Storytelling isn’t new. And when I say that I’m not just referring to the Epic of Gilgamesh and the cave paintings of stone age man. It’s not new in marketing either. It’s always been an important tool in the communications toolbox. But recently, as well as wondering how high up the corruption goes in Line of Duty, I’ve also been thinking about why storytelling works to set brands apart and how we can use it to cut through the ever-increasing noise of life to help brands punch above their weight.
It’s no surprise, but in the last year, I believe there has been an even greater shift in the way communication is being approached by brands, and more than ever, storytelling is being used to improve the way messages are shared and spread. As the distance between brands and consumers has shortened and the need for inclusivity and relationship building has grown, there’s been a requirement for comms to become less directive and instead take on a more engaging and conversational style, bringing consumers in and keeping them interested.
Brands and businesses have to acknowledge that they’re involved in a dialogue that is immediate and direct. And consumers are now, more than ever, vitally important in the two-way conversation that has become the norm. The tools we use to reach them are like the nervous system of the body, and we must now consider the receiver’s emotions and feelings and the way they interpret and act on the message as well as making sure we reach them in the first place.
This is where storytelling comes in.
American psychologist Jerome Bruner, who died in 2016 at the age of 100, was a professor at Harvard and then Oxford, who revolutionised the US education system with his alternative account of how the human mind works. He believed;
“The mind that drives science, art and sense of self, is not linear and logical, but narrative. People think in stories and are able to imagine the world only through stories.”
Quite simply, if we’re told a series of facts, certain parts of the brain are activated to understand them. Scientists call these the Broca area and the Wernicke’s area. We decode the words and that’s it. We understand. When we’re being told a story, it’s different. Not only are the language processing parts of the brain activated but also any other area that we would use if we were to experience the events of the story ourselves. Told how delicious food is, our sensory cortex lights up. A story about motion, our motor cortex becomes active. Basically, stories deliver more than understanding. They drive deeper, stronger connections. They make us feel.
So, storytelling is an important strategic tool, but it’s also an important tactical tool that lets marketers engage consumers in a fragmented media world. The aim is to make the receiver feel something – enough that it’ll inspire them to take action and that’s true whether we’re communicating directly with the consumer or trying to attract the attention of the media.
Here are three storytelling techniques that I believe it’s worth considering:
Tell your brand’s story and make it personal
So many brands focus on telling you about the product – and don’t get me wrong – that’s important. But the brands we love – they tell us about the people behind it. Think about Innocent and the festival origin story or Virgin’s success, which was so reliant on stories of Richard Branson. Sharing stories about the business and those within it, and not just what it produces or offers, lets consumers in, gives them an insight into the people as well as the products they’re buying and makes them trust that the choice they’re making when they choose to purchase, is the right one.
Use all the platforms but make it holistic
Storytelling works across all channels and each has its own particular style. Using a mixture of video, audio, images and text will keep the story fresh and connect with different people in different ways at different times. But it’s important that the story remains the same so that the consumers’ experience is consistent. John Lewis do this brilliantly. Buster the Boxer from Christmas 2016 came to life on TV, through social and even in-store. It was a complete 360 experience in storytelling.
Make it relevant
This is important whether you’re selling your story to the media or talking directly to consumers. A story will only be of interest to a journalist if it’s genuine news, whether that’s ‘new‘ information or linked to current events. Where we’ve seen storytelling backfire is when the story itself isn’t relevant or the brand isn’t appropriate. Take Pepsi’s misadventure into protest politics. Kendall Jenner playing the peacekeeper, diffusing tensions with a can of cola. In any climate, an ad that seems to explicitly reference black anti-violence protesters to sell soft drinks seems misguided. This is storytelling that is out of touch and to many, offensive. Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology.
So, what’s the moral in all of this? I believe storytelling, now more than ever, can cut through a marketplace that is, often by design, distracting, creating opportunities to resonate with consumers rather than disrupt them, in a way that will last long after the story has been told.
PS. I think the corruption goes all the way to the top!
About the author:
Rebecca Jones is the communications director at CreativeRace. She has 21 years of experience in communications; specialising in PR, social media and influencer relations, having worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands from head and shoulders and Pantene to John West and Fiat 500.