Bad news, content marketers: traditional storytelling has gone mainstream. Once a coveted tool among content marketers, storytelling has prompted professionals of all backgrounds to inform and inspire their audiences with strategically relatable content.
In a market where 92% of consumers prefer stories in messaging, marketing teams will need more than facts and figures to tell a good story. They’ll need empathetic storytelling. Good empathetic storytelling simply makes us feel better—usually by generating a chemical response in our brains that heightens our focus and helps us build connections with others.
Content marketers can and should harness these natural responses by creating content that centers consumers’ values, not the company’s products or brand. Use our guide to understand and incorporate empathetic storytelling into your content strategy.
Why Empathetic Storytelling Works
First, we know why content marketing works: it connects companies to their target audience by building awareness and trust. Businesses use content marketing to generate customer interactions that can lead to a sale. However, empathetic storytelling helps marketers evoke specific emotions and create memorable experiences—which can lead to a fully connected audience that is 52% more valuable than “satisfied” customers.
We naturally crave good stories. As children, our parents used them to communicate powerful lessons; as adults, they help us understand our own lives and the lives of others. When we hear a good story, we think about what we share with the characters, including their motivations, experiences, and ideas. Much like the earliest storytellers, empathetic marketers use these responses to generate content that helps users connect to their brand.
How to Use Empathetic Storytelling in Content Marketing
Center Your Audience’s Needs
Empathetic storytelling requires marketers to understand their audience first. Methodologies like buyer personas and market analytics help marketers understand their audience’s goals, values, and pain points. Empathetic marketers use these insights to create content that explores their audience’s unique values and needs.
Remember: everyone thinks their needs are the most important. We like to feel that our needs are being heard, no matter the impact. Empathetic storytelling allows companies to communicate that they deeply understand their audience’s experiences and concerns.
When a consumer interacts with empathetic content, they feel like companies are trying to help them—rather than just sell to them. Over time, consumers build trust with the company’s brand and are more motivated to maintain an ongoing relationship with the company itself.
Illustrate a Conflict
Struggle drives empathetic storytelling, even in marketing. You already know that your audiences have issues that they hope to solve—and you hope to provide those solutions. As you create your story, clearly highlight the problem your audience is trying to solve. This can signal to a potential customer that your product is the answer they’re looking for.
Exploring conflict can also help you establish expertise in your market. The more specific, illustrative, or detailed the conflict is, the more you can inspire viewers to see your product as a solution to overcoming their challenges. Showcasing a complex conflict (that you can solve) signals a level of knowledge your competitors may not possess. Consumers may trust you more if they feel like you can anticipate what they’re likely deal with in their personal or professional lives.
Avoid making a hard sell for your products. Empathetic storytellers spend more time exploring the conflict and less time pointing to a solution—even their own. Don’t directly show how your products can solve the problem. Rather, guide your audience to the conclusion. Your audience should leave the interaction with a better understanding of their problems and the range of solutions available to them (including your product).
Choose the Best Format
When considering the best format for empathetic storytelling, focus on the visual or contextual formats that are most likely to engage your audience for that story. For example, a video can make a meaningful impact with beautiful imagery, but a podcast can relate context or complex insight. Humans remember pictures better than words, but we are also likely to use context to better engage with stories.
It’s okay to experiment with the formats you use to communicate your story. Video documentaries, editorial advertisements, blog posts, and printed media are just a few formats to experiment with. More unique options—like office or public installations, a live talk show, or internal conferences— may offer context that can help shape your story in a more personable way among smaller groups.
Empathetic storytelling can help us explore our needs and what it means to be us. Instead of pushing products, content marketers should use empathetic storytelling to identify and illustrate their audience’s unique conflicts in a format that makes sense.
With a few steps, any marketer can create empathetic content to build stronger relationships with a more engaged consumer base.