“We’re seeing this expansion of what non-fiction can be in storytelling, I think they’re more thrilling than a lot of fiction films.” These are not our words but the ones of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-winning American documentary film director and producer. You think your story is boring, or worse, that you don’t have any? Think again. Everyone has a story, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions and finding the right way to present it to do it justice. Real life stories of “ordinary” people are often the best.
But what is storytelling and why should you care? In marketing, storytelling is the art of using your story to engage with your audience and build your brand. It’s telling who you are as an organization, where you come from and what you aspire to. This way, your audience can gain a better understanding of your DNA, relate to your experience and connect with your brand. Some organizations rely heavily on their leader’s story and vision, using their persona to brand themselves, while others prefer to let the brand shine on its own.
As the founder of his business, a visionary and a great communicator, Steve Jobs was an excellent example of what a charismatic persona can do for a brand. But not all leaders can do that and sometimes, it’s best to have them work behind the scenes in favour of the brand. The example below is interesting in that although it’s certainly not Steve Job’s most memorable speech, when compared to Bill Gates, it’s clear that telling a story is much more natural to him than it is to his Microsoft colleague.
Note: our objective is certainly not to make fun of Bill Gates but you may find yourself smirking while watching this video!
Like it or not, consumers have never been so solicited and they have the luxury of choosing where they spend their dollars. Globalization has flattened the offer and although this can be comforting to some, it’s harder than ever to stand out in the crowd. The result is that consumers are somewhat “blasé” and good customer service is no longer the norm. But when faced with it, people notice and acknowledge it. While we can argue that traditions are still valued by some, novelty – or at least the capacity to reinvent oneself – gets a lot of traction. Ultimately, you don’t want your business to be a trend that will soon be forgotten but you don’t want it to be an antique either; you want to show people that you value where you come from while being able to evolve and adapt. At the end of the day, telling your story can help you keep your existing clientele AND tap into a younger demographic.
How to tell a story right
Ever read a book that you can’t seem to put down or watched a movie a 1,000 times? Well that’s probably the result of good storytelling. Those stories may have been fictional but there’s no reason why the same formula can’t be applied to your own story.
Think about it. What are the ingredients to a good story? First, the plot. It has to be consistent so that it makes sense but it also needs to have a few punch lines to surprise you and pike your interest. Second, the characters themselves. Perhaps you feel a connection or perhaps you’re intrigued by the fact that they are total opposites of you. And there’s always some sort of villain, that you just love to hate. Lastly, there’s the way the story is told. In the case of books, some like the narrative to be extremely detailed so they can picture exactly how things would look like in reality. On screen, there may be a narrator but things like music, costumes, lighting, decor and the actors themselves all have an influence on what the final product will look like and how you react to it.
All of this to say that whether you are literally writing your story, creating a video, recording a podcast or assembling images for a presentation, you have to think about all the elements that will make your story a memorable one.
The power of storytelling
What you have to know is that length is not necessarily a gage of quality, nor will it guarantee that people engage with your brand. In fact, in some instances, it could well be the contrary.
Remember the picture of the Napalm girl? If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then you will probably remember that internationally renowned picture of a young Vietnamese girl running naked surrounded by a scene of horror. Although some truths behind this picture have lately been questioned, if you had never seen it, it would be fairly easy to put the pieces together. Perhaps your version of the story would be slightly different than the real one but the fact of a matter is that there would be a common thread between your story and others’ as the sense of desperation emanating from that little girl can’t leave anyone indifferent. A picture worth a thousand words; these are the keepers in all of their glory and their horror.
Minus the emotional aspect of it, infographics can have a similar powerful impact. The good ones in particular can relay information of a more practical nature efficiently and quickly while adopting a more playful tone that will help position your brand.
And while short written stories often don’t allow to describe something as much as we’d like them to in order to set the tone, the reality is that people’s attention span is nowadays extremely short. In order to grab their attention, the best is often to combine imagery, written words and video for maximum impact, and to divide your story in multiple short stories so to benefit from a repeat exposure and ensure that people heard and now understand what is your story.