We’re all storytellers at heart. Well at least everyone on the island of Ireland is. Storytelling is in our souls, it’s in our very makeup. From as early as records exist, storytelling was at the centre of life. To educate. To share. To warn. To protect. We might have moved away from cave drawings but every day of our lives we engage in storytelling. Every day of our lives, and certainly in the way we market. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that storytelling is at the heart of all good marketing.
But how is that relevant to the world of marketing? Some argue it’s not, that conveying a simple message with a direct sell or call to action is all that is necessary to market your brand or product. Quick, clear, done. But not in our opinion. Audiences are changing and consumer expectations have evolved so wildly that simply conveying a sales message is no longer what marketing is about. Instead, finding a way to drive connection, engagement, and a link to a shared human experience is everything. Storytelling is an essential component of modern brand marketing, a powerful way to breathe life into a brand and central to cutting through the marketing noise and really reaching your customers in an authentic way.
Consumers are looking for connection. They are moving away from consumerist, empty promise, soulless brands and instead they’re looking for authenticity and the buzzword of the moment, “purpose” – not just what you do, but why you do it. Recent research has shown that brands that demonstrate a purpose are 40-50% more successful than those which don’t. So marketing through brand storytelling has a higher revenue return, increased customer retention, and promotes brand reputation.
Put simply, in an era driven by data and technology, we’re all still looking for an emotional connection. To celebrate culture, the lives that we live and to see that reflected in a brand or a service that we buy into. Storytelling does this beautifully. It takes an audience on a journey, it helps them see themselves in the story and it attaches real emotion to connect with along the way.
Consider Christmas advertising – it’s a fair guess that many of us will retain the story and the resulting feelgood around big brands’ Christmas advertising more than any other ad of the year.
Then there’s the secondary benefit of education. Storytelling represents an opportunity to educate your audience in a way that simple message marketing does not. Use it. Tell the story, help your customers see behind the selling side of the product and buy into the brand in a much more thoughtful way. Choosing to educate, choosing to story-tell, these choices give consumers a reason to give you their attention, to clearly understand you, in the fragmented marketing world.
It’s one thing to know the importance of storytelling, but another putting that into practice. Some brands get it spot on, others don’t. So what is the secret of success?
Take time to consider your brand, where it came from, the motivations and the journey it has been on. Is there a mission or purpose behind the brand, a problem it solves, do you have real customer stories and testimonials to work from? A fundamental principle of PR is that the weight of someone else telling you about a great experience (advocacy) is far greater than someone telling you directly how great they are. Find a real thread from the experience of the brand and use that to build on. Don’t make something up that has no connection to your brand or service at all. Keep. It. Real.
Having a voice and using it to explain, expand, and lead through your storytelling is important. Don’t be vague. Pick your position and work with it throughout the marketing campaign. Audiences want to know what you’re saying and where you stand without any doubt. Stick to your guns.
Think of all your user touchpoints and make sure that your message is consistent throughout. That means external and internal communications. Whether you’re running a digital marketing campaign, a TV ad, or communicating with your internal team members, stay on message, be consistent in your voice and the mission behind it. Your brand is what you say you are. Reputation, on the other hand, is earned by others thinking highly of you. We’re a judgey lot as humans, so if you don’t behave in a manner reflective of your grand claims, you’ll be called out and it won’t be pretty. Walk the walk as well as talking the talk.
The best stories make you feel something: joy, sadness, inspiration. Ensure that your brand story does the same. There should be a moment when the audience emotionally connects to your story and that connection will be what inspires a response. Whether that response is to buy into the brand, to change their opinion of it, or simply to remember it for longer, it’s a win.
Storytelling is the opposite of the hard sell. Immediate and pressing Calls To Action are not welcome. The story is the main character here, all selling should be part of that creative. Subtle, thoughtful, and indirect.
There are many brands that have been getting it right with their storytelling. Taking time to create and send out a consistent, connected campaign, for example, Marks & Spencer stands out. They have carved out a niche in the UK public’s heart as a ‘home’ on the high street and developed a sense of purpose around their brand that reaches from the internal culture all the way through its brand storytelling on every level.
Let’s not forget Apple, possibly the best brand storyteller of all time. They bring us a consistent narrative which humanises technology, helps it to seem accessible, simple, creative, and highly desirable, plus the frequency of its launches means that this story is always at the forefront of our minds: they’re always giving us another compelling reason to level-up.
To join the ranks of these brand storytelling winners it’s key to take time away from single message marketing campaigns. Finding scope to put storytelling at the heart of your brand marketing can yield significant benefits, benefits that last longer and run deeper.
As a PR purist working in an integrated marketing agency, storytelling is where it all starts: creating a narrative that others will regard as interesting/newsworthy/shareable enough that they pass it on, on their own media channel, is the fundamental basis of PR practice. We should all be finding a way to create stories that are picked up, passed on, and shared.