CEO doesn’t buy into the story, customers will see right through it. After all, it’s not hard to pick out the companies with a leader who takes a weak stand.
But a company’s story should drive every aspect of the brand, and the CEO should own that vision, including the marketing.
“It doesn’t mean that (as CEO) you have to know how the marketing gets done, how the blog posts and ads get created,” Gerhardt says. “But you do have to drive the story.”
He says the CEO’s role in storytelling has nothing to do with personality, though.
“You could be the most quiet, introverted person in the world, but you created Stripe because you want to disrupt payments and how the future of the internet works,” he explains.
When a CEO not only is familiar with the brand’s story but also owns it and becomes its narrator, they can then contribute directly to content creation. So get the CEO to regularly contribute blog posts. Create videos of them speaking or demonstrating your product or service. Let them post as themselves using branded social media accounts (or, better yet, let their personality come through by building up authority on their individual accounts).
The more you involve the CEO in the content your audience consumes, the more likely you are to reach your audience with your unique story.
When everyone at a company knows a brand’s story, they can help effectively tell it.
So Gerhardt suggests prioritizing internal marketing as much as marketing to customers. This means bringing people in and hosting in-house presentations to garner buy-in from leadership and make sure everyone is equipped to represent the brand.
“I take internal presentations more seriously, honestly, even than external presentations,” he says. “A lot of the time, (marketers) default to saying something like, ‘I posted it in Slack’ or ‘I sent an email about it, and I put it on the Wiki.’ Those are excuses as a marketer. So, I'm going to reach out to you and book time with you and actually get you to do the thumbs up (on brand matters). That's on me.”
And when everyone at the company is on the same page, you can entrust your entire team to be the brand.
Gerhardt suggests using branded social media accounts as a news ticker for announcements and blog content. Then, encourage your team to use their own social accounts to establish thought leadership and give your brand personality.
“Let them become the megaphone for the brand,” Gerhardt says. “People want to buy from people because those stories resonate way more. I think it's such a cool opportunity that before I buy a product today, I can feel like I know not just the CEO, but the salesperson, a marketing person, a customer (success) person. That's such a huge advantage.”
Of course, Gerhardt acknowledges that there are inherent risks to this strategy, but marketers shouldn’t be deterred.
“There are always risks,” he says. “There are risks that people are going to say dumb things. There are risks that the people who build up their brands on your platform are going to leave. That’s the game. There’s no scenario in business where there’s no risk. When there’s no risk, there’s no reward.”
A story without a point of view is just a bland series of occurrences. That’s why Gerhardt says it’s imperative that companies have a strong opinion and a clear take that their brands consistently communicate.
Knowing your story and marketing your unique selling point to a niche audience will do much more for your brand than trying to be everything to everyone at all times.
“I think a lot of brands struggle with the fact that they’re not actually out there saying anything different, and that’s the biggest opportunity from a brand-building perspective,” he says. “In a world where there's a million different competitors, you have to have that one clear take. You have to get people to raise their hand and say, 'Yes, I'm like you, too.' And there's no room for a vanilla position.”