The power of storytelling to connect authentically with customers

The power of storytelling to connect authentically with customers

Consumers want to know they are making the right decision with each purchase, but deciding what's 'right' isn't just about facts and figures. People also make decisions based on feelings and instincts.

For marketers, storytelling is "the process of making a connection with the consumer first, and selling a product second."

Storytelling has always been a part of marketing - whether it is a 30-second commercial, a blog, a Web series or on packaging.

In the current landscape, the proliferation of social conversation has made storytelling even more prevalent in society. Every tweet, post or picture on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram tells a story.

Stories in marketing

Stories in marketing, where the consumer is first and selling is secondary, take three forms. They are:

1. Stories of your company, its people or its products

Unilever Project Sunlight film, "Why Bring a Child into This World", not only tells the story about how Unilever sees the possibilities for a bright future for children and the world, but also looks to inspire people to join the conversation and tell their stories as well. Many couples are shown a video which details some of the evils in this world, like death and starving children.

The couples are then asked the following question: Why bring a child into this world?

This is a film within a film, as real expectant parents share their hopes and fears about the world their children will inherit. They also respond as they watch a movie that mixes footage of violence and despair with hopeful messages about the future. The tone is emotional, but positive, backed by a pensive piano cover of The Pixies' Where Is My Mind?

Watch the video here:

2. Consumer experience stories, case studies, testimonials and reviews

Lakshminarayan Krishnamurthy, a Mumbai resident, ordered a Samsung Core Duos phone as a Diwali gift from Snapdeal. What he received was a Samsung package with a bar of Vim soap and half a brick.

When he couldn't contact the online shopping platform's customer service, he decided to resort to social media and posted a picture of his delivery.

Krishnamurthy's post soon went viral on Facebook with more than 20,000 users slamming Snapdeal for defrauding a customer. Snapdeal got in touch with Krishnamurthy, explained that the problem had resulted from a fault with an external courier company, apologised and refunded the amount he had paid.

Hindustan Unilever, the company that makes Vim sent Krishnamurthy a package that contained the phone he had originally ordered, two bottles of Vim liquid soap and a letter. The company empathised with Krishnamurthy and grabbed an excellent opportunity to promote Vim.

In a letter to Krishnamurthy, Unilever noted:

"The pictures you posted online show that our brand was used in this incident. Vim is one of our iconic brands with some great consumer franchise. We felt bad about it, not to mention what you went through. Here is a small gesture from our side to cheer you up."

An elated Krishnamurthy took to social media again.

3. Stories in ads and campaigns which showcase your brand values

Lifebuoy's 'Help a Child Reach 5' ad is a story of Gondappa, a father who is so overcome with delight that his first child has survived till the age of five, that he decides to walk on his hands to the nearby temple and seek God's blessing. The tone and treatment of the film was to keep genuine the powerful emotions a parent feels when his child survives. This meant shooting in a real village with real people in India.

The Gondappa story:

Lifebuoy's 'Tree of Life' ad campaign in Indonesia follows Utari, a mother's journey through love, hope and loss. Tradition dictates that a tree be planted when a child is born. It uses folklore to bring home the fact that handwashing is important to help children reach the age of five.

The Utari story:

The story of Eunice, a mother-to-be in Kenya living in an environment of anxiety and fear. The story is about a real life experiment that changed her life forever.

The Eunice story:

What gives a story its power?

Marketing was about creating a myth and spreading it. Today it is about finding the truth and sharing it.

It's one thing to know that stories have power and that stories sell. You also have to know how to practically apply this to your marketing campaigns. Stories in marketing, whether fiction or non-fiction, require a few foundational elements of story to carry weight: character, conflict and theme.

It's important to note that your brand plays the supporting role. The consumer should always be the focus.

Send a message

The theme of the story is the underlying message. For marketers, theme matters in campaigns because it speaks to your brand's values. You might identify your campaign themes by looking at your:

  • Brand slogan. For example, 'The Axe Effect'
  • Campaign tagline. For example, 'Breeze - Dirt is Good'
  • Product benefits. For example, 'Dove - One Quarter Moisturising Cream'

Once you know what message you want to convey, you can ensure each story in each campaign reinforces that message.

Stories in marketing can change the world

Fact or fiction, stories connect with your customers' emotions and persuade in a way that facts can't. You can't beat a story with a fact, only with a better story.

The stories we tell create the world we live in.

We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with "once upon a time".

This article first appeared on Leaderonomics.com.

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