At a time of unprecedented global crises, an epidemic of misinformation is fuelling public mistrust of institutions and leaders, and raising expectations that businesses move beyond profit to take the lead on social issues. As such, the importance of a credible and compelling brand story has never been more important.
People have always loved stories. A good story isn’t just entertaining, it elicits an emotional response. It also makes the storyteller and their message more memorable. According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it is part of a story.
When it comes to influencing any discourse, numerous studies have shown the power of a compelling, well-constructed narrative. For example, it has been shown to be a highly effective motivator of voluntary co-operation.
At the same time, people have long craved brands with which they can have a credible and trusted relationship. This requires transparency, authenticity, and honesty, all of which are best conveyed via the deeper communication that only storytelling can achieve.
The persuasive power of integrating fact with emotion is not new, of course. But the complexity of today’s media landscape with its diversity of platforms and content formats, and its multiplicity of competing narratives is unprecedented. This gives a clear edge to brand owners which are best at combining effective storytelling with fully integrated marcomms to create connected narratives.
With the right story, told the right way, through the right channel, and to the right audience at the right time, the rewards are clear.
The best brand storytelling does not just increase a brand’s favourability, it makes it harder to forget. It stands out in a noisy landscape and builds cut-through in a sea of sameness. People remember a story, and they pass it on. According to Kantar (“Media & Me”, 2020), 93% of people trust family and friends as relevant sources when considering purchase, ahead of customer reviews, which demonstrates the power and invaluable advocacy of storytelling.
Small wonder, then, that in today’s turbulent times, storytelling has never been more important for brands. And the pressure on brand owners to perfect their storytelling skills has never been greater.
So, what makes great brand storytelling?
There are, we believe, five core principles:
Show don’t tell
Focus your narrative on the emotional impact of your product rather than on any practical features – how can it impact a customer’s life and how can it make that customer feel?
Dexcom, a medical devices company manufacturing continuous glucose monitors – small wearable devices that track a user’s glucose levels to help people living with diabetes – is a powerful demonstration of this.
A combination of tactics helped to raise Dexcom’s profile in the public discourse. One such example was the commissioning of research into the mental and emotional cost of diabetes and building a global community of influencers, including high profile personalities, who shared their stories. Both of these produced a powerful narrative about the positive impact that this technology has on the lives of those who use it.
Involve your customer in the storytelling
Publishing great stories is no longer the sole preserve of professional storytellers, such as journalists.
User-generated content and a creative ecosystem that involves customers in storytelling drives engagement and credibility and generates earned and shared media alongside paid-for media, with obvious cost benefits.
Consider Tesla, a brand that doesn't advertise, and is mainly driven by the word-of-mouth, unpaid advocacy of enthusiastic customers. From Reddit, YouTube, TikTok and Facebook, to Clubhouse, Instagram and of course Twitter, they debate, argue, laugh, share personal stories and creative content in an unending stream of compelling content and dialogue about their Teslas.
Customers value honesty, often ahead of perfection.
Chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, stated in its recent annual report that the farms in West Africa which supply its cocoa had 1,701 cases of child labour, up from 387 the previous year.
Although this might appear to some as a potential PR problem, the company’s transparency and explanation of its mission and purpose-led approach sets it apart and earns credibility. The fact is that the company deliberately sources from a region where child labour is prevalent in an effort to work with its supplier to combat the practice. This level of honesty and transparency is not only a powerful way to communicate and earn trust, but a brilliant differentiated business strategy that sets them apart from competitors and builds a brand that customers can truly believe in for the long term.
At a time when most consumers have a digital footprint, narratives can be highly tailored. Both to meet different personal tastes and requirements and, also, to play to the different strengths of each storytelling platform or format, maximising the potential visibility and other values such as organic SEO.
When a major hotel group opened a new property during the Staycation Summer of 2021, we were tasked with driving conversion for rooms and the F&B offering. The three-tiered strategy we created that included awareness-building stories to feed the funnel, curated influencer partnerships to drive consideration, and targeted social media advertising for conversion, was very successful and sold out the F&B offering.
Embrace your data
Today’s best brand storytellers aren’t just data collectors, they’re data storytellers, too. So they target the right people at the right time, and tell stories that are relevant and powerful, fuelled by data.
AirBnB’s intimate and nuanced understanding of its audience and its creative use of customer data powers its stories. The brand can delve into a treasure chest of data to power content around the most popular destinations for long-term stays, exciting new properties and experience categories that are performing well, as well as other compelling stories that can attract new and returning customers.
As each customer’s interactions with a brand now consists of multiple experiences across a huge variety of touchpoints, both on-and-offline, customer expectations have never been higher. Key to a brand owner’s ability to deliver against these expectations is the quality and credibility of the stories it tells.
Jim Selman is Partner & Managing Director at Allison+Partners.