The art of storytelling and why it matters
Ask any person what they think when they hear the term public relations and you will likely get a variety of answers. But almost all will share the common theme of self-promotion. PR is about getting your name out there at all costs, right? Wrong.
One of the first conversations we have with any prospective client is the importance of taking a step back and developing a clear and compelling story. When it comes to communication efforts, so many companies get this wrong. They are used to selling and competing for business, making the assumption that the narrative that works for customers, investors and partners will easily translate to media. It doesn’t.
The art of creating a compelling story requires a different approach and a different skill set.
Media – whether online, social or in print – are not just a conduit to a potential customer. They are your first audience, and unless you get them on board and engaged in your vision, your company story will never make the cut. It is vital to articulate your story in a way that works for that audience – sending a PowerPoint deck spotlighting product features to the Wall Street Journal will not generate coverage.
Several scientific studies have proven time and again that our brains are wired to engage with stories rather than hard data. The fact is people are in search of connection – something that resonates with them on a personal level.
Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty is a great example of a brand that took a step back from promoting the benefits of using their products and used their platform to create a conversation around the concept of authentic beauty. In the 10 years since the campaign’s inception, it has reportedly helped boost Dove sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion. Ad Age has named it one of the best advertising campaigns of the 21st century.
Similarly, Airbnb has put storytelling at the heart of their marketing efforts, leveraging stories centered on the power of community to win over the hearts and minds of audiences of all kinds – from investors, to customers and media.
In fact, if you look at any major brand with a strong public relations presence, you will find a solid storytelling campaign at its foundation.
So when we talk about stories what exactly do we mean? There is a litany of guidance out there on how to create the perfect story – the importance of a central premise, engaging characters, a protagonist, an antagonist, conflict, the list goes on. No, this doesn’t mean you need a degree in English Literature to come up with a persuasive pitch but there are couple of key components to always remember:
Understand who your specific audience is in order to create a story that resonates with them so they are driven to interact with you.
Be clear on why your product or service matters and specifically how it makes an impact on peoples’ lives for the better.
Be authentic – audiences of all kinds respond to honesty. Tell the story of your company’s creation, the successes and the setbacks, and what keeps you motivated.
Let your brand take a back seat and tell the story from a person’s point of view – people relate to stories about other people – not products.
Be comfortable with the fact your brand will not always take center stage. The very best stories in a corporate context are ones that give you coverage by association, where your brand is part of a larger narrative looking at bigger issues.
The art of storytelling is not a secret, but it does take time to develop. Despite the best of intentions, too many brands rely on a series of product announcements, customer releases or over-complicated explanations of product features in lieu of a long-term storytelling strategy. Their view is that brand ubiquity is the only way to gain mindshare – the reality is the opposite is true. A compelling, well-written story that captures a reader’s interest will resonate on a much deeper level and is far more likely to result in creating a customer.