On March 17, 2007 a shy mobile phone salesman with buck teeth entered the stage of Britain’s got Talent and started singing in front of an astonished audience. Since then the clip of Paul Potts and Nessun Dorma has been shown 160 million times on YouTube. Why? Certainly not because of the product as such. Nessun Dorma has been played a zillion times, opera has a limited audience, and according to the experts, the singing itself is average at best. But it is a great story. And people really love a good story.
Storytelling is in our genes
The explanation is simple. Our brains are organised accordingly. As early as 1944 the scientists Fritz Heider och Mary-Ann Simmel proved the strength of a story with a simple experiment. They subjected people to watch an animated film with geometrical figures and asked them to describe what they saw. The subjects immediately started interpreting the random movements as a story. The big bad triangle hunting the poor little circle. Stories are our way to create a meaningful existence.
As we live in a time when advertising has to compete with Netflix, YouTubers and funny clips of cats, an increasing number of companies realise that storytelling is the way to create interest. And that real storytelling is a lot more than just the company history.
But what if you can’t afford Christian Slater? Or even a budget for a film? No sweat, here are three quick tips that everyone can afford.
Tip No 1: Show, don´t tell
Let us compare these two texts:
Our client service organisation is based on a customer oriented perspective and we are constantly focused on a high level of availability and competence.
Rather boring, isn’t it? Let’s try this instead:
Lena, Peter, Torbjörn and thirty co-workers take care of our customer service. They are here for you around the clock and have a collective experience of our nuts and bolts of 1 451 years.
The difference is called personification, a concrete way to describe things that create images in the brains of the reader. When consumers no longer care to listen to corporate bullshit and USPs, storytelling may add a layer of meaningfulness to your offer. And the story does not even have to be about your product. Take a look at RedBull’s Facebook page for instance.
Tip No 2: Create characters
A good story is based on believable characters. It may be about the founder of a company (for instance Steve Jobs and his garage), employees, customers or fans. The photo project Humans of New York, describing ordinary New Yorkers and their stories, have more than 20 million followers on Facebook. Because we love characters that feel true. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be real. Just think about ICA-Stig and his co-workers who have carried the ICA story for more than 15 years.
Tip No 3: Think forwards
All stories have a forward movement. As in “It started with… and then… happened, followed by…” It is of course a natural part of how films are dramatized, but also a very good way to build stories in social media, where one post leads to the next. Still many companies use Facebook and Instagram as pin boards for product information. Even though the content calendar is the perfect tool for building up a story.
Image bank with storytelling
Last but not least I would like to give you an example of storytelling from one of our own clients. When Ikano Bank gave us a large photo project for their image bank around savings and loans, we DIDN’T start by booking models. Instead we wrote a story. We chose situations that would personify the product and built characters that would carry our story. You can see the result here.
My conclusion is that good storytelling is based on a carefully thought out story rather than a Hollywood budget. And that the deciding factor is purely biological.