Reconnecting With the Art of Story

April 11, 2017

Everyone loves a great story, right?

Even as a baby, you undoubtedly stopped fussing as soon as someone read to you the soothing first line of “Goodnight Moon.”

Throughout your early childhood, you probably listened attentively to your teachers, parents and others read aloud to you. And if you’re anything like me or my kids, you truly get lost in a really good book.

The desire to read, watch and listen to wonderful stories is nothing new, and the art of the story has been around since the beginning of time.

But the way brands are telling their story has shifted dramatically in the past couple years alone.

Brand storytelling has become one of the most effective and meaningful ways brands can connect with their customers. It affords brands the creativity to forge a bond with their audiences through emotion and conflict in a way not many other marketing methods can replicate.

The ability for brands to communicate their “why” (watch this if you’re not familiar with the idea of starting with “why”) in a way that captivates and moves their audiences to action is infinitely more powerful than most other forms of advertising.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek

I think a lot about the power of stories and how the best ones can move us to laughter, tears or outrage. Some of the best brand storytelling out there (through my lens, anyway) creatively and emotionally answers the “why” in a way that inspires, ignites and compels me.

I think about the kids across the globe who experienced setbacks, embarrassment and even natural disasters that helped shape them into the Olympic champions they later became—and the moms who believed in (and guided) them every step of the way.

I think about the childhood friends reunited decades later after a young woman searched online for the Pakistani bakery owned by the family of her grandfather’s childhood best friend, where they sneaked handfuls of jhajariyas and devoured them.

I think about the highest highs and lowest lows of a sports legend who accomplished more than anyone thought possible through sheer determination, motivation, grit and inner strength.

I think of the farmers and students in east Africa who believe that “agriculture is the backbone of Uganda”—a trade that can change their lives and feed their families and future generations.

And I think of Michael, who runs a couple marathons a year in honor of his father and meets travelers from around the world who stay at his home in New York City—a way for him to “pay it forward” while helping him pay for his mom’s mortgage.

Not every company is Google, Under Armour or Airbnb, certainly. But just as these brands have discovered and created captivating stories to help communicate their mission, so can you.

Talk to your team. Your employees (or volunteers) are on the front lines every day, and many of them are customer-facing. They hear and see things that you might not—and can help unearth compelling stories and themes that would be meaningful for your audience. Empower them to share observations and ideas with company leadership.

Listen to your customers. Just as Airbnb has done, your customers certainly have interesting stories about how (and why) they use your products or services. Remember that your customers want to see (and hear from) people just like them. Source customer stories via email, social media and company reviews.

Look around. Take out the microscope and examine the products or services you provide and your various customer touchpoints. Do you sell women’s clothing and accessories at a trendy boutique? Surely there’s a story behind the young jeweler whose line incorporates unique materials. Or the antique cash register handed down by your grandmother. Or the customer who comes in every Thursday to purchase a new belt.

The best stories are uncovered by being aware, observant and inquisitive.

And they come to life when you ask yourself “Why?”