Faculty Column: The Power of Storytelling

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Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management

By Professor Rick Baer

In this trimester’s Global MarComm class, I decided to highlight the power of storytelling–as this idea is getting great exposure as the current “magic potion” to motivate and engage customers and consumers. The idea of storytelling as an effective means of MarComm is not new, however. Religions have been great storytellers for thousands of years–effectively engaging their believers and encouraging their members to follow the proper path.

I think storytelling as a process for engagement with a target audience has become more popular recently in a reaction against many brand’s advertisements or actions that have seemed insincere or, at times, blatantly false. If we agree that one of the main goals of MarComm is to create a bond of trust between the brand and the consumer, then the authenticity of storytelling works towards this goal in many levels.

First, an authentic well-told story can trigger a powerful emotional reaction in us. Just have a look at this recently aired commercial for the True Move phone company from Thailand. And, once you wipe away your tears, I believe you will feel more positively toward this brand from now on.  This emotional feeling, brought about by excellent storytelling, makes us “feel something” for a brand or company. And, once we start to feel something about a brand, then the brand’s story becomes part of our decision-making process.

Next, a story can be memorable and believable because it stretches our imagination and awes us. This kind of story can be told about a real life situation with real people and real challenges, like this Coke ad, or it could be one that tells a brand story without using people, like this Honda ad. In both cases, excellent storytelling manages to communicate something we hadn’t thought of before–and now believe to be true about a brand.

Finally, a story can be a way to deliver a tangible and important message about a company or brand. Some times we use a story to offset a company’s past mistakes or miscues, like this apology from BP. Other times we use a story to talk about our vision for a company that helps others, like this one from New Vision. In these two cases, the use of storytelling is meant to humanize the organization and make consumers/investors either build/change their impressions about that company.

To conclude, today there is a higher awareness that storytelling, well executed and done authentically, can be very effective in changing consumer behavior in favor of your brand. As marketers we need to be very careful how we leverage this idea. We need to be absolutely transparent and honest in our storytelling, so that the trust we are developing is forged from a sincere, truthful MarComm about our brand.

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