June 2, 2015
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the minds stays up all night, telling itself stories.” – Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
American author and journalist, Ernest Hemingway once made a $10 bet with some writer friends that he could write a powerfully emotive novel in six words. He wrote the following on a cocktail napkin and, shortly thereafter, collected his winnings:
Stories are how we self-identify, how we create meaning, how we collaborate, connect and understand ourselves and others better.
Good storytelling speaks to something primal inside us. As with the Hemingway example above, it evokes emotion and creates a connection with the reader.
Brands the world over are adopting brand storytelling to cut through the clutter and reach an audience who are becoming increasingly resistant to marketing and advertising that doesn’t answer Simon Sinek’s crucial question of “Why?”
Social media has created an abundance of channels for brands to communicate to their audiences and yet, more often than not, brands aren’t using those channels to their full potential.
So how can brands create compelling stories that connect with their audiences in an authentic way through social? Here are three top tips that, if used correctly, can deliver brand messaging that cements your brand firmly in the hearts and minds of your audience.
Story first, format second
“Ok… So what are we doing on [insert social network]?” is a question that comes up far too often in brand strategy meetings. It is a question based on tickbox-thinking where marketers move down a list of available channels, ticking each one as they go to make sure they are adopting a “360° approach”.
Story should always come first. What is the message you are trying to communicate and why are you trying to communicate it? Only once you can answer those two questions definitively should you start thinking about what format that content should take and what channels it should be distributed through.
Redbull has built a rock solid brand by associating itself with extreme sports and death-defying acts of sheer lunacy bravery. Even without the red and orange clothing that the tightrope walker is wearing in this Vine, we could probably still guess the brand.
This is because Redbull doesn’t sell energy drinks. Redbull sells adrenaline-fuelled experiences that leave us breathless and makes us want to push the boundaries of the impossible. Redbull didn’t sit around a boardroom table and say “Ok guys. Vines are cool. What vines should we make?”
They said “What is Redbull? It’s exhilarating, it’s daring, it’s life-affirming, it’s ballsy. How do we show people that? How about getting a tightrope walker to walk on a rope across a canyon without a safety harness. Perfect. Now what format would that content work best for?”
Authenticity or bust
The true power of social lies in its authenticity. The selfie you took as you were about to file into the university hall for your graduation ceremony. The pic of the unexpected bouquet of roses sent by a secret admirer. The rugby boots you found among your father’s possessions. Social allows us to share all these authentic experiences, these snapshots of life with thousands of people at the touch of a button.
The best way for brands to connect through social is to create content that isn’t brand-y. Content that embraces the sole reason why social was created in the first place – to share our experiences.
Take three minutes to watch the “First Kiss” video by WREN if you haven’t already and even if you have, watch it one more time:
Not even the best actor in the world could match the tension, the anticipation and the passion that the “kissers” in this video show us. The brand name appears once at start of the video. We have no idea who they are or what they sell and yet we are compelled to find out more.
The authenticity of this video is such that we feel instantly connected with the brand and eager to share this powerful piece of content through our own networks.
Give your story to your audience
Social isn’t a soapbox. If you treat it like a one-way communication platform that’s all it will ever be and the eyes of your audience will glaze over as your brand fades from memory if it was ever there in the first place.
The brands who are using social to its full potential are the ones that plant a seed, a thought in the minds of their audience, then let that seed grow freely and share the fruits with fans and followers.
User generated content is one of the most powerful forms of marketing because it is essentially word-of-mouth (ie. personal endorsements) made digital.
Back in 2012, Clothing Brand Free People did this by assigning hashtags to a selection of denim items and encouraging people to upload pictures of themselves wearing one of those items to Twitter or Instagram using the designated hashtags. These pics were then featured on their site in a gallery called “Customer Street Style”.
In this way, they are handing the brand story over to their audience and allowing them the freedom to interpret that brand story in any way they choose whilst staying true to the free spirit of the brand.
More recently, Starbucks did this with their White Cup competition where they encouraged fans to doodle on white, Starbucks-branded cups and submit pictures as entries. The winning template would become a limited edition Starbucks cup.
Nearly 4,000 people submitted entries in a 3-week period as a result of Starbucks handing their branding over to their audience, inviting collaboration and allowing their audience to tell the brand story however they chose.
With these three top tips in mind, you can begin to tell social brand stories that cut through the clutter, connect with your audience and deliver results.