In our million channel world, it is the brands whose customers tell the best stories, that win. Yet how often do we give them "real stories" to tell? How many of the things we communicate make their conversations more interesting? As I just got invited to the Ogilvy Brussels’ Summer Camp on Storytelling (aka. the best BBQ in town), I thought this would be a good excuse to give it a shot.
So, … Once upon a time there where Ten Truths of Branded Storytelling …
Truth # 1: Seek the Story to Rule them All
Great brand stories stem from the reason a brand exists. Apple wanted to free creative spirits while slaying the Microsoft dragon. Coco Chanel set out to re-invent fashion and liberate women from tradition. Pepsi wants to be a catalyst for change for every generation. Dig into the history, people and promises of your brand to uncover its Unique Story Proposition (USP). Make this the anchor for everything other story you tell.
Truth # 2: Great Stories Come To You, If You Listen
Once you have defined your USP, use every opportunity to listen for supporting stories from your staff, suppliers and customers. Encourage people to bring these stories through competitions, blogging and more importantly actually listening to them. In fact, merely guiding people’s attention towards your USP sets the storytelling wheels in motion. All you have to do is watch the magic happen.
Truth # 3: Amplify Those Stories That Others Can Tell
The brands that win tomorrow are those whose customers tell the best stories. As you discover stories that match your USP, select those that are simple enough to remember and fun to recite. Minimise plot-twists and complex layers and highlight those aspects that re-enforce your overall brand message. Test what sticks best, and when you’ve got it, put the weight of your media behind them so they can start living a life of their own.
Truth #4: Connect your Branding Efforts to Your USP
Each commercial, branded entertainment programme or promo is a “mini-story” within the overall framework of your brand. It should always connect to your Unique Story Proposition. Work with your agency to establish creative parameters and rigorously apply them to each idea. And in case of protest from the imaginative classes, remind people that Shakespeare, Mozart and Da Vinci also had a heavy rulebook to consider.
Truth #5: Connect your Story Efforts to Your Bottom Line
A great story is nice, yet to make money, it has to press the “buy” button in the customer’s brain. For this you need to ensure that your story “ticks” the age-old behavioural triggers like emotion, contrast, egocentricity, the power of beginnings, etc. Use them, and people will respond. Avoid them at your peril. This book is actually a good guide.
Truth #6: Know Your Classics (yet don’t get hung up on them)
Writers from Aristotle to Vogler have successfully captured the essence of storytelling into rules and recipes. However, when taking their guidance, it’s easy to get intimidated by the need for story arches, archetypes, enemies, heroes, challenges. Study and apply their teachings, yet don’t let them get in the way of actually telling the story (even if it’s not perfect). What you say is infinitely more important than how you say it.
Truth #7: Storytelling is Not Just About Words
Reflect your USP in everything you do. The way you design your product, the way you build your stores, the way your staff dresses and behaves, the way you deal with your customers. Your brand’s actual behaviour is the loudest storyteller of them all and any dissonance will be noticed. Look at every touchpoint and benchmark it against the story you aim to tell. If there is a disconnect, fix it. At some point it will blow up in your face.
Truth #8: You Don’t Need to Tell it All
If you want to promote word-of-mouth, leave the mystery. People don’t want to know how the sausage it made. People love to guess the end of the novel. Telling all of your brand’s story at once is not only a waste of opportunity, it actually turns consumers off. Use your story as a prelude or epilogue to the actual experience of using your product or service. If you truly live your USP, people can fill in the blanks themselves.
Truth #9: Let Go of the Illusion of Control
In the old world, there was the comforting illusion that if you shot enough GRP’s at de-sensitized consumers, all would be well. In story-world, this illusion is gone. Good stories amplify themselves. Bad stories die. But stories also evolve as they travel from ear to mouth. Resist the urge to intervene, and definitely never call in the lawyers if you run into internet versions which don’t fit the original creative brief. After all, the fact that a customer talks about you, means she cares.
Truth #10: You Cannot Fake Authenticity
Last, but definitely not least, ensure your stories reflect the real behaviour of your brand. In the age of consumer generated media any sign of insincerity will backfire. Every claim you make will be investigated by someone, somewhere. And in contrast to the old days where you could just “hush up” things with a bit of crisis PR, the footsteps you leave in Google-sand cannot be erased.
Have a happily ever after!
Photo Credit books: http://www.flickr.com/photos/88548643@N00/