We are all hungry for stories.
Every single day we participate in storytelling, from embellishing our journey to work so we can yarn to co-workers about the adventure on the way in, to making up stories to entertain our children at bed time.
It’s hardly surprising that humans are so driven by the emotion of having a story told to them. Much of our lives are spent dreaming. It’s how we create new ideas, deal with emotions and solve problems.
Research and studies have now confirmed what prophets and entertainers have known forever. The best way to engage with someone, get them to emotionally connect to, remember and pass on information, is through storytelling.
Stories are so powerful that they have the power to generate idealism that can dictate life and death. So with such obvious power, why do so many companies struggle to tell irresistible stories as part of their marketing?
To answer that, let’s first look at a few examples of storytelling in business.
How Meerkats Transformed A Company’s Fortunes
A few years ago, the UK-based price comparison website comparethemarket.com existed in a crowded marketplace with more and more similar price comparison sites appearing every day.
Comparethemarket.com stumbled onto an abstract but compelling story that transformed their fortunes completely through chance.
Employees began calling their website “compare the meerkat” as a joke. Lunchtime in the office was “comparing the meerkat” time.
What they did brilliantly, was to embrace that irrelevant Joe public joke and turn it into a marketing machine.
First they started up a sister site called comparethemeerkat.com, where furry meerkat characters parodied the main site, by allowing you to compare meerkats rather than financial products. Then, through a series of TV adverts, they morphed the idea so that their main site identity became synonymous with the meerkat characters.
Each TV advert told a story about the problems the meerkats were facing running comparethemeerkat.com. From computer glitches, to new baby meerkat arrivals, to insurance shoppers confusing them with comparethemarket.com.
Finally they cemented their position by giving away free meerkat cuddly toys whenever you switched a financial product using their website. You can now give the story to your children, or put it in your car to give them even more free advertising.
What they did through grabbing a joke and having the guts to invest heavily in it as the focus of their marketing campaign, was to build their brand using emotional attachment. Through the creation of loveable characters and linking them through storytelling to their brand, they have become the first site that springs to mind when someone in the UK wants to change a financial product.
And it isn’t just about the actual marketing, the characters drive a social media juggernaut. The meerkat adverts receive hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, purely because they tell great stories about loveable characters.
Using A Story To Create A Brand
So can a brand be created purely from a story? Yes it can and yes it has been done.
Shinola is a brand centered on the wonderful story of how they are bringing back the art of watchmaking to the home of American car manufacturing – Detroit.
The story sells Shinola as a small grass roots brand, growing in Detroit to bring pride and craftsmanship back to a city whose identity has been destroyed through the changes of the car industry and corrupt politics.
It resonated massively with the patriotic American audience. Each $700 watch was lovingly stamped “Made In Detroit”, and featured a retro design that harkened back to the golden age of American manufacturing. The underlying message was “Buy this and support the people of Detroit”.
But the thing is, it is a cleverly crafted marketing tale, not an organic story at all.
Shinola is an old shoe polish brand name, bought purely because it would resonate with “old America”. The Shinola premises were purchased in 2011 for a large sum of money, far larger than a small company would be able to afford.
Then there is the fact that the guy behind Shinola, Tom Kartsotis, is the founder of Fossil, a huge watch and apparel manufacturer. His selection of Detroit as the lynchpin of the brand story was made after extensive market research concluded that ‘Made in Detroit’ carried many times the weight to consumers that ‘Made in the USA’ did.
The real story of Shinola is how a guy who knows the industry and a load of venture capitalists created a brand from a story. The story was pitched to resonate with the American middle class, encouraging them to buy into the recovery of the once great car capital of the world.
Whatever the ethics, the smashing success of Shinola demonstrates how a powerful ideal at the heart of a nation can be exploited through the telling of a simple story.
Authentic Storytelling Can Build Your Brand
A recent Nielsen study concluded that “there is room for improvement by marketers to make a more personal connection with consumers.”
So it is not just the science behind storytelling that matters. Consumers are telling companies that they want to feel a personal connection. When a sales prospect is gathering the information they need to make a sales decision, they are much more likely to buy from a company they feel a personal attraction to.
On the other side of the coin, your story has to be told commercially as well as creatively. A key component of the story you weave into your advertising must be building a fast connection between the story being told and the product being sold, something Shinola achieved masterfully.
Up to a point it doesn’t matter how abstract your story is, as the meerkats prove. But the people consuming it must instantly relate it to your product, service or company and understand the benefits it is selling to them.
Stories require far less thinking to be done on the part of the consumer than pure information marketing. By building in hooks, you can also create the ability in the consumer to recall the story and therefore create an instant connection to you.