For ages, storytelling was an effective way to capture history. It started out as a visual artform – cavemen created drawings about animals and ancient Egyptians told stories about survival using hieroglyphics. Over time, stories started to pass by word of mouth and then through the written word.
Today, most of our modern storytelling happens through technology. It also has a different purpose. When it’s done right, storytelling can serve as one of the most effective and authentic ways to raise awareness about your brand.
What is the art of storytelling?
Storytelling involves building a narrative to communicate a message to a specific audience. This means pulling together facts and information in a compelling way to educate, entertain, or both.
But when companies use storytelling for the purposes of marketing and improving brand awareness, it takes on a more nuanced meaning.
At its core, storytelling employs a concept known as emotional branding.
Emotional branding is advertising that speaks directly to a customer’s needs and feelings.
For example, to sell its signature sodas, Coca-Cola doesn’t focus on the technical aspects of its products, like the ingredients it sources or the bottling plants it uses. Instead, it homes in on the way its drinks make customers feel.
Its current slogan reads, “Refresh the World. Make a Difference.” The related print and television ads communicate a sense of hope and unity across cultures. The overarching message is that drinking a Coke will help you find common ground with other people, regardless of who you are or where you live.
In marketing, this is the essence of how storytelling works. It provides value to the customer by showing how a certain product or service will positively impact their life and solve their problems. It also helps you share your brand’s identity and personality.
When brands use storytelling, making customers feel is the first objective; selling to them is secondary.
Why does storytelling work for both business and consumers
Storytelling is effective because it’s a natural part of our everyday lives
Research shows that 65% of the conversations we have with other people involve some element of storytelling, whether it’s relaying a personal story or sharing gossip about someone else.
We are good at processing and connecting with the story and the owner.
Furthermore, humans are wired for it. Science studies have shown that storytelling activates a process called neural coupling, where different parts of our brains are activated and we use our own experiences to process the story that we’re observing. We form a personal connection to the material.
That connection also extends to the person telling the story. In the case of advertising, that connection could be with the people or actors featured in your ad or with your brand.
Research shows that we remember stories better than factual information
In fact, when a message is delivered as a story, it’s 22 times more memorable than when it’s delivered as straightforward, factual information. This is due to the fact that storytelling also triggers the release of dopamine, which helps us remember the story more clearly and accurately.
The power of well crafted storytelling
In the past, traditional advertising was focused on selling – this is our product, this is what it’s made of, and this is what it does. But the customer craves something more personalized and inspired.
A study by OneSpot states that 92% of customers want advertising that feels like stories.
This is because stories have power. In addition to fostering more meaningful connections, great storytelling can help the audience learn and retain new information. And, it can help companies stand out in the attention economy.
Modern consumers are bombarded with all sorts of content across multiple devices. In this media environment, they’ve become less responsive to run-of-the-mill ads. A well-told story can break through the digital noise.
Why do we need storytelling
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Each year, Google releases a video called “Year in Search”. It’s immensely popular – the 2019 installment has logged more than 151 million views to date.
It lasts roughly two minutes, and strings together photos and videos of the most popular search terms of the year. On one hand, this is advertising for Google. It reminds the viewer of just how important the search engine is in our daily lives.
But it also stirs up emotion in the viewer by using a mix of pivotal moments, both joyful and tragic. More than an ad for Google, it’s a powerful reminder of the year that the viewer endured. It forces them to think about the highs and lows of that year and what they mean in the greater scheme of their lives.
This speaks to the greater purpose of storytelling. When we listen to or watch stories, we aren’t just absorbing information. We use stories to understand the world around us.
Stories can help us justify the things we feel and believe. They can help us work through difficult decisions. They can influence our choices to take a certain action or avoid it. Stories are an integral part of how we communicate.
Brands need storytelling because it accomplishes so much more than promoting a product. It can help shape a viewer’s perception of that product and its impact in their life and beyond.
Elements of effective storytelling
Though storytelling is effective and meaningful, not just any story will do. There are 4 four simple but critical storytelling techniques we should bear in mind.
1. Ensure the message is clear
Every story should have a thesis statement. There should be a clear principle or moral that the audience takes away once the story is over. Before you create an outline or storyboard, the ultimate objective of the story must be established.
2. Make it emotional
For storytelling to work, it has to incorporate an emotion, like happiness or anger. One way to ensure your story includes emotion is to draw from your personal experiences. If you want the audience to feel joy, think of a time in your life when you experienced joy and recreate that in your story.
3. Don’t make it about your brand
While it’s true that storytelling’s purpose is to spread awareness of your brand, the central character of your story shouldn’t be the brand itself or one of its executives. Instead, create characters or heroes that the audience can relate to.
4. Create a journey
Stories should highlight some sort of conflict or struggle. Then, by the story’s end, the hero should overcome the struggle to find success. Even if the story is just two minutes long, it should take the audience on a complete journey.
Brands that understand well the concept of storytelling
For examples of these storytelling principles in action, look to some of the world’s most prominent brands.
Burberry, a luxury fashion brand with a 161-year-old legacy, has used high-quality and long-form video content to teach customers about its history and take them behind the scenes. The fashion house’s YouTube channel is a full-fledged entertainment destination, featuring everything from makeup tutorials and celebrity interviews to art films and footage of its runway shows.
