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We all love a good story. A good drama, an adventure, a romance, a tear-jerker – we all want to know what happens in the end. Does he get the girl? Does she find the treasure? Do they win the tournament? Stories take us to another place, to a safer place, where we can explore fantasy and fiction and a parallel universe where things are just as we think they should be. Stories too help us to think about who we are, and to contextualise the decisions we make from day to day. And stories are how we describe our own experience.
When we communicate, we tell stories. In an effort to get our message across, with people in a group or one to one,, we try and set the background for our audience, describe the characters, and then outline how it all plays out. It could be about a sports game, about a fun day out, or a new device. In the middle, somewhere there’s a kicker. Because there’s an event that changes things – the moment he saw her across the room, the goal just after half time that turned the game, or the application that meant I’d never have to do that chore again! The way we communicate a good storyline contributes to the effectiveness of the story.
Rich empathetic stories are usually the best ones. Stories that are told about places that you can relate to, people you know, or types of people you know, resonate better, and stay with you for a longer time. A consistent theme, strong narrative, and a timely payoff all contribute to effective storytelling. As listeners, we tend to tune out when stories are not interesting. So when marketing people decide that they want to deliver a message, a campaign, or a brand, they’d better make it a good story! Jonathan Gotschall’s recently published The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human emphasizes the point.
Way back in the heady days of the 1990’s One to One (the precursor to T-MobileUK, now part of Everything Everywhere, or EE) launched a brilliantly conceived campaign around the theme of one to ones. In a kind of an existential statement, their brand was not just about defining themselves, but about defining you. ‘Who are you?’ a suave, Pulp-Fictionesque Gary Oldman was asked. ‘You’re every one to one you’ve ever had.’ It was a great story, a great image. It was empathetic; if YouTube had been around back then, it would have been viral. In the middle of that 90-second ad, there’s a woman crying, having suffered a loss – this is not just glossy, soporific, squeaky clean brand, it’s visceral, real-life, real drama. Real people!
Now, budgets being as they are, we can’t all hire Gary Oldman, but at the same time we need to consider the art of storytelling in the context of our overall conversation with our customers. We need to think about what – as a service provider – our story is. That story needs to be comprehensive, coherent, and consistent. It needs to be connected to our values. And it needs to inform our business execution. How do call centre representatives greet callers? How do our stores echo the identity of the service provider? Does our paid media marketing execution mirror the in-house communications function? Integrated communications, integrated identity, and integrated story – these things define and differentiate a telecommunications brand, and will lead to better outcomes, and better customer engagement.