Basics Of Storytelling In Email Marketing


Email marketing comes in many forms and sizes – some email campaigns are purely promotional, others educational or nurturing. All these campaigns pursue different goals, but there is a method that is not widely discussed yet performs really well. It’s storytelling.

Storytelling became popular recently when marketers and sales representatives realized that markets have become oversaturated. And when a market becomes oversaturated, only a fresh approach can help a company stand out in the pile of other offers, sales, and deals. Storytelling was “invented”, or rather applied to email marketing, as a timely savior.

The role of storytelling in email marketing

Storytelling in email marketing replaces ordinary offers and conventional punch-lines with a story. The story can be just one long email or delivered in portions as a drip campaign – chapter by chapter, just like in a book.

It doesn’t just make emails look fresh – it improves the perception of the message by a reader. Storytelling marketing stimulates imagination, stirs emotions, and creates a desire to find out what happens at the end – and there is always a happy ending. All these factors combined boost click-through rates, and result in better conversions.

How to use storytelling

The best thing about storytelling in email marketing is that it can be applied to almost any type of campaign – from transactional emails to promotional and, of course, nurturing ones.

The New York Times Storytelling and brands from Web Summit on Vimeo.

Usually, it is used as a communication approach for existing users or warmer leads because contacting a completely cold lead with a story can come across as a bit strange and awkward. First, establish an initial connection or get a subscriber, and then feel free to send storytelling emails.

The main type of email that benefits from storytelling is the one sent in sequences to users after registration or subscription. Through a story in your email, you can easily show how your product or service solves all the pains and desires of a potential client.

Besides sequences, storytelling is great for promotional emails, especially if an offer or a deal you’re promoting is holiday-themed. Sending a horror-story to go with your Halloween discount or telling a fairytale that promotes your Christmas sale is a great idea that can improve your client relationships and drive more conversions and clients.

Related: 550+ Spam Trigger Words To Know In 2023 (+ PDF Download)

The 4 success factors of a storytelling email campaign

Successful storytelling campaign has to check a couple of boxes. These basics of storytelling include the following essential elements.

A hero

The simplest form of storytelling is through mascots. For example, a well-known email marketing company has a chimp mascot, and one of the leading tire manufacturers has a marshmallow-like mascot called Bibendum. A mascot is a hero – which is the cornerstone and the first step to creating a story that nurtures, converts and sells.

Creating a hero is important because it helps the reader relate to the story and pay more attention to what’s written. If you think any hero will do, you are wrong – the best hero is the one that has a direct relation to your company and products or at least shares some common characteristics.

The perfect hero for a storytelling email campaign is one based on the buyer persona. If you have separate email sequences for different buyer personas (as you should), it’s best to create multiple heroes.

When you have created a hero based on who your perfect buyer persona is (it can be a human-like hero or an animal/mascot), you need to add details to breathe more life into your hero. There is no need to write a whole backstory, just add a few details will make your hero more unique.

Here is a quick example: let’s say your potential clients are restaurant owners, so you create a hero named Jane. So your story will begin with something like this…

Jane – is an owner of a cozy grill-and-ribs restaurant in Dallas.

We’ve added just a few details, but you can already picture her – who she is, how her restaurant looks, and maybe even what she looks like herself. A hero stimulates our imagination, and that’s already a good start for a storytelling campaign.

A story behind the hero

When your hero outline is all set, it’s time to take the next step and create a story behind the hero. We’ve already added a few details above, but we need something that is worth telling a story about.

A good rule of thumb for a storytelling email campaign is to create a story that is based on the pains and desires of your hero. You know those perfectly well – you use them in your marketing campaigns all the time, so you should have no problem creating a story that describes the problems your hero wants to solve or the desires they have.

The goal is simple: since your hero is based on your buyer persona, you can easily show how your products or services solve some of the problems they’re facing or at least provide help in overcoming them. So through the story you are basically describing the problems you solve with your product.

Let’s continue with our example.

Jane, a grill-and-ribs restaurant owner from Dallas, has a problem: she is well respected by existing customers, but new customers barely visit her restaurant. She wants to get more exposure for her restaurant and more people to visit and try her delicious steaks and ribs.

The hero’s journey

This is the conversion part of the storytelling email campaign. It’s time to solve a problem and quench the desire in your hero. Here come your products or services! Continue the story by describing how your hero found a solution by discovering your product, testing it, and realizing they can solve the problem that’s been keeping them from success.

Don’t be overly direct with this – keep telling the story and adding details. It’s good to mention what the hero tried before, exact cases of how the hero used your product, and what was achieved. Don’t be afraid to drop average numbers and dive deeper into details – the closer it is to a real user’s case, the better.

As an example, let’s quickly finish our story about Jane. It’s just a small example – your story should be more detailed:

To find new visitors Jane has tried everything. Or at least she thought these were the only methods that could work – billboard advertising, radio commercials, and even paid ads on Google and Bing. Still, nothing worked.

Having already spent so much money and time she was quite desperate. One day she stumbled upon a picture of a juicy steak that was a part of a promotional post on Facebook. She thought, she hasn’t really tried acquiring users from social networks, has she?

Jane started googling tools that could help, found a few options, and compared them. The most feature-rich tool she found was Facebook Dominator 5000, which was highly praised and recommended by other small business owners just like her. She gave it a try and after the very first month she managed to gain 730 new local fans on Facebook, and an incredible 30% of them started visiting her restaurant. Jane has never been so happy. She did it! And the best part? It only took her up to 4 hours a week to increase sales in under a month. Love a happy ending!

A special gift to a reader

As you wrap up the story and your hero’s pains and desires have been solved, reward your reader with a little bonus or a special gift. It can be a welcome discount if you’re using storytelling to convert after a free-trial registration, or a downloadable (ebook, guide, etc) in nurturing subscription emails.

In short

We’re all humans, storytelling is in our blood. It’s a good way to convey ideas and emotions, which is exactly what an email campaign needs.

When creating a story for your email campaign, don’t forget that the hero should be related to your target audience or a buyer persona. Keep following your hero’s journey by solving their problems and fulfilling their dreams with the help of your products and services. Remember to always provide proof, numbers, cases and other details. At the end, give a bonus or make an offer your reader just won’t be able to resist after such a touching story, and voila! You have a conversion. Keep experimenting!

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