In its video “The Tale of Thomas Burberry”, Burberry enlisted a roster of A-list talent to creatively reimagine events in the life of its founder. The roughly three-minute film was directed by Academy Award winner Asif Kapadia and starred Sienna Miller, Domhnall Gleeson, Dominic West, and Lily James. To date, it has logged more than 15 million views. The short film was just one example of how Burberry has used storytelling to build its fanbase and engage its audience off the runway.
When Steve Jobs took the stage to announce the first iPhone in 2007, he didn’t start out by talking about the iPhone. Instead, he built the case for why the phone was important.
He revisited Apple’s legacy and biggest achievements, and he spoke about the state of the smartphone market. He built anticipation first and introduced the phone second. It was a simplistic, low-fi way to tell a story about a technological innovation that would change the world. And it worked.
A third case study. Since its founding, community has played a huge role in Airbnb’s business. For example, guests and hosts can use the Social Connections feature to see if they have Facebook friends in common before booking a stay. But Airbnb went one step further and decided to use the community in its brand storytelling.
On the dedicated page “Stories from the Airbnb Community”, users share personal testimonials about their travel experiences in short-form videos. On their own, the videos are informative and entertaining. But by enlisting users to tell stories for the brand, Airbnb is also using social proof to demonstrate its trustworthiness and win new customers.
How to apply storytelling successfully to your business? With real world case studies
Once you understand how to tell a great story and you’ve identified a story that you want to tell your audience, there a few ways to approach it.
Visual storytelling to attract attention
In visual storytelling, you’ll use video, photos, or infographics to connect with your audience. However, video is the most popular way to share a story, and it’s in demand. According to HubSpot, 54% of consumers want more video content from the brands they like.
A strong video should employ the following techniques:
Make your story complete. There should be a beginning, middle, and end. Think of it as a mini movie or TV episode.
Use movement. Rather than using a string of static images, use dynamic video or animation.
Pick the right colors. Select colors that match the emotions you’re conveying. For example, warm colors like orange, red, and yellow typically communicate happiness. You should also ensure you incorporate colors that are consistent with your brand style guidelines.
Get familiar with visual hierarchy. Whether it’s a word or a product, the most important item in a shot should be at the top of the screen.
Close out strong. End your video with the most impactful image you have. Think about the ultimate objective of your story and ensure the final image drives this message home.
Take advantages of new technologies like 3d configuration, VR/ AR and AI chatbots
Technological advances are giving brands new, innovative ways to take their storytelling to the next level.
Source: Guerlain official website
3D product configurators are interactive tools that allow online shoppers to view 3D renderings of products and customize them in real-time. For example, a customer could pull up an image of a sneaker and view it from multiple angles. Then, they could select different color schemes to figure out what they like best.
This gives customers the power of choice, and it helps them make fast, informed decisions. From a storytelling standpoint, the customer takes an active role in forming a relationship with your product.
Augmented reality (AR) storytelling involves using technology to overlay a user’s real world with graphics or information. This was the foundation of the viral mobile game Pokémon Go, and many brands are putting it to use.
L’Oréal integrated its makeup collections into the YouCam Makeup app. Users could upload a selfie and overlay different lipstick shades and products on their faces. Like 3D product configurators, this too gives users a direct role in telling the story.
Informational and data-driven storytelling for committed and sophisticated clients
This form of storytelling is more straightforward and uses content like whitepapers, blog posts, and PowerPoint presentations. Brands use traditional materials to tell a compelling story through the written word.
With data-driven storytelling, brands find compelling ways to share important statistics without relying on reports.
Every year, Spotify gives each user a personalized Year in Review, which details the amount of time they’ve spent in the app.
Instead of just listing numbers, Spotify uses dynamic graphics to illustrate users’ listening habits. On the surface, it’s a fun way for listeners to revisit their favorite music of the past year. But the underlying purpose is to reinforce the user’s loyalty to the app.
limitations and future of storytelling
Storytelling has its many benefits, but there are roadblocks to steer clear of.
It’s important to remember that stories should center around characters instead of the brand, and the brand’s values should be consistent across each story. The featured characters and scenarios should also be relatable.
In December 2019, Peloton faced tremendous backlash for a holiday ad it released. In it, a woman receives a Peloton bike from her husband and documents a yearlong fitness journey using the bike. Viewers complained that the ad reinforced unrealistic body image standards and outdated views about gender roles.
The incident showed that, if a brand is not in sync with its audience, its storytelling efforts can bring unwanted attention.
As storytelling continues to grow in popularity, it will only become more immersive due to new tech.
Advanced technologies will have an increasingly important impact in this process to help brands educate, entertain, and innovate.
By using AR and VR, the audience will continue to play a more active role in telling the story. Emotions will be elicited not just by what the audience sees but also by what they feel and the actions they take.
And, we’ll see this move beyond branding efforts. Even fields like education and journalism will combine storytelling best practices and new technology to reach new audiences.
Storytelling offers a more engaging and authentic way to connect with your target audience. Compared to traditional advertising, it has more of an impact because the audience is naturally wired to respond to it. There’s also a growing demand for it.
Success in storytelling will require brands to create clear messaging and maintain consistency across each story. If they’re done well, great stories will accomplish more than simply selling a product or service – they’ll help potential customers form an emotional bond with your brand.