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As brands fall short in their storytelling…

Everywhere you look right now, storytelling is the next panacea for all communication-ills.

When people communicate they want to be heard, understood and remembered, but the way brands tell their stories is falling short. At least that was a thought that stayed with me when I attended TEDActive 2014 earlier this year. The forum was jammed packed with stories. Each revealing how the speaker has changed the world. Sometimes in small ways, but most often in future-forging ones.

Edward Snowdon told a story of NSA coercion and the right to fight for our rights. The NSA didn’t tell a story in response because they didn’t want to be heard, understood nor remembered. Rick, the Deputy Director of the NSA, succeeded.

Ed Young spoke about the stories of insects that unwittingly become zombie like vessels for parasites. Keren Elazari, a Tel Aviv cyber security expert (read white hat hacker) recounts the story of a cyber world where there are goodies and baddies, guardians and bullies, but without each extreme there would be no story of innovation. Randall Munroe even managed to make a story out of a mathematical equation around Google data.

Although these were all great, it struck me that the stories were one-way communication used to ensure a message is delivered. In fact, it’s exactly the same way most brands use storytelling, it’s broadcast messaging dressed up.

I believe that storytelling needs and deserves a higher purpose than that. It defines and binds humanity, as we’re the only animals that can create and tell them. Andrew Solomon’s incredible TED talk on forging meaning and building identity talks about how stories give meaning to life and how the stories we choose to tell build our own identity. Are the other brand storytellers out there feeling as vacuous as I am yet?

Technology has given brands limitless opportunity to envelop people in the stories we tell, so they hear, understand and remember them, but also and very importantly experience and become part of them. Let’s not waste that opportunity. The next time we think about a brand’s story we should ask ourselves how this story brings meaning to someone’s life. What is the value exchange we are striking? If people were to tell this brand’s story, how does it contribute to their own identity?

Worthy as this sounds, I’ve built my identity around sharing funny cat videos and other frivolous offerings. Clearly, I don’t mind the odd ribbing from my friends; I’m made of tougher stuff than that. What stuff is the brand you are storytelling for, made of? That is the question marketers should be asking themselves.

Melanie Cook

The author, Melanie Cook, is the Head of Strategy at SapientNitro APAC. This article is part of the regular column by SapientNitro featured on Digital Market Asia.
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