Art of Business Storytelling – An effective way to strengthen your Brand

business storytelling
Your logo tells a story about you. It communicates not just what you do or who you are but also tells your “truth” — like what moves you or what does your company stand for or even what your company aspires to be. According to branding experts, that tiny piece of graphic called the logo must tell something about you in about 90 seconds. Amazing, right? Just like your logo, everything you try to communicate to your market, all the information that comes from you — whether it be an ad, a flyer, a tweet, or a Facebook post — is done to tell people who matter to you :

  • Who you are?
  • What is important to you?
  • What you are about?

…and that is called “storytelling.”

Business Storytelling is all about Connecting with People

In some cases, those storytellers forget to ponder one very important question from the perspective of the listener — “Why should it matter to know?”. They get so caught up about telling their brand’s stories, they forget that their stories must engage. In an age when information can ride the “speed of light” and join the trillion bytes of data running in the digital universe all designed to tell people something, are the stories you are bent on telling merely adding to the noise people want to ignore? Ray Hartjen of retailnext.net has a better way of putting it:

You see, storytelling, at its root, is a one-way “broadcasting,” or telling, of a message. It’s a decidedly Web 1.0 tactic in a Web 2.0 world, and consumers are not interested in passively hearing stories – it’s way too easy to simply tune out and move on.

The Shift

Storymaking in business

When “The Beginning of the End of Storytelling” written by ad agency MRY CMO David Berkowitz came out in Ad Age, those in marketing were already aware of how consumers are wary of “stories.” Suspicious of paid content, consumers have begun to place a much higher value to endorsements of family and friends. The unprecedented growth of social networks provided people a broader platform to share their endorsements to a wider audience. Social media strengthened the higher credibility placed by consumers to word-of-mouth (WOM) and user-generated-content (UGC). Social media enabled anyone to share their own experiences about a brand instantly.

And it is this process — the shift from being the creator of content to the receiving end of it — that Berkowitz article discussed well. Berkowitz cited the “Share a Coke” campaign and how the campaign makes it easy for people to weave their own Coke stories into their everyday lives. He cites:

One small but striking moment I witnessed was when my teammate Kate wound up with a bottle labeled “Adam,” and she saved the bottle for my colleague Adam, who was all too happy to have it. Before the campaign, they wouldn’t have even valued the empty bottle for the recycling refund. Instead, what would have been a piece of trash wound up strengthening their relationship in some small way.” Coke connected with us in a very personal way, through our names – and it made us feel special.

It’s Yin and Yang

While Berkowitz proposes a shift, another author Richard Ellis of thismoment.com stresses that the importance of storytelling is not in any way diminished simply because the shift is being proposed. Ellis argues that storymaking happens because there was a powerful, compelling story told in the first place. Ellis states “To Make Stories, You Have to Tell Stories First”

Storymaking relies on turning audience members into storytellers. However, to spark participation, collect user-generated content (UGC), curate it and re-distribute it, marketers still need to tell stories.

While storymaking may be a more engaging way to share a brand’s story and connect with an audience, you can’t get around storytelling. There are no participants for storymaking until marketers have invited them with a compelling story… The invitation to storymaking is great storytelling.

Sally Falkow shares Ellis’ point of view in storytelling versus storymaking. Falkow points out:

…the power of story lies in the response you evoke in the audience. Writers know that. Movie makers know that. Even a good presenter know that unless the audience has a response nothing good happened.

Yet when we tell a brand story we tend to get so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of the power of engaging the audience and letting them into the story. We should be encouraging them to own that story and weave it into their business or their lives.

Case Study

cookie-maker-case-study

An owner of a cookie cutter company approached us to ask what would make a great campaign for emails more than regular announcements and promos. We suggested she seriously pursue an original idea she had — feature her customers and their cookie baking stories.

The email campaign we proposed is not so much about the hard-to-resist, cookie cutters she had hundreds of to offer (and yes, they were truly adorable!). The campaign was about the joy her customers experienced in the process of baking for and with their loved ones “happy-looking” cookies. For some who let their children be part of the process of baking cookies, it’s sharing “kitchen stories” that hopefully will live on for years to come. For others, it the annual baking of say, “Ghoul” cookies that has become a family tradition that completes every Halloween.

One story focused on passing the joy of baking to the younger generation. The second story centered on creating family traditions. Both stories were made possible by uniquely-shaped cookie-cutters from her company.

This is what we honestly believe — if a brand can weave itself as a part of a personal story in a role no matter how small, the brand succeeds and storytelling is made possible.

share-business-stories

Weaving Stories Together

Successful branding happens because people can relate to a brand. It could be that they know the brand from the stories “told” about it (i.e. how Steve Jobs passionately believed all computers should have a GUI back when DOS was the thing?) or how the brand helped create stories of their own (i.e. how your first Apple computer made it possible for you to create your first slideshow at the age of 7 for your Mom on her birthday?).

hill-storymakers-quote

As branding experts, we agree that the story told must be powerful and compelling enough to invite people to share your own stories. Branding experts are encouraged to provide the opportunity and the platform to encourage storymaking. While we completely agree that providing the opportunity is of utmost importance, we do have our reservations about providing the platform. We believe great stories will ultimately find a way to be told with or without a platform. Fortunately, we did find people who see things in a similar light.

Keith Goldberg of socialmediatoday.com believes the same thing too. Goldberg states:

As humans, we often don’t remember how the things that impact us are delivered. We don’t think very much about the platforms on which they arrive.

Making the shift happen

Storymaking is the desired outcome of great storytelling. It is more than just a feedback those in marketing desire to receive. It is a validation that a deeper connection was made. It is receiving personal testimonies about how a brand has lived up to its promise by helping inspire other great stories that need telling. Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi summarizes it all perfectly:

StoryMakers deal in return on involvement rather than return on investment.

People do not want to listen to stories; they want to be part of the story, part of the narrative, part of the conversation.

At the most basic level, when you are communicating with people, simply telling a story is no longer enough. People today don’t just want to listen passively as a storyteller spins them a yarn. They want to participate, to be immersed in experiences, to have a sense of autonomy and control. This in turn presents new challenges for brands.

What leaders need to look for now is not return on investment but ‘return on involvement.’ We live in a participation economy, not an attention economy. The one-way, broadcast mentality has been replaced by inclusion and collaboration. People do not want to listen to stories; they want to be part of the story, part of the narrative, part of the conversation. They are looking for inspiration over information.

So the question is not if you can shift from storytelling to storymaking. Storytelling can’t just “happen” because you suddenly decided to shift from talking to listening. Storytelling happens when a brand inspires. The question therefore isn’t whether you can shift from storytelling to storymaking. The question is:

Does your brand inspire?