Monday, June 29, 2015

Brands & The Art of Storytelling

Brands telling stories is nothing new; what is new is the focus on the concept, with the rise of content marketing and social media. 17 years ago when I first started in marketing and branding, we knew that what we were doing was telling stories, but I’d never seen the term in a marketing plan or strategic document. Today, I hear and see it all the time.

We are more accustomed to seeing brands tell short stories through the use of print, radio and television advertising. There would be a short plot somehow tied to the product (albeit at times a bit too loosely) and the brands would hope we’d quickly connect to the idea or story presented in the ad and remember their product. If the brands were a product that could easily be demonstrated, we would get a bit more robust story of the brand via in person appearances, if the brands were lucky enough to catch our attention as we passed them in say, a grocery aisle.

Storytelling is as old as humankind. Perhaps the first glimpse of it is seen in ancient hieroglyphics, stories depicted as pictures on walls. Fast forward – what would a campfire be without friends sitting around telling stories? We like stories because we can relate to them. We can see ourselves or people we know in them. It shows us that we aren’t all as different as we may appear.

All brands, just like all people, have many different stories to tell. Without those stories, products and brands are just that, but with stories, they become human, living and breathing. Brand stories are often what makes us choose one brand over another with a similar product. If I can see myself using a product, or hear a brand story that shows me how that brand will make my life easier or better, and much more importantly – when a brand reaches out to me and continues a conversation with me, I am much happier choosing them over a competitor. Even if I’ve used another brand for years.

Traditional marketers always needed to rely on their creativity, but didn’t often have to have much in the way of writing skills. That has all changed for today’s marketers. In today’s “new marketing world,” brands often have people with job titles like “Brand Storyteller” or “Creative Content Director.” Does that mean that only those with an MBA in journalism or fiction writing are getting marketing jobs these days? Not at all. Many strong marketers have long realized the necessity of being able to tell a good story (in the true, honest sense) and possess those capabilities. The marketers in highest demand today are those that can find a way to reach consumers through emotional and relatable stories, getting people more involved in the brand through the use of content marketing and social media, as well as finding ways to be involved in the “right” events i.e. right place right time to offer consumers an experience with the brand.  

So many stories to be told!
Are these skills marketers can learn? I believe they are. I think there are certain intrinsic qualities that draw people to the field that most with marketing jobs possess, but I also believe that the right marketer can grow and develop people to find their own strengths in the industry. At the same time, I also fully believe there are certain intrinsic qualities that will prevent certain people from excelling at branding, content marketing and storytelling. If you don’t have the inner knowledge of yourself and ability to be honest, open and at times vulnerable within your community and with your audience, I think you’ll have a hard time connecting with consumers. Brand storytelling is no longer a static ad, it’s a real person standing in front of you, or also sitting in front of their computer engaging with you in real time. If that is hard for you to with people in general, it’s going to be even harder to get people to relate to you and your brand online. That’s not to say you need to be a comedian or constantly “on” with people. It just means that you are going to need to be able to find emotions that live within you that your consumers can relate to.

Is all content marketing storytelling? No, and I believe this is a big misconception some brands are sadly operating under. Sometimes content is there to provide proof, numbers, hard data. That’s not storytelling. There is nothing I can emotionally relate to when just handed numbers. Storytelling on the other hand, is all about emotion, evoking feelings in your community, consumers and potential consumers. Storytelling is both inspirational and aspirational. It is the art of getting someone to want to join your brand’s journey.

How do you know what stories to tell? As with everything else with branding and social media, it will all come through listening to your community. They will tell you what they need, what they want – it’s all of our jobs as marketers to listen to them, and get to know what drives each one of them. This isn’t a one-time thing, you have to be constantly and consistently engaging as a member of those communities to learn as much as you can. Just like people evolve and change and grow and even as they change their minds or beliefs, so must your brand and your marketing and your stories. A good marketer will always be ready to pivot and shift tactics to keep your community and audience inspired and connected.

I’d love to hear what brands you are finding are doing really well with brand storytelling. Tweet me @lucyrk78 and let me know?

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