Editor’s Note: This guest post is from Olivia Coleman who typically writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.

We’ve all heard the benefits of using storytelling to further engage consumers with your brand. But does it work? According to a fascinating Miller-McCune article published a few months ago, a very specific storyline appeals to American consumers in particular. And that’s the narrative of the proverbial underdog.

The article cited a study conducted by Harvard researchers, which found that consumers are much more likely to purchase products from companies who incorporate the underdog tale in their products and profiles. The underdog story, researchers noted, had a few things in common external disadvantage, along with a sense of passion and determination. Even more interesting than these findings was that consumers picked the underdog regardless of their socioeconomic background, suggesting how deeply the underdog ethos is ingrained in our national mentality.

Although these findings aren’t necessarily surprising, I was particularly interested by the fact that, although the article makes no mention of storytelling specifically, the notion of the underdog depends on solid storytelling techniques. The companies cited which use the underdog theme all do so through their company “story” Clif Bars, for example, note on their wrappers, “In 1990, I lived in a garage with my dog, skis, climbing gear, bicycle and two trumpets”

Underdog balloon at 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving D...
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Going one step further, social media is a vehicle that is particularly suited to storytelling techniques, especially when it comes to incorporating the underdog tale. Why? Simply because social media in itself is, in many ways, a set of platforms that grew from humble beginnings. What was once a set of tools created by average people that average people used to air personal grievances and triumphs has now exploded into a space where both individuals– perceived “underdogs”– and larger corporations and organizations communicate. Successfully communicating with consumers means connecting with them by demonstrating alignment with their perceived identities.

Of course, the key to successful social media marketing is approaching consumers through genuine interactions. Social media is about people, and people crave personal stories that aren’t necessarily wholly focused on the product, but rather on the people behind the product and their desire to create value together with their customers.

David Kennedy, a marketing specialist and blogger, hits on many of the same ideas in his article, “Why New Media Favors the Underdog.” Kennedy states, “Technology is full of underdog stories that started somewhere small. People love that type of story. It encourages the kind of thinking that says anyone can succeed with the right idea. It’s why the idea itself, and the story behind it, is my favorite idea in new media.”

In the final analysis, companies that want to further their brands through social media should look to storytelling especially telling stories of their origins and thus connect with their customers on a very intimate level.

Olivia Coleman is a freelance writer who primarily writes about online colleges and universities, but who also has an affinity for social media, college life and  internet marketing. She welcomes your comments via email olivia.coleman33 – at – gmail.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://DonnyGamble.com Donny Gamble

    Being the underdog seems to work like a charm when doing social media because a lot of people like to go against the grain.

  • http://www.meetrobinmarks.com Robinkmarks

    Rising up to number #1 one from being the underdog is the true american success story. It always plucks heart strings and it always sells.

  • http://www.simon-dodd.com Simon Dodd

    It's so true! Even at sporting events if you are a neutral fan you will find yourself leaning towards the team least likely to win or the currently loosing team and you just have to look at the average sales page in the Internet Marketing niche! They pretty much all start with something like “I was skint and being kicked out of my house” or something similar, maybe even I am stupid with no skills but look what I have done!

    It means more people can relate to it. Less people can relate to success stories because they don't see the successes in their own lives. I have just been honest on my blog, starting at the start with what I want to achieve and then when I get there there will be a whole backstory that anyone can follow and emulate hopefully!

    thanks for a great post!

    Simon

  • http://www.getstoried.com/ Michael Margolis

    This is a fantastic article, Olivia! Thanks for sharing the supporting research. it's amazing how powerful a back story really is – in helping people understand who you really are. There's greater authority, than the natural authority that comes with – I was born to be who I am. And with any good story, we need a little creative tension around what we've had to overcome. The story of transformation is why the underdog story speaks so deeply to us all.

    Your article is similar to my topic of my presentation at Jeff Pulver's http://www.brandsconf.com in early December in NYC. SuperHero Origins: Why Every Brand Needs an Epic Back Story.

    Lets be sure to connect our worlds! Huge fan of your work and writing.