Marketing storytelling: Mastering a lost art

March 23, 2022

Jayde Robertson

One of the best aspects of working in (higher) education is that you are constantly surrounded by inspiring stories. Though it might sometimes feel like you're driving a brand new Porsche, with the freedom to go wherever you want - just that there’s not a drop of fuel within reach.

That's because, while (higher) education has plenty of stories to tell, it can be difficult to connect the dots between where those stories exist - and the people best suited to tell them. Are you presenting your stories in the most suitable format and coordinating them for an effective reason after you have a feel of what you want to say? How do you know which ones are working for you and which ones aren't?

Enter - the art of storytelling in social media marketing.

As you consider how to adopt a storytelling strategy, remember that a story isn't a 1000-word piece, a long-form video, or a compelling infographic; it's a narrative unit that represents an event, experience, or outcome that reinforces and exemplifies your value proposition.

A place for everything - and everything in its place

The significance of storytelling in the (most basic) human experience cannot be overstated. Storytelling, in its simplest form, was a way for people to make sense of the world around them and then pass that meaning down through the generations. The power of the story has not waned over the decades. It has evolved into a vital part of our humanity, a method for us to connect with one another, and a way to commemorate our shared life experiences.

Storytelling has served multiple purposes over the years. It's used to teach people at times, and it's also used to entertain them. Now, in 2022, the story's role is changing once more. The concept of marketing storytelling is beginning to be discovered — and embraced — by marketing professionals.

Brand storytelling accounts for more than 65% of our daily discussion, according to a Neil Patel case study. The question now is: how can content marketers use the power of storytelling to their advantage, particularly when it comes to education marketing?

What’s the hype about?

Good stories tap into something deep within us. They depict a web of links between the storyteller, the audience, and the rest of the world. Using storytelling to promote your school allows marketers to engage on an intimate level with their target audience and prospects.

More significantly, consciously crafting your marketing material as a narrative can increase conversion rates by up to 30%. But, in terms of education marketing techniques, what are the advantages of storytelling?

  • Memory triggering & association building.
    Stories have a way of resonating with their audience. When we read, hear - or watch a story, our brains actually attempt to create a mental image based on the information that it's receiving. This intricate tango between the brain and the story does 3 things:
    - It uses historic memories to associate a new story with an old image
    - A great story helps the reader build new memories
    - At a subconscious level, it builds an association between the story and your institution

  • Increased engagement.
    The nature of intrusive advertising is meek. The audience is effectively compelled to listen to a message that may or may not be relevant to them. Furthermore, this sort of marketing is brief, almost to the point of being bite-sized.

    Content marketing, on the other hand, encourages audience participation in your message and school. Storytelling marketing, rather than repelling potential students and their families, bridge the gap, bringing them into your institution's academic life in previously inconceivable ways.
  • Your school or business becomes more … exciting.
    The enthusiasm comes once the audience has been engaged. If a narrative touches on the human condition and connects with the audience on an intimate level, it has the ability to inspire excitement in the audience as well. Potential students are drawn in by narrative delivery because it allows them to become a part of a shared experience while also providing a sense of urgency and supporting a strong call to action.

What’s in a story?

Strengthening that creative muscle and getting to work

As with most things, there is a process - or a set of best practices if you will, that determine how something should be done. The same can be said for effective storytelling. There are multiple ways that a great story can be told, and really - the story is in the eye of the marketer. That said, here are a few (basic) guiding principles that you can use to craft your institution's masterpiece.

Determine your why

Before you even begin to think about your story or its delivery system, you need to wholly understand the ‘why’ behind your institution. What is its overarching purpose? What is the reason that it exists? It might seem simple - but the answers to these questions will shape your story, identify your USP, and highlight your value. Here are a few questions to get you started.

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we contribute to the world?
  • What is our mission?
  • What do we value?
  • What motivated us to start our school?
  • Why do we believe in ourselves?

Take a step back and evaluate your purpose - before you go any further.

Understand your offering

To know your brand story, you must also understand how and where your educational offering fits into it. A brand story that isn’t relatable to your program might drive an engaged fan base, but few enrollments. A lack of self-awareness is the single biggest mistake that you as an ed marketer could make.

Here are some questions to help you understand how your offering fits into your story.

  • What problems does my service solve? Is it philosophical or physical - maybe both?
  • How do students feel when they enroll? How do they feel when they graduate?
  • What is my brand positioning? What are people saying about their experiences?
  • How does my school stand out from the rest? What is my value?

Understand your audience

You need to know who you're talking to in order to create an effective brand story. The third thing to remember when starting your brand story is to learn about your target demographic. You can figure out how your brand story fits into their life by learning about their passions and pain areas.

Outlining your student or customer persona is a crucial step in establishing the boundaries of your story. You’ll need to give this semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer a name, a background, and their own story, hopes, and dreams - as well as challenges and fears. Using our target persona worksheet is a great place to start!

Here are some additional questions to ask yourself to truly understand your audience.

  • What is at stake if a student doesn’t choose my school/a customer doesn’t choose my product?
  • Who is my current student/customer demographic?
  • Who is my ideal student/customer?

The relationship between education marketing and storytelling

Storytelling isn't only a tactic used in the hazy, nebulous world of inbound marketing. For the university admissions sector, content marketing has real-world repercussions.

Consider your students and their families perspectives on education. It's more than simply a learning experience; it's a complete life experience. Universities are a reflection of the world, from student life to extracurricular activities, involvement with student groups, and the lecture hall (whether traditional or online). To lure potential students in today's competitive college admissions climate, it's not enough to use brief, interruptive advertising strategies.

They want to be a part of something bigger. Your storytelling and marketing efforts should be focused on giving prospective students a narrative flavor of the full college experience. Marketing storytelling is an effective content marketing tactic, particularly when combined with digital and social media.

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

Or do you want to tap into our expertise to sharpen your tactics? Look no further than our free downloadable resources. We work hard to research our content - and offer it to you - free of charge.

Weave a compelling story to turn prospects into students.

Download our free Ebook: The future of marketing: a guide to storytelling, and get ready to inspire potential students to pursue their dreams.