Is Modern Marketing Spinning Us a Yarn?
Humans are hard-wired for storytelling, it’s in our genes. We have been communicating through stories for upwards of 20,000 years, when we first shared tales around the fire and our ancestors were painting on cave walls. Despite the ever-evolving methods and means of sharing stories, the word itself continues to evoke images of tradition, folklore and family. Stories and fables are passed down from generation to generation, not just to teach us lessons, but as a powerful means to form connections and cultivate emotions.
In recent years, advertisers have begun using storytelling as a way to capture customers’ attention. The emphasis is less on the traditional sales premises and a company’s USP (unique selling point). These days, consumers are more invested in a brand ‘narrative’; a company’s story, ethos, identity and voice. Customers want to know why brands do what they do, not just what they do. Marketing has to adapt to this, and what is a better way than curating a brand’s story?
It’s a smart move. Science has proven good storytelling evokes a strong neurological response in a reader. When we hear a story we can relate to, our levels of oxytocin increase, boosting feelings of trust, empathy and compassion. When we hear facts, it activates the data processing centres in our brains, but when we hear stories, it activates the sensory centres and stirs the soul. Stories have a unique ability to build connections through emotion and brands tap into this in order to build a base of emotionally attached and loyal customers.
This explains why the John Lewis advert has become such a phenomenon. We are empathetic creatures, and a powerful and emotive Christmas story cultivates strong emotions and a sense of togetherness. It is refreshing to watch an advert that doesn’t seem to push us into buying anything, and a sense of trust and brand loyalty is established with the consumer. It’s extremely effective.
Does this still count as storytelling? It could be argued that marketers are deliberately manipulating their audience in order to fulfil their agenda. These ‘stories’ are not exploring human nature or contemplating our place in the state of things. The hunt for truth and lessons learned through traditional storytelling has been replaced by a brands agenda to sell a product.
But a distinct factor of storytelling is fluidity. As a tale is passed down from generation to generation, it evolves depending on the audience. This is key. A storyteller must understand their audience’s needs: Who is the audience? What is the message? What will keep them engaged? What will evoke a response? These same questions are considered by marketers. Understanding for whom they are writing is key. Good writing is imperative to creating emotional connections with an audience, and if the story is good, the consumer will buy into and share that story with others.
Marketing has not appropriated ‘storytelling’, it has only evolved to suit the digital age. Brands now have access to platforms on which they can share their story; social media, websites, podcasts, not just white paper. The consumer interest in brand ethos has grown in correlation with the rise of inbound marketing, offering new and exciting opportunities to market one’s business. People love to read, but only if it’s good. 68% of internet users spend time reading about brands that interest them, so businesses that can create content which incites readers to share it, gain a powerful advantage over others. A great marketing story might not be handed down through the sands of time, but as of here and now, it will provide a powerful way to establish brand identity and build a loyal following.
Handley, Ann. Everybody Writes: Your Go-to Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Wiley India Pvt. Ltd., 2017.
Sophie lives in London, UK, where she handily fuses her love of travel and writing in her day job, as a marketing co-ordinator for Lonely Planet.