Thank God, there's storytelling now. And content marketing!
We finally have something to save us from declining TV ratings, dwindling readership and those inscrutable social media ads, which gobble up a fairly large portion of several hundred billion dollars in ad spending every year. Good news! Everything will be back to normal soon, now that everyone is a storyteller: brand story, investors story, everyone wins ... Woo-hoo!
Oops, error! Now for the bad news: With storytelling we will run head first against the wall. Storytelling is in fact just another word for the same old tired hat that the communication industry put on people’s heads for years, and people are really getting bored and tuning out. Thanks to the Internet, people have seized the power and are in control of what they really want to see, read and hear. They actually spend a significant amount of money to not be bothered with advertising anymore: “Pre-rolls, native advertising, super smart targeted social media ads? Yeah right. Kiss my behind!”
Storytelling -– perhaps well-intentioned but done wrong —- will not achieve the cherished hope that this is the best way to trick humans (fka target groups) into what they are supposed to do: buy, buy, buy! Those days though are long gone, even if this truth might hurt a bit. Companies have lost control over their communication (that hurts even more). Brands belong to the people (ouch!), and face it, the Internet won’t vanish. Welcome to the Beyond Advertising age.
It’s not about story telling, it’s all about story sharing to create a long-lasting relationship on completely equal footing between a brand and its audience. It's all about sharing a common story.
However, a story is not the narrative or the plot, although it’s mistaken for that frequently. The story is the theme, the values and the attitude towards things in life that really matter. Only if the brand and its audience have these in common can they share a common story. So the question is: How do we find these common values? Maybe we should just make them up? It always worked before!
A real, good story is not a matter of smart ideas or suitable media channels. It starts with a lot of work. You need solid craftsmanship, experience and a true understanding of how stories work and why. The simplest truth can be found in the words of John Steinbeck: "If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And I here make a rule -- a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last." Once you understand this, you understand that the hero of a compelling brand story can never be the brand itself. The audience has to be the hero. The best story about your brand is not about your brand. It is about the users, employees, potential clients, stakeholders, people...
What you need is a radical change of perspective in response to the equally radical changes in the media landscape -- how people use media, which new media they use and how they use traditional media in a new way. Or, actually, no longer use it.
If the brand is not at the center of the story but the audience is, then everything will change: advertising changes into communication, communication into conversation, campaigns into storyworlds and share of mind into share of relevance. When we started to develop our story and audience-centric method Hero Branding® over ten years ago, this radical change in perspective was the vital spark: brands are not heroes. Brands make heroes. Viewed in this contemporary light, you quickly realize that actually very few genuine brands exist out there, but a lot of Potemkin brands still do. Usually it is only a trademark, a product and advertising in the guise of a brand. For instance, do you actually know what the Apple brand story is today? No. There were two really strong brand stories in the history of Apple: “1984” and “Think different.” But those were over 15 years ago.
A powerful story is the core, but is really only the beginning for what is needed in order to interact lastingly with the audience: A multi-faceted storyworld and immersive communications program using all required media channels and even inventing some new ones. While this might include commercials and ads, their approach and content, however, will be different.
Why are there so few real brand stories around? Because it's damn hard to develop them and a whole new type of professional is required. And because everyone is so used to the old methods and those seem to be without a risk. That's a pipe dream as this actually is life-threatening to business. If you have no real, vivid brand story to share, then eventually there is only one last topic left to talk about in desperation -- the lowest price. And yes, that still matters.
Markus Gull is a veteran storysmith, brand architect, content producer and creative director equally at home in the communication and entertainment sectors. He is the creator of the trailblazing brand building method, Hero Branding® – Brands Make Heroes. His New York City-headquartered company, Gull Gotham, works with clients to identify and elevate their brand story to engage people in an ongoing relationship beyond advertising. www.gullgotham.com
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