How a Marketer Discovered the Wonder of Brand Storytelling



I’m sure you’ve had the kind of meeting with a perspective new client where you walk in full of ideas and excitement, share your genius in all its detail, only for them to stare back with an element of … hmmm, what’s the word … nothingness?

“I think LinkedIn is the platform for you, but before we do anything, I need to figure out who you are, and what makes your accountancy firm unique and different to everyone else,” I said, eager and bright-eyed, one morning.

“Why?” he asked, a stereotypical accountant, who, though absolutely fantastic at his job, isn’t exactly forward-thinking.

“Because it’s about forming meaningful connections with your clients, and showing them why you’re unique and better.”

“But can’t you just create the LinkedIn strategy and make sure it works?”

“Well … eventually … maybe … But first we need to put in the groundwork–”

“I just need you to set something up. We can figure everything else out later, but for now, I need something that works.”

With a deep breath, I slumped into my chair. “Of course.”

When enough is enough:

I have marketing degrees, been to business school, and worked at a few companies heading up their communications. I know the ins and outs. I’m aware of the models and importance of ROI, and all the other stuff that falls under the marketing umbrella. There’s a difference between knowing something and agreeing with it, though. When it comes to the old-hat marketing ways, I sigh. 

And this meeting provided a pivotal moment in my life. 

I knew working with that client would drain me. I’d want to do A, B and C, whereas he’d only care about X, Y and Z. Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever known you’re wasting your breath, and that though you’ll pick up a cheque and pay your bills, you’ll drift into tedium and dangerous thoughts?

I’m sure you have. This wasn’t my first, but I wanted to make it my last. It’s why I decide to work for myself, after all. Tired of working for bosses who wouldn’t let me spread my wings, and who focused only on the obvious metrics, rather than the ones that nurture long term and meaningful growth, I took the leap and walked my own walk.

Yet, there I was, working for myself, but with the same mindset as an employee. I sat opposite a juxtaposed client, and though I could spend weeks and months trying to twist his arm, why bother? Some people want marketing, whereas others desire more. I need more. I need clients who need more. I have more to offer, so I had to put a stop to the same-old, same-old.

But how?

Storytelling — wonderful, juicy, interactive storytelling.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time imagining new worlds and creative ideas. I like to go back to the start and picture the background of characters, the things that happen before the story kicks in, and create structure and substance and a sense of oompppphhhhh.

That moment, sitting across the accountant, I realised I approach marketing like a story.

Marketing, like life, evolves. We’ve used stories in our marketing ways for generations, but expectations have changed in recent years. You can no longer use stories as part of the process. Stories are the process. As consumers, we no longer trust a brand that uses stories as a tool to sell to us. We seek those that share their story, invites us into their world, and introduces us into their process, WHO they are, and WHY they’re special.

Some people don’t want this. Some businesses and clients and bosses fight it. They’re not ready. That’s fine, but I am. I am ready. I’m raring to go and eager to be part of this world, so it’s my job to find those that are. These are my clients. These are the folk I can help.

Just because I kept finding clients and bosses who wanted something else didn’t mean like-minded souls weren’t out there. I had to figure out what I wanted, define my version of success … define my version of marketing … define how I can help people and businesses alike … and build a life around this.

The art of interactive storytelling

I blamed my frustrations on clients and bosses and teachers, because they didn’t see the same kind of marketing as me. It’s not their fault. Marketing takes on many forms and is huge by nature. My view on it is my view only, and it doesn’t make it right or wrong. My frustrations weren’t their fault, they were mine.

It’s my duty to search for those I can help, but before I can do this, I must first define what I want, who I want to help, where they are and how I can. I didn’t do this. I placed myself in the standard marketing role, did the standard marketing things and moaned when it didn’t satisfy me.

What an idiot! 

But it was during this time I realised how deep my storytelling ways went. I also realised how powerful storytelling is, and that it doesn’t have to play a role within marketing, rather determine it. Not everyone will want this or like it, but that’s fine. Some do. These are my peeps. These are my clients. These are my brothers and sisters, and those I seek.

Through websites and social media and videos, images, presentations, stage performances, experiential settings, and so much more… interactive storytelling literally grabs the customer by their hand, and whisks them off on an unforgettable adventure. When I write a novel, I do so with the aim to capture the reader’s imagination and have them picture everything in their mind.

With brand storytelling, there are no rules. You can literally show and interact in ways you cannot through books.

The old versus the new — hello, interactive storytelling

It’s not to say the old marketing ways are dead, or that those who use them shall fail from here on in. Some will. Others won’t.

But, we live in a different society than we once did. In my opinion, storytelling is one of the few things we trust, because they’re built on emotions and meaning and go beyond the standard sell-sell. It cannot stop at storytelling, though. You cannot tell your story and expect results, just like you cannot open a Twitter account and expect it to work.

This is where interactive storytelling comes into play.

Interactive storytelling prevents you from focusing everything around YOU. It ensures you dig deeper, and involve your audience. David Berkowitz talks about Story-Making, rather than Story-Telling, and to an extent, I agree with him.

YES, your story is about you, and YES, it needs to show who you are and why you’re unique. BUT it can’t be all about you. Interactive storytelling allows you to involve other people, and include your customer in the journey. In my opinion, brand storytelling should always include interactive storytelling, for without it, it becomes another standard message in the ether of messages — most of which ask you to buy this, that and the other.

I think this is the main difference between old and new marketing. 

The old hat ways centred everything around buying something, and placing focus on the product. New marketing assumes the sale will come, so long as you connect the right dots with the right people.

Tom Shoes don’t sell shoes on the back of shoes alone. They do so by involving you in a bigger picture. Once you wear a pair, you become part of this worthy and larger-than-life story, and they ask you to create your own. This, by nature, is interactive storytelling — or story-making, if you will.

New marketing focuses on the brand, under the assumption it’ll sell the product if executed properly. To an extent, old marketing did this, too, because it’s how businesses like Coca Cola thrived. But for a long time, you could grow with impressive TV adverts that asked people to buy a product because it solves a particular problem.

This doesn’t work so much anymore, because we’re surrounded by it ALL OF THE TIME.

Interactive storytelling embraces the involvement of others.

I love writing novels, but there are limits as to how interactive they can be.

When it comes to brand storytelling, these limitations are removed, and interactive storytelling is the future, in my humble and wayward opinion. As someone who likes to look to the future, and embrace the possibilities, the old marketing world never suited me. This new one, on the other hand, full of stories and visuals and interactive means … oh heck yeah, this is something I can jump on board with.

New marketing … brand storytelling … interactive storytelling … whatever you’d like to call it … allows me to truly unearth who a client is, and how best to share their message with an audience who craves it. There isn’t a quick or easy fix, and the expectations of such isn’t there. Because people who embrace this, know it’s about building a brand for the future, as well as selling products today.

Not everyone gets this, or is ready for it, or open to it, which is fine. Like I say, some are, and these days I spend my hours searching for them. The result? Projects I love. Clients I adore. Stories that mean something, and messages that help change how we market, sell, and run our businesses. 

Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Marco Arment

About the author: Under30CEO

Under30CEO is the leading media property for entrepreneurs, inspiring the world’s next generation of business leaders. Under30CEO features direct interviews with the most successful young people on the planet, profiles twenty-something startups, provides advice from those who have done it before, and publishes cutting edge news for the young entrepreneur.

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