Why has storytelling become the latest big thing for business and brands?
Some might say it always was, but wasn’t described as such. Both public relations and marketing have long-shared the responsibility for getting companies and their products “out there” into the public consciousness – based on concepts including “profile raising”, “messaging”, “positioning” and “brand building”.
From a public relations perspective, dealing with the media has always meant helping companies think in terms of stories: finding them, developing and presenting them in a way that will pass successfully through the editorial filter and convert into media coverage.
Yet storytelling is now the by-word for how companies and brands are trying to tap into a more fundamental part of the human psyche – the need to tell and be told stories – which (when it works) somehow transcends the commercial relationship between seller and buyer.
The idea of “contagious storytelling” is connected with how stories affect the brain, according to David Wiles of Good Relations, which hosted a storytelling session in Manchester this week.
“[Stories] create a more emotional connection and – literally create brand love,” he said.
The agency’s client – Canon – has adopted the storytelling approach in its “Live for the story” campaign*, which is about focusing on why people enjoy having cameras (capturing their life “story” in photos) rather than selling them a camera’s technical features, so moving the brand from product to customer-centric. As Wiles said, making Canon a better storyteller also has a direct effect on the company’s bottom line.
Quoting Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, Wiles highlighted the “attributes of contagious stories”:
- Social currency – creating something worth sharing
- Triggers – something that becomes associated with a brand (e.g. the “Orange Wednesdays” cinema tickets promotion)
- Emotion – showing you care
- Public – something clear and visible
- Practical values – benefiting the recipient in some way (e.g. “How to” or top tips guides)
- Stories – creating a narrative.
The psychology of stories
The effect of stories on the human mind is what makes the storytelling approach so valuable in a business context, according to Dr Mark Batey, reader in creativity and innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University and another expert speaker at the Good Relations event.
He explained how storytelling enables “memory chunking”: taking disparate facts and information and making them more memorable. Echoing David Wiles, he emphasised how stories are powerful tools in the way they engage with human emotion and can act as effective “safety devices”, as the information they convey tends to stick firmly with the consumer of the story.
Batey described applying the psychology of stories to the world of business can help create so-called “charismatic leadership tactics”. This means deploying:
- Metaphors, similes and analogies
- Stories and anecdotes – for example, Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- Contrasts: John F Kennedy used this technique well in his “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
- Moral conviction and reflecting group feelings: see Churchill’s wartime speeches.
- Conveying confidence: for example, the speeches of Ghandi in the quest for Indian independence
- Your voice, facial and body expressions.
In the most effective storytelling, Batey said, “You’ve got to give value – make people laugh, cry; make them contemplative, give something people can use.”
*Photo: Actress and model Zoe Kravitz appears in Canon’s Live for the Story campaign.