Telling Tales – The Continuing Importance of Storytelling


The Art of storytelling is alive and kicking.

With the closure of so many bookstores around the world and concerns about literacy among the young, you might be forgiven for thinking that the art of story telling is a dying one, however, the Art of Storytelling is alive and kicking; both as a personal means of expression, as well as being an essential tool for brands to connect with consumers. The only thing that has changed is the medium.

Humans have been telling stories since the Stone Age. But they remain as relevant as ever – we share them today as much over Twitter as our ancestors did round the campfire…..Brand storytelling is about harnessing the power of stories to give brands identity and purpose, and change the beliefs and behaviours of consumers and customers.


A new way to connect

In a time of online interaction and social media, when many brands and products are less trusted than ever, (See our Most Meaningful Brands report), authentic story telling is increasingly becoming a vital tool, for brands to reconnect with their audience. With more mediums than ever to tell stories, more people than ever, are able, not only tell and create their own stories, but to interact and become part of the stories of the brands they follow. Brands themselves are the big stories of our time. Twitter’s twitterstories, Tumblrs storyboard,  Second life, personal blogs, websites and online self-publishing are the tools that are fueling this revival.

…agencies and brands need to move away from thinking about branded content and embrace true storytelling….The difference? Stories rely on the intended audience to develop their own imagery and detail to complete and most importantly, to co-create, whereas content does not.


A Long Story

The tradition of storytelling goes back as far as language itself, when the spoken word was used in the form of stories and songs to pass on cultural history and traditions. Traditional stories with their tales of heroes and villains were used for entertainment on long dark winter nights, but more than that, they carried overt or subliminal messages that helped reinforce moral codes, reaffirm tribal affinities, educate, or simply preserve cultural memories for future generations, all of this using the medium of narrative. This is because stories are one of the best ways for us to remember and later recall something.

Stories help us remember

Stories are a much better way of remembering something. This is because narrative, coupled with emotional triggers, are one of the best ways for our brains to store and digest complex information, with proven connections between the senses, cognition, memory, and emotion.

Emotional events are often remembered with greater accuracy and vividness than events lacking any emotional content. They are also capable of being recalled, and with more clarity and detail, than neutral events. That is why some of the most memorable stories are often unconventional, or even shocking, this is because they trigger a strong emotional response in us, whether that be fear, humour, sadness, anxiety or surprise, which is then hard-wired into our brains.

Stories are the glue that hold together the facts, figures and images we need to remember and which further assist us in recalling them later. The narrative or story is what holds all these together in our brains, forming a kind of memory map, which allows our brains to more easily access those memories later. Stories help us imagine the unseen, map the future in our imaginations and make sense of our past.

A reason to believe – Stories give meaning

It is rarely sufficient to present the bare facts to someone in order to sell an idea or a product and this is where stories help. Stories attach meaning to products and brands and increase their appeal, by associating them with added benefits such as health, status, security, beauty or sex-appeal. And people need to hear those stories, they need a reason to believe that they have something special, that is connected to a bigger story and the ideals of the brand they admire, something that goes beyond the product itself. It’s the reason that people keep coming back to brands like Levi’s, Nike and Apple, because their stories and values resonate. It’s also the reason that customers turn away from brands, when their stated values do not fit with reality. This was the case with Nike several years ago when it was revealed that their products were assembled in sweatshops. Increasingly people don’t just buy what you do, they also buy into why you do things.

It is vital that brands tell authentic stories, based in the truth of what they stand for, in order to make meaningful connections with their end consumer.

This last year seems to be the year that brand storytelling joined the mainstream…marketers are waking up to storytelling’s unique ability to engage and make an emotional connection with audiences in an age when they are fully in control.

Ed Woodcock, Director of narrative at UK Agency Aesop

Short Stories

We need only think of some of the more memorable marketing campaigns or advertisements to realize the power of effective storytelling.

Skoda’s, “It’s a Skoda, Honest,” speaks to Skodas history of functional authenticity and no nonsense car making.

Likewise, Nike’s “to the victor, the spoils,” speaks to their can do attitude.

Brand Straplines, are brand stories, in the briefest form possible. They are statements of intent that underpin everything they do. Whether it’s Apples –  ‘think different’ campaign, Durex’s – ‘Crowdstopper’ or EA Game’s  – ‘Challenge everything,’ straplines explain everything a brand is about, in a nutshell. This is the power of storytelling.

Lost in Translation

However, even with the best of intentions, a great story line sometimes can sometimes get lost in translation. Look at these examples of marketing campaigns that didn’t translate too well.

Pepsi – ‘Come alive with the Pepsi generation’ might have revved up English-speaking consumers in the 1960s but when the slogan was mistranslated in China as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’, the outcome was altogether different.

Parker Pens – When Parker Pens tried to enter the Mexican market, its strapline ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ was mistranslated as ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’ owing to confusion over the Spanish word ‘embarazar’, which means pregnant.

Electrolux – The Swedish vacuum-cleaner brand was unaware that sucking is not always a good thing when it targeted US consumers with the line ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.’

Six Rules of great storytelling

1. MAKE THEM CARE. Your story has to make the Audience care. Easier said than done but finding  a way to make them care and involve them in your story means they are much more likely to remember it and take action.

2. BE AUTHENTIC. Everyone and every brand is unique and therefore has a unique story to tell. This is what makes you stand out from the rest and this is the story your audience needs to hear to understand why you are different.

3. SHOW, DON’T TELL. There’s adage in the saying that ‘Facts tell, stories sell’.

4. KEEP THEM GUESSING. Like any good story build your content to draw them in, keep them guessing and make them want to continue listening until the very end.

5. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Whether your are presenting to a group of schoolchildren or a cynical bunch of salesmen you need to know who your audience is, what they need and therefore what tone of voice to use to best tell your story. Get personal and tailor your content to your audience’s needs and wants.

6. WHATS THE STORY? Whats your message? What are you trying to ‘sell’? Why should your audience ‘buy’ it and why should they care? The most effective stories are built around a truth and it’s not surprising that many brands tap into universal truths, to guide them and give them relevance and longevity. (Dove- ‘Beauty is more than skin deep’ )