The Storytelling Marketing Tool

storytelling marketing tool

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As Generation Z graces us with their presence at our rec centers, we try to figure out what makes them tick. What programming do they like? What hobbies interest them? While implementation is important, we also have to take a step back and figure out in the age of technology, how to reach them and in what formats. From various reports, we know Generation Z’s preferred social media platform is YouTube. Why? Because they love storytelling, creating connections and authenticity.

Storytelling isn’t new though. As a marketer, I learned ‘content is king’ very early on in my career. Creating original content and staying relevant has worked for companies throughout the ages. Look at companies that have stood the test of time like Coca-Cola, Target and LEGO — all 50 to 100-plus years old. They have adapted to the times by not only making smart business decisions and strategizing business models, but also telling stories to consumers. Whether through print ads, TV commercials or actual movies, these companies are engaging with generations through storytelling.

So you must be wondering, why is the storytelling marketing tool the key to success? Well, it’s rooted in science and history. According to reporter Jeremy Hsu from the Scientific American, “storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian.” From the depth of history, we see stories written on cave walls, passed down from generations and, eventually, transformed into tales, books and movies. Look at the story of Troy, noted in Homer’s Odyssey and retold through countless other tales and film adaptations. We use stories to build our ideas of our past evolution but stories also “engage audiences through psychological realism — recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.”

How does this relate to marketing a recreation center? In 2007, Jennifer Edson Escalas of Vanderbilt University reported audiences responded more positively to “advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encourage viewers to think about the arguments for a product.” This suggests that those already in “story mode” were more willing to accept the product and/or idea rather than an “analytical mindset.” Accordingly, providing our students with a compelling story about their recreation experience will result in more participation than just providing facts and numbers.

Another explanation, along the same lines, comes from Integrated Marketing Manager Joshua VanDeBrake who wrote, “humans are empathic creatures. And as such, we respond to stories because they cultivate emotion and a sense of togetherness, a connection.” At the end of the day, what is our ultimate goal other than to connect with students and hope they feel a connection toward us? Providing storytelling, rather than other advertisements, allows students to feel a part of the department before they even walk in the doors. Creating that story of a student utilizing the space, taking classes and participating in trips opens the doors for students to “place themselves into that character’s story, connecting on a deeper level.”

That deeper connection is exactly what Generation Z is striving for. To engage them on that level is to create brand loyalty and acceptance. We see them gear toward YouTube, Instagram — including Instagram Stories — and Snapchat, all visual platforms that need story mode in order to be a successful storytelling marketing tool.

Ashley Demshki
Ashley Demshki serves as the outreach coordinator at the University of California, Riverside Recreation Department. Ashley received her B.A. in public relations and advertising from Chapman University in Orange, California. She began her career in the fashion industry, working on editorial and ecommerce shoots. Moving to focus on public relations, Ashley worked with numerous nonprofit and government agencies to help empower community organizations and the members they serve. She is passionate about student development and how recreation contributes to academic, physical and social success.

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