Storytelling in marketing helps you establish emotional connections with customers and drive sales. It’s one of the best investments marketers can make at the moment. But not all stories are created equal. Here’s how to maximize your international impact – and your budget.

Marketing budgets have plummeted this year. 64% of UK marketing budgets were cut during Q2, with almost 30% more marketers planning a similar move in the next six months. Internationally, over half of multinational companies plan to hold back ad spend for the rest of 2020.

In the majority of cases, their marketing efforts won’t be missed. In fact, consumers wouldn’t care if 77% of brands disappeared completely. Most brands have failed to connect with their customers, who value only 42% of the content companies produce.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect – one that could soon get worse. With marketers forced to achieve more with fewer resources, it’s tempting to opt for safer, vanilla marketing strategies. But this would be a waste of money and resources.

Instead, brands must connect with their customers emotionally – in every market. This can increase purchase intent by 24%, repurchase intent by 41% and the ability to charge premium prices by 22%.

Incorporating storytelling into your marketing is the way to do it.

Storytelling allows businesses to share their personality and values – something 90% of consumers want. And by creating something memorable, that your customers enjoy, you’ll increase brand value. For example, two researchers made $8,000 from selling objects on eBay that cost a total $129 – just by substituting item descriptions with short stories.

To be effective and maximize your impact, your marketing’s storytelling should consider international audiences from the outset. Done well, this can deliver savings, a greater return on your investment – and a story worth telling.


Storytelling in marketing means using a narrative to connect with customers and build up brand affinity.

This can take two forms: either you communicate your brand’s own story, mission and values, or you incorporate storytelling more generally into your marketing strategy.

In either case, there are a few key features your stories must include. Taking your international audience into account from the outset will save time, money and effort later on.


Plot means having a defined beginning, middle and end. Without this, you don’t have a story – you have copy. Alongside this structure, good narratives will follow a clear story arc, introducing some form of challenge or conflict to be overcome.

When building out your plot, decide on the purpose of your story. What’s the key lesson or feeling you want your audience to come away with?

At this stage, it’s important to take any cultural differences between your international markets into account. For example, individualism is much less prevalent in China than in the UK and US. A story that focuses on individual identity may be less effective there.

This is something Apple recognized. They’ve established a reputation for telling people-focused stories aimed at their Chinese audience. The long-form videos – like Chinese New Year – Daughter and Three Minutes – tap into the importance of Chinese family values, making it easier for their intended audience to connect. However, family is also a universal value, giving the story international appeal and impact.

Perhaps with limited time and money, you may not be able to craft separate stories for each market. Identifying common values across your markets and building them into your story can help maximize resources, budget and emotional impact.


Your story’s tone will impact the emotional effect you achieve. Jack Daniel’s storytelling is written in a relaxing, Southern-accented drawl, a call to a slower pace of life. Nike uses a motivational tone to encourage everyone to “just do it”. And ZSL recently featured the distinctive voice of David Attenborough in a fundraising campaign for London and Whipsnade Zoos.

Whatever the actual voice (or voices) used in your story, the tone of voice should sound unmistakably like your brand – and be localized accordingly. You should also consider the impact of what you say on your international audience. Narrating your story in quintessentially British language, or including a lot of country-specific references, may not resonate elsewhere. And you’ll need to invest more time and money in localization later on to recreate the effect.


Without relatable protagonists, your story will hold little interest for customers.

The lovable characters John Lewis include in their annual Christmas adverts is a big reason for their success – like last year’s Excitable Edgar. The ad included only subtle references to the brand’s products, before revealing the logo in the last frame. They relied on the merits of the story to sell the brand.

This approach works for John Lewis because their brand awareness in the UK is huge, especially around Christmas time. However, for the majority of companies, it would be better to give themselves or their products a more prominent role in the story. The goal of storytelling in marketing is to raise awareness, appreciation and ultimately sales. Even the best story will fail if no one remembers who’s behind it.


Setting creates the right mood for your story. It can also subtly reinforce some of the messages you’re trying to convey. For example, a historic scene can establish your brand’s heritage, while a futuristic metropolis may highlight your innovative credentials.

Wherever your story is set, consider upfront any stylistic decisions that could create challenges overseas. A story set in a bar, or a beach full of sunbathers, would cause offence in some Middle Eastern countries. You’d need to create new stories, or substantially rework the existing one, to reach your customers in those markets.


You may have a trusted network of copywriters in your home market. They’ll transform your brief into a compelling story. Hopefully, they’ll take the above international considerations into account.

If so, wonderful. (And if not, we can help.)

But challenges can arise when it comes to localizing your story for international markets. The primary goal of a story is to create an emotional connection with your customers. Conversely, the main purpose of translation is to convey the meaning of words from one language into another. A translator’s role is to choose the most accurate word in their language, not the most impactful.

Which can mean that, however good the translation, it may fall short as an effective story.

You may consider hiring foreign-language copywriters. They’ll help you connect with customers. But they may not speak your language very well (or at all), which creates problems during briefing. And if you don’t speak their language either, you won’t be able to understand the story they’re telling. The end result could be vastly different from the original.

The best approach is to ask a bilingual copywriter or transcreator to render your story in their language. They’ll be better equipped to do your story justice, rewriting it for maximum emotional impact while respecting your brief. They can provide rationale for any decisions and even communicate with the original copywriter to clear up grey areas. The localized story will be more in line with your brand objectives, while saving time and money on unnecessary corrections.

Of course, finding bilingual copywriters with the right language and industry specialization can be challenging. Partnering with an experienced agency that already has an established network is the quickest way of ensuring the best results.


International storytelling may sound like an unnecessary marketing expense. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And there are ways to make it more manageable, while maximizing impact.

Syndicating content is the best approach here. You’d be right to baulk at a big, high-budget, one-and-done video. It may well become a viral success, but it’s a big risk to put all your eggs in one basket.

Instead, start with the longest version of the story you want to tell (which may be a video), then plan how to chop it up and repurpose it on different channels. A lengthy YouTube video could become a shorter social media video, a print ad, or even a behind-the-scenes blog post.

Cross-market syndication can spread the cost of asset creation. It can also allow you to establish a global-local mix for your story. Identifying some areas for local input means you retain top-level control of messaging, while giving markets autonomy to ensure maximum resonance in their market.

Centralizing asset management with an expert partner is the simplest way of managing this global-local mix. You benefit from scale, expert insights and long-term savings, while enjoying greater flexibility to add local flavour.


You can achieve significant savings by considering international markets from the outset, syndicating content and centralizing asset management with an expert provider. You can then invest these savings to spread your story further.

The best stories will amplify themselves through viral follower shares, engagement on social media and word of mouth. But you can make your story even louder by promoting it on social media or search engines, and releasing it on more channels, in more markets. This will boost both intangible metrics like brand awareness and concrete business objectives.


Adding storytelling to your marketing may sound like a nice-to-have, but the data suggests it’s actually one of the best investments your brand could make. Considering your international markets from the outset will help you tell a story all your customers want to hear, while respecting your budget and generating results in every market.

Need help creating stories with international impact? Check out our multilingual copywriting service, then get in touch. We’d love to help.

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

ABOUT Jonny Simpson

I make sure English content is excellent. And I'll write, edit, proofread and translate for that to happen. I believe the most impactful content combines useful, culturally relevant information with compelling copy, and I've seen great results with Ermenegildo Zegna and Maserati.

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