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Gavin Hirst - Monday 17th January 2022


Relatability – The First Step Towards Great Storytelling

Storytelling is, without doubt, the most natural and compelling method of communication human beings have ever created. From the dawn of time, we’ve been telling stories in a variety of different ways. Literature, art, music, photography, film – nearly every medium and genre has utilised storytelling techniques as they’ve developed over time.

One of the strongest traits of storytelling is its relatability to the people engaging them. A story’s relatability allows people to empathise with the plot, themes and characters in an intimate way so that its core message is one that becomes meaningful to us. It is, what some describe, the quality that enables us to become part of the story and makes the good ones resonate so deeply.

Relatability in storytelling can be just as effective as part of a digital marketing strategy as it can be in a work of fiction. Whether used through your website, social media, email marketing, content marketing or otherwise, having a relatable story could be the solid core you need to plan your strategy around.

Know your customers

Before getting started it’s important to consider your audience who, more often than not, will be the prospective customers for your business. Trying to embark on the quest for relatable storytelling without first knowing who you’re directing the story to is an extremely difficult objective to pull off. This inevitably makes everything more challenging leading to stretched timelines and resources.

The other risk in doing this is that you cast your net too broadly so that it inadvertently relates to no one or you miss the mark completely altogether. Campaigns can often look out-of-touch or tone-deaf in such situations which might actually generate their own publicity but for all the wrong reasons.

Getting to know your customers shouldn’t be a time-consuming or arduous task, especially if you already have a good understanding of your products and services. Sometimes, it’s more a matter of putting some time aside to pause and think about your customers in solace.

When thinking about your customers in this way, ask yourself “who are my customers?”, “where are they from?”, “what do they look like?”, “what are their interests?”, “what are their goals and ambitions?” etc. The better your ability to answer these types of questions, the more of that informed knowledge you can actually use to feed into your own stories when you start putting them together.

If you want to take things one step further, consider developing a set of customer personas. These don’t have to be complicated or cost a fortune. They simply act as reminders when you are planning and writing a piece of content about who your potential audience is and what they are most likely to be interested in.

As much as it’s important not to cast your net too broadly when you are creating a piece of content and telling a story, it’s also important not to cast your net too narrowly as well. This also applies to creating your customer personas. Whilst you may have an idea of what your ideal customer looks like, the reality is, your actual customers may look a lot different and come from many different backgrounds, with many different interests.

Start with a very open mind when you are thinking about your audience and then narrow things down from there. To be relatable, it’s important that you understand who you are relating to. Often putting a face to a name – in this case, a persona to a website visitor – can really help you to focus your writing and become more relatable. A great anecdote around this is from Warren Buffet – one of the world’s most successful businessmen. Each year, he writes the introductory letter for his company’s – Berkshire Hathaway – annual report. This annual report is read by thousands if not millions of people – both those who invest with Berkshire Hathaway and those looking for insights into the financial markets. Knowing how mixed his audience is, Buffet writes his annual shareholder letter as if he is talking directly to his sisters. Why? That’s because, for Doris and Bertie, “Berkshire is pretty much their whole investment.” And although they’re smart, Buffett says, his sisters are “not active in business, so they’re not reading about it every day. I pretend that they’ve been away for a year and I’m reporting to them on their investment.”

This is a great way to start your content – picture your ideal customer, give them a name and write or create your content just for them. It is likely to be much more relatable.

Relatable stories are memorable

Once you’re happy that you know your customers, the next step, which is probably the most daunting, is coming up with your own relatable story. If you haven’t done this before, this is where you realise how difficult it can be. A goal or marketing objective can be helpful to provide some sort of steer in terms of outcome but even with that, just getting started can be a test in itself.

One step to go through that might make things a bit easier is to think of other successful examples from your own memory. Try to think about why these stories were more memorable to you than others. Try to remember what specific qualities made them stand out from the crowd. Try to analyse and understand why they worked in the context of the storytelling and its audience.

Relatable stories that are successful tend to be the ones that stay with people and if you can understand why they do, you’ll find it easier to think about your own story and the channel/medium/genre you’re adapting when creating your own.

In the example of Warren Buffet, he relates talking to his sisters to talking to people who are smart but don’t necessarily keep up with the day to day activities in the financial markets. Let’s say you are writing a content piece about reliability – would it make sense for you to talk about a story you heard that was easily relatable? Absolutely…and that’s why Warren Buffet finds his way into this article. Finding common ground between your experiences and your audience is a great way to build reliability into your storytelling and creating a more compelling and engaging piece of content.

Relatable characters, emotions and experiences

Relatable storytelling doesn’t just have to be about capturing something relatable in terms of a driving plot/narrative, although often it is. It can be achieved through other elements in the story such as characters, emotions, experiences – even simple moments can be enough to create that relatable hook and connection you need.

Try to think about this in the context of your own life experiences. Who are the people that you remember? What moments in your life have stuck in your memory and what experiences? Often the best examples from which to draw inspiration come from things that have happened to you in your own life. The great thing about this is that they are also experiences that you’ve usually shared with other people or that have also happened to other people.

Stories based on real-life experiences bring their own authenticity which is a trait that is hard to fake. It is these stories that ring true to people and are the ones people are most willing to open themselves up to.

Relatability builds trust

The type of storytelling described above will connect with people on an emotional level which is a great way of building trust with an audience. In the modern world, trust is a quality that is increasingly hard to build but authentic and relatable storytelling is still one of the best ways to do it.

People are very protective and guarded with their emotions but if your story is genuinely relatable on an emotional level then you’ll have a much better chance of having that trust extended towards other parts of your business.

This will be because your business has touched the individual on a human level and will be personified as a result of that. Your business will take on the personality, characteristics and values of that story from which people will be more comfortable and assured in a manner in which they can relate to you. They will trust who you are and what you stand for and from that, a relationship can grow.

Make relatability in storytelling a priority for you

As you can see, the reasons described above are more than enough to make relatable storytelling a priority for you and your business. It might take a few attempts before you find success with it but when you do, you’ll find you’ll form stronger and deeper connections with your customers because of it.

Updated: 17 January 2022

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