“We are bombarded with information. By the time you get to the office, you’ve been bombarded thousands of times. Billboards, people, advertisements, your friend, your boss. Our attention is constantly under attack. People are constantly trying to put information in front of us.” – Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller, Microsoft
It’s critical in such a saturated market to create something engaging and memorable. But it’s actually pretty simple when you really boil it down and the buzz over analytics shouldn’t have you forgetting that the most important thing is a great story. Stories go back thousands of years across every culture – they’re embedded in our human nature and they’ve captured our hearts and imaginations since we were children. They’re everywhere, and in everything. We see them everyday and they help us to make sense of things. Data is important and useful, but statistics don’t engage prospective customers or build a memorable brand image. Our brains are wired to remember stories, not data, so don’t just hurl numbers and statistics at your consumers; seek out your brand’s story and the most compelling and enchanting way to tell it from the heart your audience.
Stories can make you laugh, or cry, and change the way people think. However, even if you’ve got an amazing new product or a revolutionary idea, it can easily fail to connect with people and fall flat with a boring story, or even a great one not leveraged or angled properly. It sounds simple, but there’s a real art to it. A science, in fact (studies showing areas of the brain lighting up as if the listener is experiencing the story themselves). Your audience’s attention is finite however; consumers and journalists are busy people, and no one’s going to be interested in a half-baked story. You have to give them something that’s coverage-worthy; they’re not going to just advertise something for you and do your job for you.
Here are 6 things you need to bear in mind when searching for the story that will bring your brand’s messages to life:
- Know your audience. This is vital. Storytelling is so powerful because it lets businesses connect with their audience’s feelings, needs and passions and a great narrative makes the listener feel like part of the story. Make it personal – great stories resonate, so make it personal and make your audience feel part of the story. Empathizing with characters leads to them imagining themselves in that scenario, using that product (until they are really doing so). Think of that Guinness wheelchair advert, about being ‘made of more’ (than just beer/regular ‘stuff’) – it got 3 million views in the first 4 days of the ad’s release. Or Google’s ‘Dear Sophie’ advert – simple, yet so effective and one of the best.
- Sell your brand, not your product. Though not the first to do so, Apple are the perfect iconic example of a brand narrative over any individual product. Their customer-centric narrative revolves around ‘beautiful solutions’ to everyday problems, cleverly packaged for consumers who are more like ‘fans’. And the John Lewis’ Christmas advert, for example, showed how important a good story is in building a reputation. As Francis Ingham, PRCA director general put it: “ultimately consumers don’t buy CEOs, or logos, or even products to some extent; they buy reputation.”
- Think visually and creatively.Take the Lego movie, for example. That was masterful; essentially a 90 minute toy advert, but a truly excellent film, enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It’s the way you do it that matters; the techniques used, so think visually and be imaginative. Great stories engage their audience in a world that’s not their own (VR, anyone….?). Shoppers who view videos are 1.81X more likely to purchase than non-viewers, and researchers found that coloured visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%, according to HubSpot. Make your story shareable – remember that Share a Coke campaign from last year? – social media is a great PR playground for experimentation, so get a handle on hashtags.
- Quality is key – for a lasting impact. Lots of people talk about the importance of the story but there’s so much derivative and irrelevant content out there. Give them a reason to care. Needs a clear purpose. Don’t let the story become bigger than the message – they’re parables, and vehicles to convey information, and as with all stories, it’ll only work if you’ve got a clear and compelling message that your target audience can understand. Gain their trust by being authentic. Think about Richard Branson and Virgin – it’s a personal, authentic leadership story.
- Always be curious and don’t be shy. Look for stories where you don’t expect to find them – you could get the perfect idea on the commute to work.And don’t underestimate the power of anecdotes – this somewhat looser approach could save you days spent crafting pristine messages no one wants to hear. Plus, a lot of journalism stems from anecdotal stories so it will ensure you’re aligned to journalists’ needs.
- Don’t forget the basic rules – Great stories resonate, have characters and a protagonist, conflict, tension and a satisfying ending. They appeal to all the senses (sights, colours, sounds, scents) and promote intrigue, inspiration and excitement. The story needs to be about someone. From the perspective of someone the product, or an unsung company hero perhaps? Tell their stories.
Storytelling works for everyone. Ask yourself what makes your brand unique, and what you want people to remember and why it’s important. It can even define and inspire a business and influence its direction for the future. In the words of two great storytellers, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, “you have to spin a good yarn before you can weave a great dream”. It takes practice, but in one way or another, we’re all storytellers and willing consumers of stories, so use that innate desire. There’s nothing more powerful.