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"Those who tell stories rule the world" - Plato
Storytelling - the buzz of 2012? I remember so many articles from last year, many great, claiming that 2012 was the year of brand storytelling. The power of those stories central to marketing dialogue.
Let's remember first that storytelling isn't new, using narrative to evoke emotion in people is central to clever advertising creative from decades ago.
It's 'digital' and 'direct' marketing that has only more recently moved marketing too more of a science - and often a very lazy one at that - bypassing all the important learning of what it means to market to, and motivate, real people with unmet needs. It seems though that we’re all catching back on to the effectiveness of building stories through content and connecting with people, our consumers.
When your information is communicated in story form, it's claimed that people relate and remember it better and that we're affected by it more deeply. This is the latest science at least, results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. Where evolutionists claim that the chemistry of our brains hasn't changed in over 50,000 years, back then stories sparked emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, trust…), and that brain chemistry remains the case today. Until recently though we’ve only been able to speculate about evolution and story’s persuasive effects, now psychologists such as Green & Brock argue that fictional storytelling radically alters the way that information is processed by the human brain, that our guard is down.
In Peter Guber's book 'Tell To Win', the idea is that using stories or narrative as construct for brand or product messages is a form of Trojan Horse, where the story is a delivery system for the storyteller's agenda. The psychology and science goes that by helping people feel is they key, and that we're more emotional than rational - that being central to shopping science (Paco Underhill, Martin Lindstom being key authors in that space) as well.
Brands are telling these stories right now, some better than others, across a number of different mediums - from packaging to video to visual and verbal content.
Research consultancy Latitude, released part 1 of a study, “The Future of Storytelling,” which identifies trends and audience attitudes about branded content. The tips Latitude provides on telling stories are the following:
Seems like great advice? In 2013 we're seeing the idea of interactivity and engagement come to the fore, enabling and encouraging people to do something. Makes good sense, but does that really build connection. I don't think interacting alone with, for example liking a brand, or commenting on a piece of content, really means anything. Though logically an interaction is a low level signal, of some sort. Harvard Business Review (HBR), challenge the linear assumptions of storytelling, they ran a series of posts from a study that poo-poo's some of the beliefs held by engagement evangelists…
Storytelling and user engagement can earn permission of course, but lasting engagement, we might agree probably not? The HBR piece too though, strays a little into linear assumptions, they claim that, for example, people fly with Southwest Airlines because they share the value of “democratization of air travel,” and other people will purchase Pedigree dog food because they share the value that “every dog deserves a loving home.” I think that sounds pretty far fetched, does that even sound like something you can imagine a pet owning friend even say that?
So with strong arguments for storytelling, engagement and brand values, what is the recipe to success with storytelling? I think it's based on combining all of the above and remembering one crucial factor...
If we forget about marketing jargon (hard, I know!) around storytelling, engagement and brand values, marketing is relationship building on some level. That's how loyalty is achieved beyond a Tesco ClubCard, right?
The answer is to give people what they want, whether that's some easily accessible information on your website, features of your product and service, or creative content that echoes their own values. I believe the HBR notion of having strong brand values, that the business lives and breathes, must be actively communicated - but that the best way to do that is in story-telling through rich content. The story becomes the vehicle to communicate brand values that will resonate with the (right) customer. Those brand statements and values are not in place to make you feel great, they're there to ensure that you're delivering what your customer wants at every touch-point that they have with your brand.
Story-telling is not a guarantee of marketing success - of course explore this for your brand, here's our tips to help do that:
Your crafted story + authentic values = Engagement
While the transition from direct to digital media has drive a real focus toward rich content, the caution is that today, with ever more social tools and communication media, there’s a need for cohesive, cross-platform and meaningful connections in a marketing world that is 'always on'. It requires more of brand communication. This is where your story-telling matters. Create strong, brand touch-points across web, packaging, video, textual and verbal content. Your marketing role is increasingly less about directing and more about curating that consumer journey.
As ever, please share your ideas in the comments below...
By Danyl Bosomworth
Dan helped to co-found Smart Insights in 2010 and acted as Marketing Director until leaving in November 2014 to focus on his other role as Managing Director of First 10 Digital. His experience spans brand development and digital marketing, with roles both agency and client side for nearly 20 years. Creative, passionate and focussed, his goal is on commercial success whilst increasing brand equity through effective integration and remembering that marketing is about real people. Dan's interests and recent experience span digital strategy, social media, and eCRM. You can learn more about Dan's background here Linked In.
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