As a collector of books, I once bought a special edition of One Thousand and One Nights, usually known as the Arabian Nights. Although this collection of stories contains spellbinding tales from Islam’s Golden Age, what I found most fascinating was the context (spoiler ahead!). Devastated by his wife's betrayal, Shahryar, the King of Persia, decides to marry a woman every day and have her put to death the next day so she would never be able to betray him. After marrying and then murdering almost all the single young women in the kingdom, he ends up marrying Scheherazade, who by dint of her intelligence and determination was able to cheat almost certain death. She survived thanks to the age-old art of storytelling. In fact, the book is about the power of storytelling and how you can harness it to engage your audience and achieve success.
Bringing Back the Human Element
Storytelling is usually based around people; what they do to themselves or to others. However, it has become quite rare to glimpse this human element in the product-centric marketing campaigns of this digital age. Most companies exist as faceless entities, with no real story to share - exactly why they are constantly at risk of losing their consumers to competitors who might offer a slightly better price or slightly better quality. There is no real connection between the brand and the people who choose to buy the brand.
Stories humanise brands; they help audiences relate to brands on a deeper level, rather than just asking them to buy products to fulfil a functional need. Some brands know the value of research before developing any sort of marketing plan. They ask “what do my consumers actually want?” and “what will we be remembered for?”. This is important because facts and emotions drive better results compared to dishing out facts alone. The importance of storytelling can be best understood through real-life examples of businesses that have connected with their audiences to become a meaningful part of their lives.
The Torchbearers of Brand Storytelling
One of the most relevant examples of brand storytelling is Tesla. With climate change threatening unprecedented destruction around the world, Tesla gained a following for caring about the environment and sustainability. Founded in 2003, Tesla had to break into a market dominated by fuel guzzling luxury cars. In order to do so, Tesla had to change the consumer mindset and convince people into believing that it was no longer cool to own a fuel-driven luxury car. The company established the idea of being “a tech geek who saves the world”, without having to compromise on the driving experience or performance. It promoted Tesla cars as superior to fuel-driven cars and that owning a Tesla made YOU a hero, who cared about the environment and the world. The feel-good factor of owning a Tesla is what turned the brand’s customers into hard-core loyalists.
Nike too keeps winning thanks to their inspiring campaigns that make people feel as if they can achieve anything. Here too, it is about the consumer and the story is also based on the ‘hero’ archetype and addresses a universal dilemma – the battle within. Nike knows how hard it is to win the inner battle and stick to goals. The story is about being inspired to get up every day and “just do it”. Through such stories, Nike fans know that the brand sees sports as something that transcends all boundaries – anyone, anywhere in the world, can be an athlete and achieve anything.
The Bottom Line
Consumers want stories that resonate with them on a personal level. Your brands are not just about you; they are about your consumers and the value they get from being loyal. Storytelling gives you the possibility to create a narrative that can build up a loyal tribe for your brand, as opposed to just increasing sales temporarily.
Bisma Yusufzai is Deputy Manager, Digital Channels, NBP Fund Management Limited.