The power of storytelling - image Shutterstock
The power of storytelling – image Shutterstock

Do brands create stories? Do stories create brands? Or is the power of storytelling for brands and branding simply so pervasive we can’t even begin to see the end and the beginning?

Storytelling of course is an ancient art (and part science) which is tackled in so many domains, from the study of ancient cultures to movie making, fiction writing and branding.

Yet, storytelling has never been ‘hotter’ than today. The principles and success factors are closely related with word-of-mouth, social sharing, social media in general, brand perception and the very core of content marketing.

Storytelling: THE fundamental human activity
(even when talking to ourselves)

Storytelling is so much more than telling stories in marketing and communications for businesses. Storytelling, is an essential content marketing technique that has a crucial place in a content marketing strategy, the ‘conditio sine qua non’ for businesses that want to make the difference in these social and content-intensive times.

Guido Everaert: Storytelling is not about language, it’s about telling and creating stories in a compelling way. It’s about finding the right metaphors, and above all the structure in which to tell a story. In doing so, the storyteller (re)creates a part of life and generates a story that is easily remembered and unique to that particular brand.

What is the difference between boring and soulless content as companies continue to create it on one hand and stories that don’t just stick but also engage on the other? How do you create stories, nurture them, stimulate them,…? It won’t come as a surprise that storytelling needs a strong focus on what people want to hear and share, once again shifting the view from the traditional ways of corporate messaging to a connected content strategy whereby people are key.

Doug Kessler: ‘Storytelling is patterned cognitive play. (Says Brian Boyd, author of “The Origin of Stories“, which I loved)‘.

On the Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd - recommended by Doug Kessler
On the Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd – recommended by Doug Kessler

However, regardless of how ‘hot’ storytelling may be (and should be), it’s also often misunderstood, both from a content marketing and branding perspective.

Some see storytelling as just a technique in the creation of written and visual content. Although storytelling is most certainly ALSO about that, it’s about much more and raises various important questions, each with their many answers. Furthermore, the use of storytelling in content marketing continues to evolve (visual, transmedia, two-ways and even collaborative).

Single format storytelling has evolved into transmedia storytelling and will keep doing so. (Lee Odden: the future of content and content marketing).

Questions to ponder regarding storytelling in a content marketing context

  1. What is the story and narrative behind everything you do as a brand, ranging from what you stand for to the reason why you developed solution X or decided to support ‘good cause Y’? How can you get to that story that’s part of your brand and even people’s DNA instead of to just the facts?
  2. How do you actually connect with people in the language they understand best: the language they can “visualize” in a story-like context? And – even further – how do you ‘create’ the stories that will cause a change in behavior or a change of perception?
  3. What types of stories appeal to your content marketing “personas or – if you want to stay closer to the art of storytelling and human emotions – the different archetypes Jung developed based on his deep psychological insights and…ancient stories?
  4. What about the stories your customers and ‘audiences’ are already telling? How do you listen to those and include them? How can you even come to some form of collaborative storytelling that goes far beyond any reach or goal you imagined?
  5. How much ‘control’ can you realistically have in an age where the value of a brand increasingly is in the eye of the beholder and their social connections? Where perception is more about personality, trust, openness, transparency, relevance and participation? About standing for something as a brand and voicing it in an utterly customer-centric, yet genuine and firm way? How can storytelling – with these shifts in mind – place brands in the minds, hearts and wallets of people? Or in other words: do consumers create stories and brands?
  6. How can you use storytelling in less branding-related ways and in a more demand generation related context ? Are there any differences? Do the same principles apply?
  7. How do you make use of digital information and the user-generated content out there, as well as of all these new ways we have to tell stories in digital storytelling?
Good stories compel people to change – from the Storytelling Infographic by Fathom - more here
Good stories compel people to change – from the Storytelling Infographic by Fathom – more here

The challenge is in figuring out how to share that story in a way that aligns with the needs and priorities of prospects and customers. But, it’s not just sharing the story. It’s about making the story so compelling that it elevates perceptions of value and urgency resulting in more qualified leads and faster purchasing momentum. (Lee Odden quoting B2B – content – marketing expert Ardath Albee in a post on storytelling, positioning & personas).

Robert Rose - Content Marketing Institute - on storytelling - read the interview
Robert Rose (Content Marketing Institute) on storytelling – read the interview

There is so much more to be said about storytelling, from all potential (content) marketing goals. As Bryan Eisenberg, twice at one of our conferences before, reminds us: “Effective content marketing is about mastering the art of storytelling. Facts tell, but stories sell“. And we haven’t even talked storytelling and visual content yet.

The 7 elements of visual storytelling are: design, personalisation, usefulness, personality, storytelling, share-worthiness, real-time.(Kelly Hungerford covering a #BizHeroes chat on Visual Storytelling).

Lee Odden on storytelling - more in the interview
Lee Odden on storytelling – more in the interview

“A story is tightrope between worlds”. (Jeanette Winterson, quoted in The Invisible Grail: How Brands Can Use Words to Engage with Audiences) – more here.

Storytelling: the Periodic Table

Check out the infographic below I once again stumbled upon today and think stories – in a structured way but full of passion.

Danny Devriendt on storytelling

It’s really a screenshot, leading to the – interactive – Periodic Table of Storytelling page by “TV tropes”, a wiki for fiction writers, featuring archetypes, plots, story structures, heroes and so much more.

The Periodic Table of Storytelling – click to play
The Periodic Table of Storytelling – click to play