Written by: Amanda Åkesson
The rise of social media
The rise of social media has changed the traditional way of doing marketing (Brawise & Meehan, 2010). Today brands need to interact with customers and tell them stories they believe in (Gunelius, 2013). The ability for companies to engage and collaborate with customers has grown since the beginning of Web 2.0 and the increased use of social media around the world (Brawise & Meehan, 2010). Through social media costumers are empowered to interact with both brands and other people (Christodoulides, 2009). The one-side communication model used in traditional marketing has become unsuitable for the Web 2.0 (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011; Christodoulides, 2009). Instead of being informed by companies, people want a dialogue between the brand and themselves. With other words people seek for a two-way communication with the ability to share thoughts and opinions (Christodoulides, 2009).
The way companies handle branding has also been changed since the rise of social media and the introduction of Web 2.0. The digital world has led to that customers have much more power than before and participate in a whole new level with products and brands (Henning-Thurau, et al., 2013). Companies create a brand – identity, which is an idea how customers should perceive the brand. But in the same time customers create their own perception of the brand, a brand – image (Gensler, et al., 2013). It is hard for companies to change the brand – image, however what they can do is to build a bridge between the desired perception of the brand and what is actually perceived by customers. In other words companies need to connect the brand – identity and the – image (Duffy & Tranovskaya, 2016). A way for companies to do so is to use storytelling (Gunelius, 2013). The identity of a brand and the brand persona is the sum of the stories told about it (Baker & Boyle, 2009). Furthermore, storytelling is essential to achieve successful branding (Herskovitz & Crystal, 2010), and goes beyond fact and information (Baker & Boyle, 2009) to an emotional interaction with customers.
Storytelling – an old phenomenon in a new world
Storytelling is not a new phenomenon, it has been around for decades (Mancuso & Stuth, 2014; Gunelius, 2013). However, since the explosive growth of social media the idea of telling brand stories has increased (Gunelius, 2013). Social media is used to grab people’s attention, wake the imagination and share stories to the surroundings (Mancuso & Stuth, 2014), which is an excellent opportunity for brands. Briefly explained a story makes people feel they belong to something and that they are part of something bigger then themselves (Baker & Boyle, 2009).
Storytelling is a form of content marketing with the idea to attract and retain customers (Pulizzi, 2012). Using content marketing means that companies add value to their brands using storytelling. Furthermore, the value given to the brand through stories is what separates content marketing from traditional marketing (Steimle, 2014), and make storytelling an effective marketing tool at the Web 2.0. Another attribute for storytelling is that it reach through the clutter of advertising to people and touch costumers in a way traditional advertising cannot (Baker & Boyle, 2009). If customers actually want to listen to the stories told by brands it indicates on a good and valuable content marketing (Steimle, 2014). The ambition for companies to tell a brand story is to get customers emotional involved with the brand (Gunelius, 2013). Furthermore, the emotions and involvement that people feel through storytelling allows customers to get personal connection to brands. It also indicates on interaction between the customer and the brand, which I mentioned before are a key aspect when using social media.
With the technology we have today almost every company and brand can create content marketing and use storytelling to interact with customers. However, the challenge is to create a content that actually engage the customers and deliver a result for the brand (Pulizzi, 2012). After given an introduction to the world of social media and the concept of storytelling as a powerful branding tool the question is; what stories do we actually listen to?
What stories do we actually listen to?
As you may realize now the best stories told are does who connects with the costumers (Gunelius, 2013) and, as mentioned before, engage the people listening to the story (Pulizzi, 2012). A good story is not only heard but also felt by the audience. Good brand stories entertain the target audience, but they also help people to understand the true value of the brand. Companies need to realize that customers want to be part of the story. Therefore they need to put the brand story in the hands of the customers. In this way the story becomes personal and relevant, and the customers has the chance to make the story their own (Baker & Boyle, 2009).
