Brand storytelling is an opportunity forge deeper connections with customers
Digital channels mean brands of all sizes can effectively use storytelling
Investment in storytelling can deliver long-term returns in the form of loyalty and recommendation
Whenever someone talks to me about storytelling, I immediately think of a 2002 poster campaign for Loot, the free ads paper (now a website, obviously). Each execution took an ad for a seemingly mundane item, added a bit of story and signed off with the strapline ‘It’s the way that you sell ‘em’. It obviously sold pretty well to me, because here I am writing about it 18 years later (and still having a chuckle at this…)
There’s another similar but altogether more academic version of the same idea I first saw almost ten years ago (a good story does stick with you it would seem) is to be found at www.significantobjects.com. The site is home to an experiment whereby author Rob Walker and journalist Joshua Glenn tested their theory that creative storytelling could imbue just about any object with both subjective and objective value. eBay was their chosen proving ground and they went on to sell ‘$128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.50’
The Loot campaign and Significant Objects are just two examples of storytelling being used to sell things. This may come as a surprise to many who, in a world where everything seemingly is measured in hard data, view storytelling as a somewhat fluffy anachronism. Maybe it’s the quaintness of the term ‘storytelling’ but it is often mistaken as a softer tool for a less technological time.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Do it right and storytelling is powerful, especially in a digital age where brands of all sizes have more opportunities to connect with potential customers than ever before. For those who live and die by results, it is transactional too, just not in the conventional financial sense (initially at least). Invest in storytelling - spend time, thought and love on it - and people will give you their attention, loyalty and recommendation in return. Needless to say, if they’re giving you those three, there’s a good chance they’ll be partial to giving you their money for your product or service too.
Simon Sinek (who has built a career off the back of telling a phenomenal 18-minute-long story) cites a great example of this when comparing Dell to Apple. Dell goes for a utilitarian approach; they build perfectly functional computers that do perfectly acceptable computer jobs at perfectly acceptable prices. Their pitch is not so much a story as a list of ingredients. Apple on the other hand cooks (ironically less so since Tim took over from Steve) up a story of almost mythical proportions. A tale of daring creative explorers and provocateurs who never settle and constantly look to change and better the world as they ‘Think Different’. People buy this story. They want to be part of it (don’t you?). So much so that they happily spend $800 more for an Apple Macbook than they would do on an equivalent spec Dell.
Yes, storytelling is a powerful tool to connect with and convince customers your brand is worth investing in emotionally and financially. As already alluded to, you don’t need an Apple-sized media budget to do it either. But there are things you do need and, after ten years of telling stories and content creation for brands as a digital marketing agency, these would be our top three (to bring this part of the story to life, we’ll look at Patagonia, a brand who without question are doing it right):
Whether it’s a story about your brand or about a customer who embodies what your brand is about, your storytelling should always echo your brand purpose. Patagonia as a brand is exceptional at this - they do not just bang their sustainable clothing company drum, it comes through in every story they tell; from how they source environmentally-friendly materials for their products to actively training the next generation of environmental activists or funding environmental non-profits to the tune of over $100 million.The chapters of Patagonia’s book may be slightly different, but they all add up to one cohesive story. Does your brand have a similarly strong core running through everything it says and does?
There is a reason people will go back and read a book by an author they have enjoyed. They like their style, their viewpoint, their delivery. The same goes for brand storytelling. Consistency of voice is key if you want people to listen to your stories and actively seek out future ones. Patagonia gets this very right, to the extent that they are not just able to talk to their audience, but take them on storytelling journeys to new topics and interests too. In so doing, they add unexpected value, further strengthening the connection between themselves and their audience. Has your brand got a similarly interesting, clear, consistent and trustworthy voice?
In his book 'On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft' Master Storyteller Stephen King talks about The Ideal Reader - the person he has in mind when he writes (spoiler alert: It’s his wife, Tabitha). Brand storytelling is not dissimilar, it needs to target an Ideal Customer in a way that is connected and personal as possible. We’re not talking in a dry ‘Lauren, AB2, Mother of two, Yoga teacher’ kind of way either. Again using Patagonia as an example, the brand is closely dialled into the hopes, fears, dreams and ambitions of their audience. Rather than a paint-by-numbers caricature, immersing yourself in their storytelling will conjure up a clear vision of the person it is meant for. I might have a different gender, number of tattoos and car in mind to you when I think of this person, but the key drivers will be the same - environmentally aware, considerate, probably vegetarian, looking for ways to make a difference - and from there it is an easy step to telling and sharing the right kind of stories to forge a stronger connection. Do you know your Ideal Customer as well as Patagonia do? If not, we can help you with that.
Above all, embracing storytelling is a fantastic learning experience. You will come away with a better understanding of your brand and of your customers. The change it can make - from ‘broadcasting at’ to ‘talking to’ is profound on many levels. If you’re ready to start storytelling, I’m all ears (and have some pointers too). Get in touch to talk further.
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