Forget the Storytelling!

The importance of good storytelling content is a staple in a lot of my marketing classes and my most recent read, Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age (2014). It’s known that people respond well to brand stories, and that they are a great way for marketers to communicate and/or leverage brand equity, but yesterday’s Marketoonist really challenges this practice, which I love!

I welcome people and brands that are extremely forthright and transparent (even if it’s to a fault) into my life, and I often don’t trust those who spend too much effort on storytelling or over-the-top branding.  What are you hiding? What if you channeled your elaborate storytelling energy into actually making a better product or service? That’s me: hyper-critical, and hyper-aware. Get real, and be real!

Check out this week’s cartoon and short article by Tom Fischburne, and watch Stefan Sagmeister, creator of the bright and smile-inducing Happy Show exhibition, tell you how he really feels about “storytellers”.  Sagmeister struggles with the idea of storytelling because he sees it as way for professionals to conjure up their own authenticity, which in itself, is completely inauthentic.  

Bottecelli's Birth of Venus painting, but Venus is replaced with a poop emoji
The Birth of B.S. ©Jennifer Tweedie

The first chapter of Spin Sucks discusses several ways to “Tell Your Story Without Sex or Extortion,” (p. 5), and exemplifies various methods that brands have used to cultivate their own authentic stories, one of which, by essentially giving the mic to their clients, was particularly effective.  When you work hard to build and maintain a relationship with your customer, it will pay off and they can become your biggest advocate.  Gini uses MailChimp’s customer stories as a great example of authentic and humanizing brand storytelling (p. 14), which really stuck with me: in a small series of videos, MailChimp customers (some who mention the service, and some who don’t), talk about their passion for whatever work they do – the spots aren’t really about MailChimp, but they still communicate MailChimp’s story and high customer satisfaction by association. Clever monkeys!

So. Contrary to my general mistrust of over-produced brand stories, I think that customer stories, when done well, illustrate the best kind of marketing “storytelling,” because they put the consumer first, and those consumers communicate a product/services benefit in a more personable and believable way.  These videos aren’t about you. This isn’t a CEO’s rags to riches story, and this definitely isn’t about a “rebel with nothing to lose and a big idea,” because half of those stories are *poop emoji* and everyone knows it – it’s about how your tools have genuinely impacted the lives of others for the better, and how these people communicate their story (which is now a piece of your story) in their own words.

But before running off to your favourite customers and asking them to film a short testimonial or “day in my life” profile, be mindful that these true brand-consumer relationships require time/years of nurturing and respect (a.k.a. actual effort).

As Gini says, great PR and brand communication is “a marathon, not a sprint,” (p. 132).

**This blog post is part of a Digital Book Report assignment for MARK 9057, Social Media Marketing at George Brown College.

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