So, here’s the story

In the escalating noise of marketing, it’s no coincidence that the need for good, old-fashioned storytelling is finding its way into business conversations. More than just a buzzword, storytelling is important to businesses because it’s important to people. People are naturally sociable, inquisitive and drawn to be emotionally involved — the very reason hard-selling tactics and even traditional advertising methods now prove about as persuasive as a white-knuckle handshake from Donald Trump. Forced, unwelcome and ineffectual, it simply leaves the recipient feeling violated.

A cheeky little off-shoot of content marketing, storytelling is ultimately about making a connection. As described in Ann Handley’s content marketing bible Content Rules: “…the point of creating killer content is to convert browsers into buyers and customers into regulars or (better yet) rabid fans, ambassadors, and advocates”. The beauty of storytelling is that it does all of that while not even breaking a sweat. Indeed, while it’s increasingly tricky to get noticed amid the marketing clutter, it seems it’s the stories, largely on account of their personal nature, that reach and affect audiences on an emotional level in spite of appearing, well, frankly… disengaged from the brand they’re promoting.

…the point of creating killer content is to convert browsers into buyers and customers into regulars or (better yet) rabid fans, ambassadors, and advocates

Ann Handley

Take Nike who have been telling stories for longer than most. Nike recently released a minute-long film (it’s difficult to call it a commercial in the traditional sense) which basically played out like an homage to Michael Jordan, recounting his career achievements. Only right at the very end, over an old school photograph of Jordan, does Nike’s slogan and logo appear. Effortless somehow — and yet what a way to make a lasting impression: building the brand with an authentic story and not so much as a whisper of “want me, buy me”! And yet, I’m sold.

Storytelling is that quite ballsy tactic whereby you desperately crave the attention of someone you like but get them to notice you by pretending like the exact opposite is true. Storytelling will front the coolest version of itself, broodily gaze into the middle-distance, run its fingers through its hair and drip-feed its target audience with teasers of interesting snippets, but no more. Not straightaway. Storytelling will get noticed on account of its irresistible aloofness, combined with a certain air of promise. When it finally does decide to roll out its entire yarn, the engagement is so deeply personal and satisfying to the recipient, we’re now ready to share an apartment and buy a small dog. 

Online marketing platform provider Clickx sums it up thus: “The main difference between storytelling and other types of marketing is its combination of subtlety and indirectness. It takes some genuine creativity to help establish a brand while indirectly selling a product or service.”

Now if that’s what you want for your brand, here’s some free advice: don’t just dig into the stories within — dig into the stuff that’s yet untold. Just as we don’t get the whole picture when we discount a certain group of people from telling their story, so something magical happens when we invite them in. And of course, it’s never been easier to lend a voice to those who want to be heard. Recently observed by experience design expert Lance Weiler in an article for the World Economic Forum: “Technology, as a creative partner, has always shaped the ways in which stories are found and told. In the 21st century, for example, the mass democratization of creative tools – code, data and algorithms – has changed the relationship between creator and audience.”

The main difference between storytelling and other types of marketing is its combination of subtlety and indirectness. It takes some genuine creativity to help establish a brand while indirectly selling a product or service.

Clickx

Essentially, what he’s saying is that the stories are all there but it’s the telling that is shifting, something keenly recognised by more and more businesses, among them digital storytelling bastions Sticky Beat. They put customer experiences — and by extension their emotional connection — at the very centre of their work. Time and again, they find that nurturing a sense of curiosity, openness and storytelling yields infinitely more benefits than the stale approach of old.

It’s something we’re discovering more and more at newly formed Goldstorm, where I’m a partner. We work with packaging design, a world where the risk of ending up “all surface and no substance” is ever present. Making an emotional connection with a biscuit wrapper or provoking a reaction with a bottle of wine is not always straightforward — but it is always necessary. Especially in the wine industry, for decades caught up in its own musty snobbery and protectionist self-worth, the millennials’ wake-up call for new storytelling has in recent years resounded like a rude klaxon through the vineyards. From Champagne to Napa, the realisation that “terroir” is no longer a story unto itself has had a whole industry almost choke on their pinot noir. The newbies of drinking age crave brands and products that not just speak to them but that will give them some kind of narrative to their own story. Part of that is of course embedded in the design and it’s just that — creating that connection — which makes our work so intensely satisfying.

Perhaps you as a business owner or brand builder can yield some satisfaction from this too? Try it: decide what stories you want to convey and why your audience should care. What experience are they going to get? Then get it all out there before your competitor does and watch the power of storytelling unfold. Most likely, you’ll find a happy ending.

Linda Ohlson Smith

  • Goldstorm

  • Owner & Client Director

Linda Ohlson Smith är grundare och delägare i Goldstorm, en design- och kommunikationsbyrå med fokus på förpackningsdesign. Efter 25 år i England och åtta år i Tyskland har hon ett internationellt, kommersiellt perspektiv på det mesta. “Lagom” finns inte med i registret — lösningar ska vara lika estetiskt tilltalande som de är smarta.

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