Email Content 101: How to Use Storytelling to Write Better Emails

Let’s take a brief foray into neuroscience and look at some of the interesting things that happen in the human brain when we are told stories.

They include neural coupling, which is when the brain essentially turns the storyteller’s experience into our own experience. A remarkable process called mirroring, where our brain activity begins to mimic that of the storyteller’s, also occurs. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has been found to aid memory retention, is released. And the cortex, the part of our brain associated with thought and action, is activated more than it would be if we were just processing facts.

“Numerous studies over the years have proven that our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than the cold, hard facts,” writes Rachel Gillette in Fast Company. “Our brains are insanely greedy for stories. We spend about a third of our lives daydreaming – our minds are constantly looking for distraction – and the only time we stop flitting from daydream to daydream is when we have a good story in front of us.”

That explains why stories are such an incredibly powerful tool for email marketers to use to connect with customers.

Weaving stories into your email content

You don’t have to be a fiction writer to be an effective storytelling email-marketer.

“Storytelling is not inventing a story,” advises i-SCOOP’s J-P De Clerck. “In fact, the very reason why your business exists, why you have developed products and services and why you do what you do is filled with stories. You want to fulfill needs, respond to questions, engage on an emotional level, connect, find your voice and listen to voices in the intersection of brand and audience.”

Worried that you aren’t a natural storyteller? You can fix that. Aaron Beashel, writing for Campaign Monitor, offers a simple three-part formula for crafting compelling stories and provides an example that showcases the formula at work:

“In the first part, your goal is to paint a picture of the reader’s world as it was. In the second part, the goal is to show the drama that created a shift in the reader’s world. In the third and final part, the goal is to show them how your product can be a resolution to the drama and how their world can be good once again.”

5 story types to use in your emails

Marketing consultant Terry Dean suggests five types of stories for email marketers to use:

Case studies/testimonials

There are few stories more compelling to your potential customer than stories about – or from – your current customers. Let their experiences tell your story for you.

“Reason why” stories

If you are promoting a special offer, explain the story behind it. Why not share that that the offer is designed to mark an anniversary, commemorate a holiday or move excess inventory? Use a story to explain to your customers why they are hearing from you.

JetBlue pegged this email to a “very special” anniversary that likely otherwise would have gone unnoticed by the recipient – the one-year anniversary of their email “relationship.” It’s a great example of “reason why” storytelling.

Origin stories

These are the stories behind your company or product that can serve to differentiate you from your competition. They can be about what inspired the founding of the company or about the gaps you see that you are trying to fill.

Vision stories

Share your aspirations. How is your company going to change your industry – or even the world? How are you going to provide better service? How do your products make people’s lives better?

Rapport-building stories

Your stories don’t always have to be directly related to your products. They can even be personal anecdotes. Sometimes telling a story outside the realm of your business can help humanize your brand and help build engagement.

One last word about storytelling

Dean cautions that storytelling is not a replacement for the other elements in your marketing toolkit; rather, it can serve as an adjunct for traditional email marketing techniques. “You should share content. You should run special promotions,” he says. “But those, more often than not, appeal to the logic centers of the brain. It’s stories that bypass the logic center and go directly into people’s emotions.”