So, why is storytelling so powerful for marketing education brands? Education is a competitive marketplace. With so many options for face-to-face and online courses – how do your customers choose? Traditionally, people would study at the closest institute or the ones with the best marketing campaigns.
Now, with an influx of courses and course providers – every person and their dog are trying to start a course and call themselves an institute of learning. So how can your brand stand out? and most importantly – how can you get found by your ideal students?
You need to find the narratives or stories that connect your unique courses and offers to what your students want to know.
Think about it – each school or institute has many stories. The story of how they started, stories of their first class, their first course, their celebrations, their sad times, and their triumphs. And each and every staff member and student who attends brings their own stories as well. Your school is made up of a vibrant patchwork of stories that gets added to by each year level that progresses through your doors.
Each of these stories tells your audience something about you as a brand. Are you welcoming to the newcomer? are you going to give them opportunities to step up and excel? will you help them win national awards? will you help them master English and be the first person in their family to study after year 12?
Stories have the power to shape your brand. Most importantly, when you take the lead for telling the types of stories you want your institute to be known for, your students will start doing the same and will spread the word for you.
I recently worked with Charles Darwin University, one of the leading tertiary institutes in Australia, based in Darwin. Charles Darwin University (CDU) has an aspiration to be ‘Globally Recognised for Indigenous Leadership’ – and they do fantastic work with providing education, leadership, and partnerships with First Nations Peoples. Their commitment to capacity building in First Nations communities, leading Indigenous research and community engagement makes them highly sought after. As part of my work, I spoke with former students, who universally mentioned that they loved the work that CDU did with First Nations communities, and that they were proud to be a part of the CDU story for that reason. Each one of those students was an informal ambassador and cheerleader for the brand. Because CDU is so confident and consistent in their story and messaging, their students picked up on that and shared it too.
So why is storytelling such a fantastic tool for marketing?
Big brands have mastered the art of storytelling. From Coca-Cola’s creation of Santa as a jolly old fellow in a red suit who loved to drink Coke on his present delivery visits to Jeep bringing out the inner Indiana Jones in their audience – story helps brands connect and get their ideal customers to buy what they’re selling.
1. Story creates a connection
Remember Saturday morning cartoon shows? Maybe bits and pieces. Do you remember the ads for toys that came on every five minutes? Chances are you do. You can probably recall one particular ad that stuck in your mind. Something you dreamt about and added to your wish list for your birthday or Christmas.
Whatever the story was that the advertiser told – they allowed you to see yourself in the story. You could imagine it was you and your siblings having fun with that new cabbage patch doll, transformers or barbie doll. The clear call to action – buy now – sets up the emotional connection that makes it hard for you to resist.
2. Stories are easy to remember
Nothing sticks in your head quite like a catchy tune. Add some pester power, and you have the perfect blend of story and marketing. I can clearly remember going shopping and recognising the brand, then singing the Cottees Cordial ad song with my sisters to my mum (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNYs8zfAMT4), begging her to buy the brightly coloured cordial instead of the usual horrible home brand orange flavour we’d normally get. Most of the time, it would work. Whether she was swayed by our delightful chorus or the marketing claims of 25% real fruit juice, we’ll never know.
3. Stories have a winning formula
A brave young hero sets out on a journey. This journey will take him far from home, travelling to new and unfamiliar lands. Along the way, he’ll meet a series of guides who help him navigate the new world he finds himself in. His new skills are put to the test, and he returns home with his new knowledge and skills in his toolkit. Sound familiar? I bet you were thinking of at least a few Hollywood or Disney stories that fit that formula. That’s because over 50% of films use the Hero Story to create the narrative.
People love stories because they change the chemistry of the brain. Storytelling as a marketing tool is so powerful, it can change your behaviour, opinions, and attitudes.
Why are the most-watched TEDx talks based on the Hero’s formula? The hero’s formula works because it builds tension. With a TEDx talk, the speaker only has 10 minutes to grab the audience’s attention and hold them captive till the climax.
When a story is used in your marketing, through sales pages, blogs, articles, videos, and social media – it grabs the audience’s attention and starts to build that emotional connection with your brand.
4. Build the Know, Like and Trust factor
How do we know the brands we buy from? From their stories. How often have you gone to the farmers market and been drawn in by a strawberry seller who just picked the strawberries herself yesterday? or the skincare sales lady whose child suffered uncontrollable eczema before she spent months working out a formula at her kitchen table that created a miracle cream? Successful marketers know how to tell stories.
In a time of shifting consumer decisions from big corporations to smaller, local brands – savvy marketers are using the compelling stories of local businesses to draw the reader into their story. Social media is the perfect platform for building that Know, Like, and Trust factor because it allows businesses to share the real people behind their brands, make those real-time connections and push word of mouth referrals through sharing content. In fact, recent Nielson research shows that 92% of people would buy something based on a referral from word-of-mouth, like friends or family.
5. Stories change our brains
The brain is hyper tuned to latch onto the familiar and use it to create new neural pathways to new information. The more paths your brain builds – the quicker you can access information. As your brain brings up information about a story, it also brings up the emotions you felt when you first learned it. When my daughter started learning the keyboard recently, she told me a way of remembering the notes. I was immediately transported back to 1994 – sitting in Mr. Collins Year 7 Music class on a hot summer afternoon in the portable classroom. (Sorry Mr. Collins – we were total brats!). I didn’t even know I remembered learning that – but my brain did. It heard a cue and presented a relevant memory.
In the same way – when you tell stories about your brand that your audience connects with – they become memorable. It might be a story of a mid-life career changer who went and studied nursing after years of working in an office. It might be the story of charity work your institute did for an organisation in need. It might even be stories of your staff – the same people that your potential students will talk to on the phone, at open days, and when choosing which course they’ll enrol in.
Market to your audience with storytelling. Telling the stories that matter to your audience helps create connections. People don’t choose where to study based on cold, hard facts. They choose where they will study based on how you make them feel. And you can use stories to start to evoke those positive feelings before they even step foot in your door.
Want to know more about how you can use stories to help build connections and engagement with your audience? Download 12 Story Prompts for Engagement – and get ideas tailored to the education industry, as well as loads of tips for telling your stories authentically.