Tales of princesses, dragons and knights on gallant white steeds were once confined to the bedrooms of five year olds and preschool classrooms. Not any more.
The subject matter may have changed – less damsels in distress in today’s society – but the premise of telling a story to captivate and inspire an audience is big news in Brand Land. What’s more, companies in the UK were estimated to have spent almost 30% more on their social channels last year, in a bid to get ahead of the storytelling game. It’s a major trend for 2017 and the estimated spend by 2020 is due to hit over £4 billion.
So, what’s sparked this narrative bloom? Storytelling isn’t new of course, but its application in a marketing sense has become something of a focus in recent years. So much so that there are a whole plethora of agencies out there to help businesses understand how to spin an engaging tale.
Not just an art form, but a science
We’re a species who use stories every day of our lives, in order to make sense of the perpetual chaos.
In any conversational scenario we tell each other stories to explain or elaborate a point and to give our words meaning. If we weren’t doing this, our language would be all 70s fibreglass robot – one word answers and basic, leading questions. We’re built to embellish our articulations.
We’re also a species with an attention disorder. We just can’t help ourselves.
During any one day, our brains go wandering off into the land of daydreams – approximately 2000 times per day, to get scientific – only snapping back into reality when something demands our attention. Then off it goes again. However, when engrossed in a great story we cease making up our own internal narratives.
What’s more, research has shown that when human beings are captivated by a tale – let’s use film as an example, given the astronomical rise of video marketing – the brain behaves as if we were a participant to the action, rather than an observer.
That is to say that when the character feels fear, the fear centre of our brain is activated. Same goes for joy and despair and so on. So, telling a good tale is deeply involving for the audience.
Bolshy advertising and marketing campaigns don’t fly with the new generation.
Millennials are, after-all, far less eager to engage in any of the big “life commitment” spends – or frivolous impulse buys for that matter – than previous generations. They’re about experiences, rather than things, and they’re an altogether tougher nut to crack. So, marketers have been tasked with building and nurturing a new kind of trust – a sense that we’re all “one of them”.
Advertising no longer necessarily advertises.
Take the H&M Christmas advert, for example. A clever collab with Wes Anderson – presented in a typical Anderson fashion – it’s an immersive piece of film which doesn’t try to sell you clothes. Instead, it invites you to go on a festive journey with the brand.
It does a smashing job of nurturing all those feelings of nostalgic warmth, frivolity and community that Christmas celebrates, using characters and a strong narrative structure. We’ve all seen pretty girls, dressed to the nines, twirling around endlessly in slo-mo and, quite frankly, we’re so bored of them we’d be hard pressed to remember who’s advert it was.
Stories are a point of difference, and they hook us. In fact, if we consider any of the big Christmas ads of 2016 – John Lewis, Waitrose, M&S – we’ll find those central characters and narrative.
Product is now almost an afterthought.
Storytelling for beginners
Most startups and SMEs, of course, won’t be budgeting for a prime time TV slot or a Hollywood director, but the story of your brand can still be conveyed in subtler ways.
Who isn’t now using social as an engaging communication tool for the mass audience?
Narrative doesn’t have to be delivered through moving image – although it’s totally possible, with barely any budget – via video on Instagram, for example.
If you can tell a story through a series of images, you can still convey the message of your brand.
Tone of voice and heritage
Where have you come from? What was your intention when you started out? Who are the friends and family who helped you box up your first prototype,or produce, and what were the trials and tribulations of your journey?
Good old-fashioned face to face
Getting out there and having the opportunity to tell potential customers your story one-on-one is an incredible opportunity to create a memory of your brand which they might then go and tell a friend.
An anecdotal example of this – sorry to use food again – is Rubies in the Rubble.
From their tiny stall at Borough Market they would tell of their vision to reduce food waste and offer employment to those struggling to get back into work.
The story had a start, a middle and an end, and a set of characters battling to do some good in the world – which everyone roots for, right?
Every interaction with a person is the potential to tell them a story about your brand which they might not expect. It’s even a chance for them to tell you a story, and through entering into this meaningful dialogue, they’ll remember you.
There’s no better way to create brand advocacy and a relationship that lives happily ever after than to involve people in your tale.