Stories are powerful.
They are the emotional glue that connects the storyteller with his audience and, more importantly, the audience with the idea the storyteller is trying to convey.
Stories tap into not only our minds, but also our hearts. They’re why we cry at movies, even though we know they’re fiction. They’re why a homeless man could go from panhandling on a street corner to working as the voice of Kraft in a matter of days.
When we were kids, stories were our lives. We’d incessantly ask our parents to read us storybook after storybook, even though we could literally recite the stories word for word. But that didn’t matter, because they connected us with our parents.
As we grew up, we lost our zeal for storytelling. We got our diplomas and put our picture frames in our cubicles, and we stopped telling stories. Visions of what could be were replaced with corporate jargon, features, awards (which were paid for), press releases, and bullet point-ridden PowerPoints. We lost perspective, forgetting about the audience and worrying just about our bottom lines.
It doesn’t have to be that way. More importantly, it can’t be that way. As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin’.”
The balance of power has shifted. It’s gone from advertisers with deep pockets, throwing money at one-way media, into the hands of the audience members. If they don’t like your television commercials, they’ll fast-forward their DVRs. If they don’t like your radio commercials, they’ll plug in their iPods. They block your telemarketing calls and toss your direct mail in the trash. The age of interruptive media is over, and that’s where brand storytelling begins.
The only messages audiences will see or hear are those they choose to see or hear. They demand to be engaged, valued, and entertained. That’s the way we felt when we were children, right? Begging our parents to engage us, value us, and entertain us. Those emotions we had as children are still within us all. Why would it be any different in business?
There’s no arguing with me on this. Audiences don’t want to be interrupted. They don’t want to be held captive. I recently flew with an airline that shall remain nameless. After the safety instructions, which I may or may not have been listening to, all of our TVs (don’t jump to conclusions – it was not JetBlue) were taken over by a set of commercials.
I yanked my headphones off, and, of course, the sound was also piping through the cabin speakers. I couldn’t escape it. I had to listen! Do you think that endeared the brand to me? Do you think I left the plane thinking, “Man, even though they screamed their self-serving advertisements in my face while I was buckled into a seat that was bolted inside a locked cabin, I really want to buy those products”? Of course not.
Instead, brands need to embrace storytelling. They need to find their inner brand stories and manifest them in ways that are so engaging, valuable, and/or entertaining that audiences want to tell their friends.
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in — every brand has a story. In San Diego there’s a not-just-for-profit start-up called StayClassy. It offers a full-service social fundraising platform for nonprofits and organizations of all sizes.
That’s what they do there — that’s not their story. Their story is much deeper. Their story is about two men who quit their successful engineering jobs to pursue their passion for philanthropy. They started with a pub crawl that raised a few thousand dollars for charity, and now they empower nonprofits around the world to pursue their dreams. It’s their story that draws worldwide acclaim to this small organization.
Your brand has a story too, whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a solo entrepreneur. When you unearth that story and spread it in all forms and channels — that’s when your audiences let you into their lives and evangelize for you.
Great stories spread. And those who tell the best stories win.