“Imagination is stronger than knowledge, myth more potent than history, dreams more powerful than facts”, so said American writer Robert Fulghum.
To quote Seth Godin, “Consumers believe stories. Without this belief there is no marketing”.
We like to tell a story, we like to listen to stories. Storytelling is the method by which people tell each other who they are, where they come from, what they believe in and how they’re different from one another.
We tell stories to make sense of what we’re saying, to simplify and provide perspective, to reduce the complex, to explain origins, to establish traditions and behaviour, to communicate ethical and moral positions.
For companies and brands that have something real, emotional and powerful to say, it is worth adopting a new anatomy for brand storytelling… and employ people who know how to hold an audience – journalists, writers, animators, film makers with real experience as storytellers.
Effective storytelling is not about the brand. The best stories embody the brand, its attitudes and promises… brands must turn themselves into stories.
In recent years, one of my favourite examples of a brand story was Mercedes Benz’s controversial Tramp a Benz that told the story of a hitch hiker with the high ambition of only taking a ride in a Mercedes Benz as he travelled across Europe recording his adventure. A story not about the brand but in which the brand was the story.
More recently, I’d cite Intel’s The Beauty Inside – a ‘social movie’ about a guy called Alex who wakes up every day inside a new body with a new face. No matter his physical appearance Alex was the same inside.
A global casting call let social media users audition to play different versions of Alex by uploading videos. Selected users were then woven into the story’s fabric.
So, here are my five principles for great storytelling…
1. Think of stories as fables not fairy tales. Stories don’t have to be true but they do have to contain truth.
If you want people to believe in your brand, first tell them what your company or brand believes in, make it something the consumer cares about. Stories are most effective when they have a moral or ethical foundation.
The story is about a larger ambition to make the world or people’s lives better.
2. Find your hero… your hitch hiker, your Alex and take them on a journey.
3. To move people tap into a specific emotion, a situation that transcends culture and language, a truth… love, desire, happiness, fear, disgust, anger.
4. Use the story to engage your audience, build relationships, to create a community of sharing and belonging.
To quote a Native American saying, “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.” Stories have become social activities, again… an approach exemplified by Coca Cola’s lauded Happiness campaign.
5. And above all, tap into the audience’s imagination. Stories are entertainment.ment.
And finally, stories don’t always have to be based on a new idea. Most stories already exist, they need to be discovered and cultivated. Every brand, every organisation, has story waiting to be told. Find it and find your best storytellers and let them weave their creative magic.
Storytelling has the power to change the destiny of your company, the health of your brand and your place in your consumers’ lives.
Richard Millar is president and CEO of H+K Strategies UK + Europe