Telling stories is just something we do. Stories are everywhere and our introduction to storytelling happens from our earliest moments on earth. From musical mobiles in our cradles and cots to nursery rhymes and children’s tales, in one form or another, storytelling is there from the start.
We engage with storytelling almost straightaway – babies follow the mobile as it circles above their head and they gaze spellbound into their parent’s eyes as they read them our stories. Storytelling is in our DNA and it engrosses us on a primal level.
Understanding this very simple fact can help to inform our marketing strategies. As marketers, if we can find a way to connect with our audience, we will create brand awareness, and storytelling is a simple way to achieve this.
Stories Are Everywhere…
Throughout history, we see evidence of storytelling: the ancient cave drawings in Lascaux; the trope of ancient people sitting around a campfire, telling stories of wonder and enchantment; Ancient-Greek literature. The history of literature dates back at least five millennia.
And, stories are common in modern life too – Hollywood, TV drama, music (of all genres), the news, books…
We might base our stories on real life, such as the news or reality TV, or we might tell fictional stories, such as myths and legends.
Humanity uses storytelling all the time. We use it as a tool to understand the world – making order out of chaos. When we think about who we are as people, we tell “our life story”. We are our storytelling; it’s how we come to understand and make sense of ourselves, the world, and the infinite ways in which the two relate.
Good marketers and advertisers understand this. Consider the most popular adverts of recent times: they tell stories. The John Lewis Christmas adverts are a particularly obvious example. But, perhaps my favourite example – and one that’s particularly relevant here – is the Harvey and Rabbit advert by Thinkbox.
The premise is a story of Harvey the dog, who can’t bear to part with his favourite teddy, Rabbit. The story isn’t especially relevant to the subject matter, “Advertising”, but it invites you to understand the power of story and its ability to engage us. Thinkbox invites you at the end of the advert to “Discover the power of advertising”, i.e. the power of telling stories.
They engage us with a story, and then they deliver their message. The story doesn’t need to be relevant in order for the audience to remember the brand; it simply needs to capture their attention.
Why Do We Tell Stories?
Many great thinkers have speculated on the reason we tell stories. The vast majority view it as a way to make sense of chaos. Chaos is the natural order of life and the universe, but stories allow us to overlay a structure on the randomness of life, and in so doing, make sense of it.
The best explanation I’ve found about storytelling is John Yorke’s “Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey into Story”. In part, he explains that we tell stories through a dialectic method. There’s a thesis (idea) and antithesis (an opposing idea) and then a synthesis (the bringing together of both ideas into a coherent whole). This creates completion of a conflict and a balancing of opposing ideas. By going on a journey, we learn – as we travel with the characters – something about the world.
You can see this pattern in all good stories. For example, Harvey loves and needs Rabbit (idea – about belonging and love), Rabbit is going to be thrown away so Harvey can’t have his needs met (opposing idea – about losing love), and finally Harvey gets to keep his Rabbit (synthesis – Harvey learned the importance of love. The conflicting views are synthesised into the conclusion: Harvey gets to keep Rabbit but has learned the lesson about losing love).
All stories contain this pattern: there’s a conflict and it’s resolved. The resolution can be good (happy ending) or bad (tragedy), but it’s always resolved. After it’s resolved, we come away with a greater understanding of life.
How Does This Relate to Marketing? Story Telling & Brand Awareness.
If you’ve done your market research thoroughly, you’ll have a good understanding of your target market. You can use this to infer the type of stories that will relate best to them. Christopher Booker is famous within the storytelling community (with screen writers, novelists, musicians, etc.) for expounding the “Seven Basic Plots”: “overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth.”
Think about your audience; which type of story relates most to the needs you have identified in your marketing plan? Tailor your advert to tell a story that relates to them. It matters less how it relates to your product and more about how it relates to your audience. What matters most is that you connect with them. This will help them remember your brand, and consequently boost brand awareness. It will compel engagement.
Stories allow you to connect with your audience because they impart knowledge that helps us to make sense of the world. Therefore, a good story will resonate with your audience and make your brand memorable.