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Storytelling for SMEs

Storytelling for SMEs

Posted 01st March, 2019 by Janah

What do you think of when you hear the word storytelling? Once upon a time maybe? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” perhaps? “This is Spot, see Spot run” by any chance?

In the world of digital marketing – whether that’s advertising or social media – storytelling is slightly different to the above.

In this article, we look into the technique of storytelling and explain how small to medium businesses can embed it into their everyday operations to make their communications with customers more effective.

What is storytelling in digital marketing?

This is a good question. Storytelling is one of those buzzwords in the realm of digital marketing that lacks a dictionary definition. It’s like ‘content marketing’ and ‘content is king’ – people have different takes on the word.

Marketing Insider Group offers the following definition: “Storytelling is “Using a narrative to connect your brand to customers, with a focus on linking what you stand for to the values you share with your customers.”

While the website Filtered Media describes the term as follows: “Brand Storytelling is the use of authentic, emotional stories by an organisation to drive growth and foster customer loyalty.”

So far, so confused?

At tsoHost, we define digital storytelling as the opposite of the hard-sell. It’s about allowing customers to go through the keyhole of your brand, to find out about the people, passion and graft that has gone, and will continue to go on, behind the corporate façade.

As Filtered Media hinted at above, it’s about getting customers to connect with your brand. And it’s done through a combination of words and images, with a little bit of imagination thrown in for good measure.

What are the benefits of storytelling in marketing and communications?

In 2016, social media marketing researchers Keith A. Quesenberry and Dr Michael Coolsen carried out a study that analysed the content of 108 Super Bowl adverts.

What did they discover?

They found that the most-viewed and shared adverts were those that told a full story. They concluded that these sorts of adverts were more popular than those where the focus was on things like sex appeal, humour, celebrity or cute animals.

Another study, carried out by the University of Massachusetts, looked into the way storytelling could be used in medical marketing. It took a group of people suffering from high blood pressure. Then it created two marketing campaigns designed to get people to make lifestyle changes in order to lower their blood pressure. One of these campaigns was based around storytelling, the other was not.

The conclusion?

The researchers concluded that the storytelling campaign was more successful in getting people to reduce their blood pressure.

Of course, the above two examples are linked to big brands and the medical sector, but it goes to show just how powerful storytelling can be in marketing and comms.

Next: We discuss how smaller businesses in all sectors can incorporate the technique into their BAU.

How do you utilise storytelling in marketing?


The best storytelling spans all marketing media. Your story, or more preferably your stories can be told on your website, your blog, social media sites, and through email marketing.


So how do you find your stories? Your brand story can be found in multiple places such as:

  • Your company history: Does your business have a rags to riches story? Did you start your company from your front room? Was the founding of your company based on a Eureka moment? Was there a mentor, muse or champion that helped you set up your business?
  • Your workforce: Are there exceptional people in your company? Are there people in your business who have skills that are rare? Where did they acquire these skills? Are your employees more like family than a mere team of colleagues?
  • Your customers: How are your customers using your products or services to excel in life? Do any of your customers stand out from the crowd for their tenacity/ambition/perseverance?
  • Your products: Do your products have a special provenance? Are they hand-made? Are they produced in an interesting way or environment? Is there a secret recipe for what you make? Is there a journey involved in anything you offer? Do your customers bond over your products? Do your products bring people together?


Once you’ve discovered your story, how do you bring it to life?

Freytag's Pyramid

To write a story that’s super strong it’s worth considering Freytag’s Pyramid. It’s the storytelling structure that Shakespeare used to use in his plays. This story building technique suggests that every story should be made up of five parts: an introduction aka exposition, a rise of action, a climax, falling action, and a denouement/resolution/revelation/catastrophe.

The two plus two factor

Pixar's Andrew Stanton famously said that in order to engage an audience with a story you ‘don’t give them four, you give them two plus two’.

In other words: show, don’t tell.

When you’re writing your story, you need to leave a little room for customers to be able to use their imaginations. If your company started in the shed of your grandpa’s house you don’t have to explicitly tell your audience that yours is a rags to riches story. You can just give them tidbits of the essential information to help them draw that conclusion by themselves.

Tap into emotions

Yes, it’s possible to tell a story without tapping into emotions, but these sorts of stories won’t cut the mustard in the marketing world. When sculpting your story make sure you include the experiential element to it. Talk about feelings, dreams, values, failures, successes, truths and the effect each stage of a factual story has on your heart, guts and the hairs on the back of your neck.

Don’t just rely on words

Today’s stories are not just about words. In the digital world, even Anna Karenina and War and Peace would need a little help to help them be heard through all the marketing noise on the internet. This is why you need to include emotive images and video footage into your storytelling campaigns. Need an example?

Remember that shed you started your business from? Go back to the original site of that shed and explain what it feels like to go back there to camera.

Also, don’t forget to incorporate quotes into written pieces – either as graphics or in the body copy itself.

In sum:

Take all of the above into account and you should find yourself with a story or two that pulls on the heartstrings of customers and bags a few extra conversions and loyal customers along the way.

Categories: Marketing, Small Businesses

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