Everyone has a story now. Or at least most brands claim to have one. But having a story in many ways is like having a product. Really it means nothing if it is not competitive as a narrative and personally relevant to each recipient. So your story must be distinctive from the other stories that are in play in a market and it must continue to be so. That’s challenging in fast moving sectors where there is always something new to look at, another brand tale to try.
That’s why you can’t set and forget a story. Anymore than you can set and forget your business strategy. As your business adapts and responds to changes in the market and the initiatives of your rivals, your story must change too if it is to remain competitive. What that means in effect is that your story has eight requirements, all of which influence what you tell in different ways:
1. Your story must be long (in terms of scope) – you need a story that is capable of being told over an extended period of time, meaning it must have enough aspects (threads) for you to push your storytelling forward, developing, introducing and twisting as the story goes to keep people involved and wanting to know more.
2. Your story must be deep – you need a story that allows you to delve into the detail of different aspects to intrigue, to prove expertise, to demonstrate detail, to highlight a facet, to deliver a backstory.
3. Your story must be competitive – there is no point in telling a story that is similar to that of your biggest rival, or in telling the same story as the rest of the industry. You need an angle – a perspective that is refreshing and different, that sets what you have to say apart from what others are talking about. It must be more relevant to the people to whom it is addressed than the story your competitors want to share with them.
4. Your story must be social – it must be more shareable across a full range of social media. So it must invite contribution and input. It must share ownership with the community that forms around it. And it must take its cues, through data analysis and analytics as you collect information on customer shopping habits, customer interests and customer concerns in terms of areas of accent, aspects to explore further, ideas that need to be brought forward. As you gather insights, you need to find ways to inject those ideas into the conversation in order to immerse people further in the storyline.
5. Your story must be communal – David Berkowitz, the CMO at MRY, made the comment recently that the marketing industry is obsessed with telling stories, but brands need to become story makers, not just storytellers. “Do you think people really get brands’ stories?,” he asks. Great question. “Think of a brand you love … Do you know what its story is? … The future of storytelling isn’t about telling anyone anything. It’s about storymaking, where the brand facilitates and taps into the stories people are creating and sharing with each other. Storytelling is the epitome of the old one-way, broadcast mindset that so many of us in marketing are trying to leave behind.”
6. Your story must be respectful – The temptation with sharing stories is to increase the levels of social familiarity. Recent research from WPP’s Geometry Global suggests that a lot of consumers would like a little more distance please. Commenting on the finding that 40% of Internet users across the world don’t see the point in friending a brand online, Cesar Montes, Geometry’s chief strategy officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa says, “There is not a real rejection of brands using social channels to communicate with [consumers] … The rejection is about brands using social as if they were my friends in the typical way that Facebook users would use [social].” That same reserve can be extrapolated to stories. Brands need to cultivate interest and participation, but at the same time, getting too close, too quickly or asking consumers to take an interest that is too personal is more likely to see them leaning out rather than in.
7. Your story must be protectable – in a dynamic and competitive storytelling environment, you need to be able to adapt your story to preserve its singularity. If others attack your story, you must have a response strategy in place. If others look to intrude on your narrative, you must defend your right to tell the story you do, take your story in a new direction or work with the community of people who are drawn to your story to evolve it.
8. Finally, every story needs a sequel – your story must be able to run its full course, but then a new story must take over, a story that takes its reference from who you were but somehow redefines how people will know you into the future.
Photo of “Winner” by Kreg Steppe, sourced from Flickr