Guest Author: Rishad Sukhia, CEO, Creative Agency Brightlabs, Melbourne, Australia
Sales trend 10 from our 12 Sales Trends Report for 2018 is about storytelling.
We all grew up hearing and sharing stories through childhood and adulthood – they help us learn, develop and, above all, they entertain and inspire us. Brands today are increasingly incorporating storytelling into their sales and marketing strategies in order to resonate with their customers.
This sales trend is focused on the increasing importance of the art and science of storytelling in sales and marketing, taking our sales teams beyond presenting features and benefits.
What is brand storytelling?
Whilst the terms ‘storytelling’ and ‘narratives’ are often used interchangeably, Deb Lavoy, CEO of Narrative Builders, believes that “if you have a really good narrative, you can tell a thousand stories with it.”
Storytelling may involve illustrating the reasons your company was created, what inspires the products and services you offer, or perhaps giving your customers a ‘behind-the-scenes’ insight into your company.
The first step of brand storytelling is to succinctly summarise any or all of the above into a brand narrative. That is, a strategic statement that conveys to customers what your brand is all about (this can include your purpose, core values, vision or mission).
Brand storytelling goes deeper than the product qualities, price points, facts and figures to connect with customers in an emotional way. While facts and figures can usually do the job, there’s nothing quite like a meaningful story to capture people’s hearts and minds.
Salespeople need to know how to share these stories.
Why it works
Captivating our audiences through brand storytelling is both an art and a science. The ‘art’ of storytelling is our brand’s ability to connect with people on an emotional level, whilst the ‘science’ is how our data and understanding of our audience contributes to the story’s appeal.
It appeals to our emotions
Customers are naturally drawn to stories because good stories elicit emotion in them. Advertising research reveals that people rely on emotions more than information to make decisions. For brands, this means emotional responses to marketing content are often more influential on a person’s intent to buy than the content itself.
According to scientist Dr Paul Zak, telling emotional and character-driven stories boost the brain’s levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘trust hormone’. When released, oxytocin results in powerful feelings of empathy, which in turn helps build trust in your brand.
It brings authenticity to the brand
91% consumers rate ‘honest communication’ about products and services as the most important criterion for brand marketing. For millennials, ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘authenticity’ are two of their top five brand attributes.
Evidently, customers love brands they perceive as ‘authentic’. This intangible value can even lead consumers to overlook minor flaws in the brand.
Customer testimonials are a great example of this. Testimonials are one of the most effective forms of content as they appeal to people and personify your brand in a way that is only brought about through peer-to-peer recommendations or word-of-mouth.
Now take this one step further with storytelling. A written testimonial of a few sentences may be unremarkable, but what about a brand story that draws on the customer’s personal life and challenges and chronicles their positive experiences with your brand? That stands out!
It leverages video as a key channel
Brands are trying to discover how to share content in a format that provides a visual and interactive mechanism to engage customers and get its message across.
With a minute of video worth a million words, videos are one format that can really extend our audience reach and help us tell our brand’s story in a compelling way.
The value of video lies in its ability to convey a lot succinctly, which is crucial in a digital age where the human attention span has shrunk to approximately 8 seconds, compared to 12 seconds in 2000.
The sale is subtle but effective
As mentioned above, storytelling has to be authentic, is about connecting with our audiences.
Similar to a fairy-tale, an appealing story must have three components that set the scene, chronicle the conflict and offer a resolution. However, brand stories are unique because they require a fourth element – the sale or call to action.
The sale must be carefully crafted – it must be creative, yet subtle and often it’s indirect.
How we use it
Brand storytelling is the new trend in sales, with salespeople finding new ways to infuse storytelling into the way they sell.
Good storytelling offers the customer more than just a product or service, but an experience that inspires people by appealing to both logic and emotion.
Unlike traditional advertising messages and slogans, stories work on the subconscious mind. They allow the customer to truly ‘get’ and see the value of the product or service in a way a direct sale could never accomplish.
Brand storytelling has become a progressive marketing strategy with the potential to increase revenue and cultivate customer loyalty.
Marketing content can be our most powerful weapon if told and illustrated in the right way. For a story to be appealing, it must be relevant. To be relevant to our audiences, we need to understand our audience’s interests, challenges and motivations.
Tools such as Google Analytics are helping people find out more about visitors to our websites and clearly define our customer personas.
These persona profiles will help make the most out of our storytelling capabilities and ensure we tell the right story to the right people at the right time.
If we rely only on our products and services to attract customers, we run the risk of becoming just another brand that isn’t able to differentiate itself from the others.
Brands such as Nike and Airbnb have become industry icons because of their penchant for storytelling. Have a look below at how they’ve leveraged storytelling:
Staying true to your roots: High Brew Coffee
Every company was started for a purpose and this purpose is the foundation of every company’s brand story. High Brew Coffee is one brand that lets its audience know where it came from.
Its product is simple – canned cold-brew coffee. Whilst the brand’s story could have focused on the product itself, it instead decided to come up with something much more captivating and original.
High Brew Coffee’s story is all about adventure. The Founder, David Smith, was inspired to start the business after spending warm nights enjoying cold-brew coffee while navigating the Caribbean on a sailboat with his family.
This type of storytelling shows how an authentic brand story can resonate with customers and make them want to be a part of your brand’s future. Remember, we need to stay true to our roots and echo this story in the messages we share.
Let your audience tell your story: Airbnb – “Wall and Chain”
When we tell a story that exhibits real human challenges we create an experience that resonates with our customers.
Airbnb has an entire ‘Stories’ section of their website filled with videos and posts by Airbnb hosts and guests. It’s a great brand storytelling example because it lets the audience – real people enhancing their lives as a result of Airbnb’s services – tell the stories for them.
One Airbnb guest, Cathrine, told a powerful story of travelling to Berlin with her father Jörg, a Berlin Wall guard in the Cold War, to show him the vibrant city Berlin had become. It was the man Jörg met at their Airbnb apartment that he remembered the most.
In a short film of less than 90 seconds, the story delivered Airbnb’s brand message very effectively. The demolition of the Berlin Wall (hence “A Story of Breaking Down Walls”) symbolises freedom, something that aligns with the brand’s core message – “Belong Anywhere”.
Be relevant and relatable: Nike – “The Chance”
Nike has always been a leading brand when it comes to brand storytelling. They have been doing so since the 1990s when their spokesperson was Michael Jordan, a hero for both kids and adults worldwide.
One of their best storytelling approaches was in “The Chance” ad set in NYC, which reminded us that there is an opportunity for everyone. The ad features aspiring soccer player Abdoulaye Coumbassa and focuses on his dedication to ‘drive’ and ‘hustle’ in his life.
Abdoulaye is driven by the goal of being a successful soccer player whilst maintaining relationships with friends and family. The strength of this story lies in the fact that every customer can relate to the feeling of winning, perseverance and working hard – the idea is to tell a story that people can relate to.
With the ad being just over a minute long, Nike shows how inspirational stories can be told in a tiny time frame.
The new storytellers
Contrary to emerging myths, marketing and salespeople are not becoming redundant. They will, however, face the reality of continuous disruption and must be prepared to change with their roles.
The plus side? They can achieve this with the help of storytelling.
Companies defining the future of brand storytelling in 2018 and beyond will be exceptional storytellers who will – between their sales and marketing teams – deliver customer experiences seamlessly, authentically and with empathy.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.