What’s your story?
One of the few techniques in PR that’s stood the test of time is storytelling.
And I don’t mean ‘telling tales’ or concealing the truth but rather the ability to tell a story with impact as well as the way it’s then recalled and re-told and ultimately how it influences and even changes behaviour of customers, clients, supporters and prospects.
And it doesn’t matter what the product or service is about, how simple or complex it is or whether the brand owner is in the private or public sector.
Everything is capable of having a compelling narrative attached to it, whether off-line or on-line.
US psychologist Jerome Bruner, one of the early pioneers of modern child psychology, believed that in the early years of life, rational and emotional development is often down to the ability of the child to follow as well as recall a story.
“They’re not able to bring theories that organize things in terms of cause and effect and relationships, so they turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection. If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well, and it doesn’t seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over,” he said.
In fact, it’s exactly how we continue to observe the world as adults. We don’t grow out of enjoying a good story.
Since the time of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the ability to have a clear vision and purpose and communicate this in a powerful and compelling way has been seen as one of the most important skills of a successful leader.
In 1964, Phil Knight was a fledgling athletic shoe salesman whose high career point had been selling US$8,000 worth of imported Tiger running shoes out of his Blue Ribbon Sports store in Eugene, Oregon.
Within the next seven years, Phil Knight had sold nearly US$1m worth of Nike product. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Runners probably had little idea that Nike was the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology but Phil Knight had a vision and purpose to turn the humble running shoe into one of the most desirable consumer products in the world, explains Scott Bedbury, brand guru and former Nike head of advertising.
This is Nike’s story.
“The sneaker was just a sneaker, in every way pedestrian, until Phil Knight and Nike came along and connected the aspirational and inspirational rewards of sports and fitness with world-class innovative product performance like that of the Nike Air shoe. Nike could have spent millions of dollars preaching the value of encapsulated gas trapped within a thin, pliable membrane in the middle of the shoe, encased by a moulded foot frame and attached by a dynamic fit system.
Instead, it not only simply showed the product but also communicated on a deeper, more inspirational level what the product meant within the wider world of sports and fitness. It transcended the product. It moved people,” he explains.
Ten years later, Bill Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft and the company’s early vision was ‘a PC on every desk and in every home’.
This is Microsoft’s story.
It may have seemed like science fiction in 1975 but both Bill Gates and Paul Allen were passionate about the same idea and they envisioned bringing computers to life by developing software that would liberate the power of computing by making it accessible to everyone on the planet, turning ‘computer literacy’ on its head.
There are many ways in which the storyteller can get a message across and some methods are more effective than others.
Research in the area of storytelling suggests it works best where the storyteller adds their own flavour to the story, so that it becomes much more believable.
Some of the best stories are those delivered in the first person and combine rational and emotional reasons that support the message.
A traditional story is linear – it has a beginning, middle and an end, as Aristotle wrote in in his seminal treatise ‘Poetics or Poetica’.
In essence, a basic story is a cohesive and logical sequence of events that demonstrate the change in the state of a subject. But that doesn’t in itself make it compelling. A good story should identify the situation, complication and resolution but with drama and emotion.
In many ways the narrative takes storytelling to the next level as it adds a point of view to the traditional story structure – so it’s ‘story plus theme’, so to speak.
This can help impart a deeper meaning or add emotional intelligence into the otherwise linear story. The narrative could be one voice or different voices in the journey of telling the story. In this way, it’s more memorable.
These are stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next, usually by word of mouth. A legend is generally believed to have some factual or historical basis. The difference between a legend and a narrative is that there’s no distinctive voice telling the story – because each time it’s recounted the legend has a new narrator – rather like a new salesperson learning the sales script for the first time. This isn’t necessarily always negative.
On the plus side, legends have staying power. As each new narrator shares the story, the narrative takes on a completely new life and this could last for a very long time.
On the minus side, legends can become distorted over time and are susceptible to being influenced by their narrators who may have the tendency to embellish facts in the journey of telling the story.
It shares certain common characteristics with a legend as a myth tends to be a story that has also been passed down through the passages of time and has some root in truth or history.
But whereas legends can pop up like rumours – such as the founders of P&G belonged to some secret satanic cult and that the P&G trademark contains symbols of the occult – myths are stories that never wane from the collective unconsciousness and provide a meaningful way for customers, clients, supporters and prospects to understand their world.
According to American brand marketing guru Laurence Vincent, legendary brands like Nike and Microsoft leverage the power of the myth to establish a storyline that’s timeless and familiar.
“To understand how legendary brands tell stories to consumers, you must look no further than that mythic storyline, for it’s the root of tremendous brand equity. Myth provides the code by which the consumer mind creates the brand narrative; it’s the strategy by which the brand manager sustains an authentic competitive advantage; it’s the source of the brand’s personality and it bestows a social life upon the brand,” he concludes.
Ardi Kolah is author of High Impact Marketing that Gets Results, published by Kogan Page (£19.99) in January 2013. Click the image to order your copy today!