To create a story that the audience listen to and feel part of is a challenging task. However, there are some different suggestions to follow to create successful storytelling. First, the story need to speak truthfully to the customers and be based in reality (Gunelius, 2013). It is truly important that the story told brings trust and credibility to the brand (Pulizzi, 2012; Steimle, 2014). Second there must be personality in the stories that are told. Companies should base the stories on the brand persona or brand identity that are created by them (Gunelius, 2013). Furthermore, storytelling is a way to relay a brands unique personality (Luoma, 2015). The persona should drive the overall brand message and the customers will recognize the brand because of the persona. Moreover, the persona reflects the brand’s values and behavior (Herskovitz & Crystal, 2010). However, it is important to remember that storytelling is about the customers and what the brand can do for them. This mean that the brand should not be central in the story (Klettke, 2014). Third, as in all marketing the target audience are important. Therefore storytelling requires that companies create characters that recalls or are connected to the target group and symbolize something the customers like (Gunelius, 2013; Luoma, 2015). Not to forget the audience should be emotional involved in the stories. It is therefore not enough to choose the right characters but also give them a believable story (Klettke, 2014). Fourth, a brand story should include beginning, middle and end (Gunelius, 2013). Most stories have some elements of a plot and all stories has a hero at the center (Klettke, 2014). A challenge with storytelling is to get the customers to ride along from the beginning of the story to the very end. Lastly, a good advice is to not give it all away. The customers should feel excited and they should be expecting more stories to come, which will make them come back to the same brand again and again (Gunelius, 2013; Pulizzi, 2012).
If a brand, that uses storytelling in their marketing mix, are able to deliver on all aspects mentioned above it has created a story people will listen to. This does not mean that everyone will like the story that are being told. Remember that storytelling should focus on a selected target audience and be as personal as possible (Luoma, 2015). Two brands that successfully use storytelling in their marketing and manage to tell stories worth listing to are Procter & Gamble and Adidas.
Brand stories worth listening to
Procter & Gamble (P&G) have succeeded to provide the audience with messages that engage and are true to the customers through storytelling. An example of a powerful campaign created by P&G are Raising an Olympian in conjunction with the Olympic Games in London 2012 (Luoma, 2015; Obrien, 2012). In this campaing, instead of featuring products, P&G feature real people in real life (Obrien, 2012), which is a requirement to connect with the audience (Gunelius, 2013). P&G has also managed to reflect their values in the stories told without focusing the story on their products and brands. Instead the stories P&G tells reflect great people (Obrien, 2012). The company’s values are; integrity, leadership, ownership, passion for winning and trust (Procter & Gamble, 2015). All of these values are integrated in the storytelling, and can be recognized in the athlets and the moms. The company have used characters that the target audience can connect with and also created emotions recognized from the customers listening to the story (Gunelius, 2013; Luoma, 2015). As mentioned before companies must give the stories to the customers and let them make it their own (Baker & Boyle, 2009), which is another thing that P&G succeed to do. They tell a story where the target audience, in this case moms, can see themselves (Klettke, 2014).
Adidas are another company that tells stories worth listening to. With their storytelling campaign Take It the brand succeed to inspire the audience and to make them strive to their very best. The story connects with the target group emotionally and shows footage from famous sport events, which many people can relate to (Luoma, 2015). The story speak truthfully to the audience and are based in reality (Gunelius, 2013). Adidas core values are; performance, passion, integrity and diversity (Adidas Group, 2016). The core values are implemented in the story, in the image of the athletes and in the message that are being told. The characters used for the story connects with the target group for Adidas and represent the values that the brand have. They are high performing athletes, filled with passion and the constant ambition for improvement. Also the diversity of sports, gender and cultural background shown in the brand story both reflect on the values and make it easier for different type of people to get emotional involved with the brand (Gunelius, 2013; Luoma, 2015).
Both Procter & Gamble and Adidas has created brands stories worth listening to. It seems like thay have followed every suggestion and rule to be successful in storytelling. Moreover, both brands has also manage to avoid the biggest failur that can be made when telling stories. Since storytelling are a way to connect and interact with the audience (Pulizzi, 2012) the products should not be the hero of the stories told (Klettke, 2014). The personal emotions and involvement increase when the hero are a persona from real life or a character that can be recognized by the audience. This is something that P&G and Adidas has managed to do very well in their brand stories. As mentioned before, both brands also remember who their customers are when telling their brand stories (Klettke, 2014). Both brands also show how storytelling add values to their brands (Pulizzi, 2012).
To remember in the world of stories
In the digital world where we are living today and due to the rise of social media the old phenomenon storytelling has received a new meaning. Interaction, emotion, personal engagement and communication are key aspects for both storytelling and social media, which make them a perfect match. It is also these features that are included in the stories that we actually listen to. A story that engage the target audience, creates emotions and recognition and are able to communicate with the customers are a brand story that get listeners. However, because of the viral world we have today companies should be careful to not make any mistakes when telling stories, mistakes that has not been discussed in this text. Furthermore, what happens to brands when stories are told but no one listen, is an interesting question that has been left open for further discussion. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind the things behind successful storytelling and do as P&G and Adidas has done; create stories worth listening to.
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