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Storytelling 101:
Why you need it, now

Picture of Stéphane Joiris

Stéphane Joiris

Partner Creative Director at Adjust

10 min read

As the saying goes, “facts tell, but stories sell”. In the age of digital marketing, storytelling is pretty much a no-brainer. No one wants disarticulated content conveying nothing but just another desperate attempt at getting a product or service in front of potential customers. Storytelling is all about leveraging emotions to drive engagement. Ultimately, stories are there to be passed on and shared (social media, anyone?). In this sense, their amplifying power is second to none. And organically attached to them is your most precious “call-to-action”.

Storytelling: what’s in a word?

The problem with any buzzword is that what it is meant to designate becomes somewhat fuzzy. Nothing can be furthest from what storytelling really is: an age-old narrative art with a set of rules you can only break past the point of mastery. You may already know that any story has a beginning, a middle point and an end. Now let’s break this down the sequence into five sections: initial situation, disruptive events, ups and downs, “solution” and final situation1. What’s interesting in here is the way a given character faces an issue and overcomes obstacles, evolving along the way. As the audience identifies to the hero and its hardships, the story creates emotional bonds while conveying values… and solutions. To reap the benefits of storytelling, brands should thus focus on creating an archetypal character who thrives despite of circumstances because of the product/service he is provided with.

Create the hero

If you look for an example of expert storytelling, look no further than what the GoPro brand has consistently been offering. Its motto is crystal-clear: Be a Hero. Each product bears this imprint (Hero5, 6, etc…). GoPro puts the average Joe into the wild, equipped with a high-definition but affordable video camera capable of recording any adventure on a professional level2. Each of us is now able to be not only an explorer but also a content creator, ready to inundate the web with stunning imagery… if only we dare to and care to buy a GoPro (“call-to-action”). Climb mountains, beat the waves, jump that cliff, skateboard the urban jungle… wherever the imagination and drive take you, GoPro makes it real, palpable, shareable.

Bonus point: GoPro has done an outstanding job at creating a lifestyle community and building the brand on user-generated content. Emotion-packed and awe-inspiring, it is easy to see why these videos quickly spread like wildfire. With a webpage showcasing the very best of users’ videos and a dedicated hashtag on social media, there is no need for GoPro to be heavy-handed with advertising (and blow the budget, for that matter). That is taken care of through the constant stream of content produced by enthusiast users.

Tell a story or combine yours with theirs?

The Belgian webzine i-Scoop makes a good point when it says that we grew accustomed to term “audience” in a somewhat deceiving way3. It makes us oblivious of the fact that brands should be listeners too and that the audience is also an aggregation of narrators. The true power of storytelling lies at the crossroads between their stories and our(s). Finding that sweet spot is all what storytelling comes down to.

The next step is to collect and share users’ experiences, creating a hub with that unique identity flare. Airbnb offers a good example of this with its “community stories”4. As it shakes up the accommodation market, Airbnb also claims to transform lives and hosting practices. And so you can read about the story of Jonathan, who escaped a soul-sucking job by listing an extra room in his home on Airbnb (soon to be followed by a second one). Or the one of Clarence, who reignited his passion for design after travelling around Europe and being inspired by the outstanding interiors of a listing (soon to become a shooting place).

So to jumpstart on storytelling, start with your “why”, the very “raison d’être” of your company or organization. Be authentic and share the process along the way. Relatable is the number one characteristic that make for great content.

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