United colours of storytelling: Told by some people for some other people

Once upon a time, Data said to Story “I am stronger than you because I have the science behind me, I am product of years of research. I am impact.” The story retorted: “I will be remembered a lot longer by a lot more people than you. I am engagement.”      

Stories are how we make sense of the world, how we retain and pass on information. We are neurologically designed to respond to storytelling. Humans are emotional. Our brain has 100 or more neurotransmitters, and stories are more effective at releasing them. A happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward centre, to release dopamine making us feel hopeful and optimistic and oxytocin to show kindness, trust in others and cooperation. Data might be the new oil, but the power of stories is as theoretically inexhaustible as renewable energy.

You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.
— Margaret Atwood

Is brand storytelling dead?

Only last year, Mastercard’s Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Raja Rajamannar, told Marketing Week: “Storytelling, which has been effective for so long, is now dead.”

Our interpretation of this is: Brands can no longer rely on flogging stories hoping people will readily share, like or talk about them to create a buzz, increase brand love, boost sales or gain market-share.

The communications industry has been peddling the ‘every brand needs to have a story’ strategy for a while. This resonates with brands who want to control and manage their reputation and works for brands that have a long and interesting history, or an innovative USP. Yet not every story is compelling enough to be retold.

Human storytelling 2.0

In addition to this and most importantly, this is becoming a much more crowded space – crowded with real people. Now, anyone with a smartphone can potentially start a worldwide movement generating more interest, traction and impact than a multi-million-pound advertising campaign. A 15-minute video posted by an influential vlogger or a bunch of Tweets by someone in the public eye can have more penetration and impact than a brand’s TV advertising campaign. People are not just out-doing companies and multinationals, people-powered campaigns are raising more funds than established charities.

Why is this happening?

Marketers have tried to segment people into 'types' and profile 'consumers', whilst technology has made individuals more interconnected. This means we have separated from traditional structures in a manner that intensifies societal and political complexity and uncertainty. Read our first Un-White Paper that talks more about this.

People want to tell their own stories and they are able to consume and share news and stories with each other across multiple platforms and at speeds never envisaged before. People power is not just down to the smartphone and the internet though, other seismic societal shifts are making consumers more savvy, less trusting of established brands, more cynical of brand hype and less easy to b***s***.  Consumers (people) have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt 100 times over, controlling storytelling is no longer viable or effective for brands.

Words are how we think; stories are how we link.
— Christina Baldwin

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Is it possible to embrace this as an opportunity?

As an industry of communications professionals, we are not just missing an opportunity but ‘mis-stepping’ change by responding with light touch add-ons to our existing strategies, faux listening and sticking with the devil-you-know. Our recent research of well-known brands’ social media channels found very little dialogue between them and the public.

This tech-led empowerment opened an opportunity to create a new kind of story - storytelling across multiple platforms with shared ownership. Brands need more genuine engagement. This is no longer simply hovering around social media sites tweeting and responding back, instead, brands need to co-create their stories conceding some of that power to their target audiences. 

We are not the only voice in the industry so we can’t claim to be the first to raise it on this subject. After all, it was Fjord (2017) that stated traditional brand storytelling is “over, thanks to the democratization of content creation and the rise of image over text.” Yet conventional practice of pushing a narrative out at every cost is still prevalent.

Where next for storytelling?

Working on the premise that controlling the story is no longer viable, interesting or engaging. What do brands need to do instead?

Social Media management can be less about control and patrol. Brand websites and social channels can provide an open platform for dialogue and ideas, a platform that inspires healthy debate, sparks creativity and enables collective problem solving.

Brands can start the conversation, let people take over, keep the story going and see where it takes us. Brands can be the enablers of people-powered stories, not the storytellers themselves. Marketeers need to think about how they can create platforms for the people to tell their own stories and join in. Stories can take on a life of their own and the world is their oyster – and that’s a GOOD THING. If people can take ownership of their part of the story they will be more connected with the brand that enabled them to do that.

Brægen works with organisations to set up platforms for co-created stories and help them start conversations with their public through dialogic communications campaigns. We empower organisations to take the dialogic path rather than sticking with ‘safe’ controlled communications that favour press releases full of facts and stats and announcements for social media posts.

Join the conversation or get in touch to find out more and start a face-to-face meaningful dialogue with us – the people who wrote this.