The concept of storytelling is one of the hottest topic in marketing today. By communicating a narrative that has a beginning, an end, emotions and facts, brands are able to become more human and more compelling.
Both research and common sense tell us that when facts are put into story form they are powerful because stories are more easily remembered. When facts are embedded into a story, counter-arguing is less likely because the power of the story distracts. When an argument is in a story context, people deduce the logic themselves and we know, again from research and common sense, that self-discovery is much more powerful that having people talk at you. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a storyteller is usually more liked than one attempting to persuade an audience with facts.
There is a classic Israeli folktale that tells the story of two women, Truth and Parable, who compete against each other to see who is more attractive to the townspeople. Truth wanted to attract as much attention as possible, so she shed her clothes thinking people would flock to her. They in fact did the opposite, and shut he rout. When Parable walked quietly into town, unassuming yet friendly, the townspeople came out and followed her, talking happily. The lesson comes when Parable explains, “People do still love Truth, but they do not like the naked truth. If you wish people to accept you, you must clothe yourself in the mantle of story.”
Stories break down suspicions and distract from facts that may be counter to beliefs and thus threatening.
So, what makes a good story?
Consider the classic series of Timex ads hosted by John Cameron Swayze, one of America’s first network TV anchors. In one, a diver climbs to the top of an amazingly high Mexican cliff with a Timex strapped to his wrist. Will the Timex survive the shock? The diver leaps into the air, enters the water and struggles to get to shore. However, the Timex is still working. Swayze announces the familiar “Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” This story is repeated dozens of times with the watch on Mickey Mantle’s bat, on the stomach of a Sumo wrestler, running through a dishwasher and many, many more examples.
Why was this story so effective? There are 4 reasons:
First, there is a narrative. With a beginning that captures our attention and interest (a high diver wearing a watch and facing a challenge), a middle that is involving (the dive), and a conclusion (the watch still works) we are enthralled as viewers for the duration of the commercial.
Second, there is a climax. The emotion in this case is created by the uncertainty of the outcome and the nature of the activity.
Third, there is authenticity. The settings and challenges are real. The voice of John Cameron Swayze offers another level of credibility.
Fourth, there is a brand-related goal. In this case, the goal is to show that Timex is durable and reliable. There are many examples of great, memorable stories that got disassociated from the brand and the intended message. There needs to be an objective and a point to the story that satisfies the objective.
Stores are powerful for good reasons. But make sure that you have a story and not just a series of facts. Your story must be an effective one, with a start that intrigues, with emotion, with authenticity and with an objective. Find ways to give it legs. You can re-tell the story again and again if you change the context and climax again and again as Timex did.