When I started at Procter and Gamble, we had 30 seconds (at most) to engage and communicate with a consumer. The emphasis was on identifying the single most important idea that we needed to convey and then communicating that to consumers. When I left P&G to work for a catalog/online sales company, I learned an important lesson. We often had 30 minutes or more to engage with our consumer (through catalogs, online content, and a call center) and so the marketing messages had to shift from an easy-to-understand single idea to a series of compelling stories that drove deeper engagement that lasted longer. And I learned how hard great storytelling is.
Today, many CMOs have identified better content through storytelling as a key marketing imperative. To understand why storytelling should be a priority for marketers, I turned to James Warren, Founder and CEO of Share More Stories, a storytelling insights company, and Senior Director of Brand Strategy for JMI, a Richmond-based marketing firm. Below, he shares three reasons why he believes that storytelling is the best way for marketers to engage customers.
Why Storytelling Should Be a Priority for Marketers
1) Storytelling enables marketers to develop a deeper connection with the audience. Storytelling is a fundamental human experience that unites people and drives stronger, deeper connections. From the earliest recorded history, storytelling was a method used by cavemen to communicate, educate, share, and connect. As an example, think about Suburu’s ads which communicate “love” through a series of ads that establishes the car brand as a symbol of caring for those you love. Whether it’s a father caring for his son or daughter, or a parent caring for their beloved pet, the series of ads are more about what the brand represents to the family than the horsepower that the car delivers. By communicating the brand through stories, Suburu is able to elevate the meaning of the brand and better crystalize how it fits into customers’ lives.
2) Storytelling is a powerful method for Learning. As marketers, we should always be seeking to learn more about the world we live in, the brands that we represent, and the consumers that we serve. One of the things that is unique about stories is that they transmit knowledge and meaning. We learn from observations, first-hand experiences, and by sharing those experiences through stories. Storytelling can be a powerful tool that enables marketers to understand what is going on in the marketplace and what that means for the customer, consumer, society, brand, and company.
3) In addition to being an important strategic tool, storytelling can be an important tactical tool that lets marketers engage consumers in a fragmented media world. Because there is such media fragmentation, consumers are not just looking for different experiences but different delivery. Why should a consumer give you their time? Storytelling isn’t just a creative approach to marketing. It gives your consumers a totally different entry to your brand.
Kimberly Whitler: Can you give us an example of a brand that you think does a great job of storytelling and why?
James Warren: A great storytelling brand is the Yankees. It has been the core of their brand for 100+ years. They not only tell the hero’s journey, but they use failure to turn it into Yankee lore. Steinbrenner was a master storyteller; he could not only capture the Yankee story but he could stoke it. Even when things didn’t go well, they embraced individual struggles and looked for opportunities at redemption; as an example, consider Darryl Strawberry. Now, they have the YES Network where shows like Yankeeography share great stories about players from past and present, and others like Stars and PinStripes share stories from celebrity Yankees fans. Importantly, it isn’t just a story that the brand owns—it is a shared narrative between New Yorkers, fans, and the Yankees. This use of failure, redemption, and success helps make the organization a little more human and a little more relatable, and these stories are helping the fans get closer to the brand. In a sense, the Yankees story extends beyond their own media platforms into ones they don’t even own. All-time Yankee great Derek Jeter started the Players’ Tribune a couple years ago to give athletes a chance to share their own stories; several of his former teammates have used the platform to do just that. It isn’t about a carefully structured message but rather about sharing experiences through stories so that we are more deeply communicated.
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