Storytelling is the word of the moment among communication organisations today.
We have now officially entered the engagement era, and the way we consume and interact with brands and their content has fundamentally changed. People want to be educated, moved and entertained. People want to engage with brands, and this is not a territory that the traditional ad sits well in. Enter storytelling—helping the audience become part of the brand.
Yet before you tell the story, you need to craft it. Lay the groundwork to ensure that your narrative, objective or unique selling point resonates with your audience.
Both inspiration and imagination are essential ingredients for creating the storyline, but public relations professionals need to ensure the story resonates with the clients’ vision, mission and messages. In some cases this is exceptionally challenging—creating an original and inspiring story from corporate messaging is no minor feat.
There are three elements to creating a good story: connection, emotion and engagement.
The connection and emotion
The key to any great story is in the connecting with your audience. Great brand stories do not focus on the company or the product. They do not try to sell. Instead they resonate with feelings and establish a connection.
A great example of connection is Coca-Cola during the 1980s and '90s. The brand’s commercials were trendsetters, the epitome of creativity. It wasn’t about the drink; it was about the effect of the magical red can. It was about the sentiment of sharing with friends, celebrating successes, Christmas miracles and wishes coming true. Those themes connected with the audience on a deeper level. The commercials were shared, celebrated, laughed at and sung along with, creating this magical brand that helped you express what you were feeling. The connection was established and it stayed. Connection is powerful. That connection leads the consumer to own the brand, to be part of it—the foundation of your story.
Great brand or product stories resonate with the audience while being authentic, insightful and true. Brands that are successful at this have developed a recognizable personality and attitude.
The emotion is usually the hardest element to bring alive in a story. Finding the right dose of emotion without being seen as sentimental is difficult, especially for B2B offerings.
Mastercard’s "Priceless" campaign is often regarded as a great brand story, connecting emotionally to the consumer. The 30-second stories are emotional, authentic and true to life, creating a powerful connection to the consumer.
The key to finding the right emotion lies in finding three things: authenticity, insight and truth. Place these three things in your brand story and you create a powerful emotional connection to your audience.
In today’s digital age, crafting an emotional story that connects with its audience is just half of the equation. The reality is that brands are not in control of their story anymore. The key brand storyteller is the audience or consumer themselves. They shape the brand story, the representation of the brand and its perception. The reins have now been handed over. The best advice is not to talk at them but have a conversation instead.
A good story connects emotionally with the right target audience, and what is more powerful than allowing your audiences to share their experiences with the brand? Everyone relates and connects to stories told by "someone like me". Get your audience involved and have them be your advocates. After all, aren’t brand stories designed with the ultimate objective of influencing behavior?
The hidden element of a good story: universality
I was recently invited to pitch for a Chinese mobile phone brand on its overseas communications assignment. The company wanted to create a strategic media approach to assist with their expansion into emerging markets. Our key recommendation was to tell the brand story. We left the company with food for thought on how it would like to portray itself to the world, something brands in China often miss Most Chinese brands haven’t really needed to tell their brand story to be successful in China, and this has created issues for some when it comes to international expansion.
In order for a Chinese brand to go truly global, it needs to find a universal spirit or theme to break the cultural barrier. Global brands such as Apple and Nike focus on universal elements that transcend cultures, geographies and even generations. For a brand to be global, the story needs to go beyond these restrictions, and Chinese brands are facing this reality.
Whether it is passion, love, unity, honesty or even a smile, finding a universal element can simply be the key to connecting with your global audience.
The evolving digital universe has changed the way we consume and interact with information. People want to be moved, entertained and to have the ability to participate in the process of building a brand.
Public relations experts can excel and help their clients by spending more time and energy on the most important phase of this approach: Crafting the story.