Marketing is a crowded space, and getting the word out about your contracting business among a sea of competitors, media conglomerates, and general noise is hard. Customers are ad-adverse, and in the digital space they often expect free content or incentives in exchange for their attention.
As a service business, your job is even harder. Customers only engage with service contractors when they need help with something, and it’s hard to turn a plumbing company into a digital brand that commands attention. Large companies set the bar high in terms of ad content and marketing budget, and it’s easy to feel like your advertising plan is nothing more than a hole in your bank account.
But what if you could change that?
When an obstacle can’t be overcome directly, throwing yourself at it until you break only serves your ego. You’re better off making a lateral move to change the rules of the game. Rather than compete with high-budget ads in crowded marketing spaces, you can work to bring customers on to your platforms and engage in an environment you define by shifting your marketing strategy. Skip the elevator pitch; use Narrative Marketing instead.
What is Narrative Marketing?
Narrative marketing is storytelling. It’s a soft-sell approach that focuses on extended ad cycles with strong emotional hooks, targeting customers who want to connect with a company’s mission in addition to its products or services. It focuses on communicating the ideals and values of the business owner and using the connection that’s developed through sharing those goals to encourage engagement.
Narrative marketing is often used by eco-friendly and non-profit businesses to attach a moral imperative to their products or services, but the concept works many contexts. You can use a narrative approach to communicate your role in the community, the benefits you provide to customers, the origins of the business, or even service-specific campaigns that explore the values of certain services.
It’s important to remember that narrative marketing is more than just advertising with a plot; it’s a strategic approach to branding and advertising that uses elements of traditional narratives to achieve objectives in an otherwise crowded marketing space.
How Narrative Marketing Shortcuts The Ad Cycle
As it should be apparent, narrative marketing often relies on longer-form content that lacks the “snappiness” of traditional hard-sell techniques. Superficially, this might seem to be a recipe for low engagement and limited recognition; in practice, setting a higher bar can produce better results.
Psychologically, the hook still matters. You still need to draw their attention and leverage it. The difference lies in the gap between the initial ad engagement and closing the sale. Since customers often need multiple exposures to a brand before they develop the confidence to purchase goods or services, businesses are faced with the option of either running aggressive ad campaigns in order to develop that exposure, or pulling potential customers into a narrative or extended ad that naturally ramps up their brand confidence without breaking the bank.
Unless customers have a strong emotional connection to the content they’re seeing, the chances they’ll engage with an ad or post is low. Narrative marketing allows you to connect with their emotions and bridge the engagement gap.
The Practical Side
In many instances, narrative marketing is content marketing; it’s the most cost-effective way to expose potential customers to your brand narrative, and it easily integrates with existing platforms. Whether your website uses Squarespace or WordPress, Instant Articles on Facebook, Medium, or any of the other powerful content platforms that are currently available, taking a narrative approach will be the most effective.
Don’t forget your evergreen content, either. If you want an easy and practical way to interweave your marketing narrative with your existing platforms, apply your narrative approach to your landing pages and your ‘about’ page to create a cohesive ad plan.
If you’re currently distributing content to an email list (an uncommon tactic among service businesses, but an effective system used by many entrepreneurs), developing a multi-part narrative series with a seasonal or environmental hook is an easy way to pitch new or upgraded services to existing customers. It requires more tact than selling roof repairs during hurricane matthew, but the effects can still be powerful.
Finding your narrative can be hard. Unlike the non-profit businesses and charities that popularized these techniques, the driving narratives behind smaller brands are harder to identify and communicate. The story that you tell with your ads doesn’t need to be heartbreaking or overtly moralizing; it just needs to produce a reaction. Audiences respond well to surprise, excitement, and joy. Some negative emotions can also be used, however outright fear mongering is a generally inadvisable.
Narrative marketing isn’t magic, but it is effective. If your current ad campaigns feels stagnant or you’re not getting the engagement you want to see online, try transitioning to a narrative approach.
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