The business of storytelling

World Storytelling day“Always remember: a brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world; a corner of someone’s mind.” We’ve been reflecting on this quote by industry legend John Hegarty.

How can brands build a place in that corner?

As marketers, we all seek to build connections with our audiences and hope that those connections may, one day, drive advocacy. By appealing to someone’s emotions we can begin that journey to engagement.

Humans have enjoyed listening to stories for as long as we can remember. They’re magical. They make us feel. They spark our imagination and trigger our emotions. They’re not explanations or straightforward transactions. They paint pictures and in the corner of our mind help us to form relationships with the characters. And they’re an aid to memory – a way for us to make sense of the world.

Storytelling is commonplace in the world of B2C brands. Millions of us tune in to the next chapter in John Lewis’ series of Christmas ads featuring characters and their emotional journey. Not a feature or benefit in sight.

We’re all driven by similar wants and needs. Even as B2B marketers. The desire to laugh, to be inspired, to connect, to be surprised, to feel something. There will always be a place for rational messaging. But brands aren’t built purely on a practical foundation. While “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”, might seem like the most pragmatic of approaches, it’s messaging that’s built around an innate emotional fear of making the wrong choice.

The B2B IT space isn’t especially renowned for its emotional approach to message delivery. But ServiceNow, a US-based tech firm that helps companies move their business workflow to the cloud, has developed a series of office-based characters and tone of voice that makes for memorable content.

Service Now Commercial link

A study looking at 1,400 IPA Effectiveness case studies found that emotional campaigns performed twice as well as those that were solely rational. In short, our brains process emotional input without any need for cognitive processing and record this stimuli more powerfully.

Brand storytelling isn’t about a quick win. With sales at the centre of most B2B businesses, it can be difficult to sell the idea of a long game that’s not designed to deliver a quick sales boost. Rather than a quarterly ‘activation’ campaign, storytelling and emotive content is part of a longer-term strategy that’s about building trust with the reader.

Patagonia is an example of a brand that has successfully turned its own brand story into competitive advantage. It’s a business that deliberately encourages its customers to not buy new but to repair and reuse. Through this positioning, it has placed its environmental credentials front and centre. Patagonia’s brand strategy is focused on the long term, winning life-long customers via its compelling stories. Its VP of Global Marketing, Joy Howard, says “People come into the brand through the product but it takes them a long time to learn about what the company stands for. Once they do, they’re hooked on the brand forever. Our task is very simple, and that’s to make it easy for people to discover what the company is all about. Because once they do know, they’re in. They’re with us.”

An example of their storytelling is “About the Stories We Wear”, a 30-minute film that resonates as an inspirational tale in the world of clothing.

Emotional storytelling can be inspirational, heart-warming, exciting or moving, but to be trusted, it should relate to brands through its values and personality. And it’s this personality that creates the “human” bond with the audience, forming a connection. A connection that’s more meaningful than a single strapline or a product feature.

It’s a constant battle for attention with all brands vying for that place in people’s minds. But with new stories that entertain, build trust and bring our personality to life on an emotional level, we can begin to build our place in that valuable corner of real estate.