Ze Art of Storytelling: Podcamp Recap #PCTO2013

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I had the honour of being asked to be part of a panel entitled Ze Art of Storytelling this past weekend at Podcamp Toronto.

Laurie Dillon Schalk nicely spearheaded the discussion featuring the following panelists: Mark Evans, Andrew Jenkins, Randy Matheson and myself. We were privileged to engage in very robust and interactive discussion with audience members.

With­out sto­ry­telling, con­tent is non­de­script, unin­spir­ing and, frankly, a waste of time and energy.

~  Mark Evans, Con­trib­u­tor, Forbes

Here was the premise of the session:

Com­pelling story telling is the foun­da­tion for build­ing strong social rela­tion­ships and brand advocacy.  Persuasive, share­able, and detailed, your brand’s story will cre­ate deep con­sumer con­nec­tions.   And yet, many brands do not tell sto­ries well.  Our panel will explore what is at the core of sto­ry­telling, what brand must do to unleash their sto­ries and also — how some brands are man­ag­ing to get their com­mu­ni­ties to tell the story on their behalf.

Storytelling has been around forever.

People are moved by emotion and the power of the narrative allows individuals to emotionally connect to an object or event. Researchers have long acknowledged that  “classical language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words”.

In fact it has been suggested that entering “descriptive” words, words that spark the imagination, can have the effect of altering the way information is processed.

The more people are absorbed in a story, the story changes them.

Here’s some context: In a meeting when we are presented with dry, factual details and arguments we are more critical and skeptical. Without an interesting lead in or background, we may even become disengaged.

But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard and this seemingly leaves us defenseless. Now our emotion takes over and we become increasingly engaged.

Storytelling Has Become More Relevant in 2013

Storytelling is the differentiator especially in times when consumers are being bombarded with brand messages everywhere they go: via email, TV, print and now–advertising on their social streams.

This information overload is propelling people to “switch off”. Companies must now figure out how to effectively engage consumers in a brand’s stories and using the construct of the narrative to create some powerful connections.

In addition, given the number of social media tools, people have the power to fill in the gaps and create their own stories about anything and any brand.

They stitch together fragments of information and attempt to draw their own conclusions. It’s becoming clearer that companies cannot necessarily afford to sit back and let the consumer decide what they stand for.

There’s a risky price to pay especially if the truth is distorted. Storytelling has the potential to inspire and create meaningful connections that will ultimately benefit the brand.

David Ogilvy once said,

A great ad is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.

The Story is the Hero. The Product is Merely a Supporting Role

This Audi Superbowl Ad: “Prom” does just that.

How many adult males have connected with the “father”, throwing the keys to his “younger self” and remembering when he was in his shoes?

How many of us have played the role of the high-school boy going stag to the prom, parking in the principal’s parking spot and having the gumption to approach that “girl” and kiss her.

We may not have lived it but we’ve enacted it a thousand times in our minds. One individual put it nicely: “Great storytelling includes conflict and resolution”.

Audi successfully connected each and every one of us to the high-school kid and his act of bravery. In turn, we unknowingly have a much closer connection to Audi, the brand.

The Brand Values Must be Reflected in the Story

This Lincoln ad included curated tweets by Jimmy Fallon to generate the story the #SteerTheScript campaign.

It features a man sitting in a chair in the middle of a field explaining the crowd-sourced nature of the spot, a young woman driving an MKZ, a hitchhiker, an alpaca farm, some turtles, bikers, and a wedding. I had to watch this twice to understand what they were trying to convey.

Some at Podcamp indicated “confusion” about the message. It didn’t resonate with them. It also did little to convey Lincoln’s beliefs or its positioning. It left that up to user-generated content and it failed badly.

Laurie noted that total engagement garnered was about 3800 tweets, mostly generated during the time of Jimmy Fallon’s show. An ad that gives up that much control to the public is risky.

This ad, made up from a mishmash of disconnected UGC content, without flowing from a single theme, does little to convince any of us of its worth.

The Best Stories Go Beyond Advertising

You want people to connect to your brand? Seed the idea.

Begin the first chapter and establish your brand values and develop a narrative that connects your customers to those same values. But don’t stop there!

Weave it into everything you do: your website, your blogs, your internal communications, your dialogue with your customers. Allow it to branch and morph and grow. And let your audience interact with it and develop their personal stories. Your story can develop into endless chapters, within months and perhaps years.

The only example and one that fits this to a “T” is “Red Bull Stratos”. Creating engagement at scale and being able to resonate with and establish an “emotional” connection with the consumer was established beyond comprehension.

Red Bull has been now been lauded as a “media” company, a distinguished label that describes its ability to drive inexplicable reach and resonance.

The results:
– 2,000,000 unique consumer actions
– 1,000,000 distinct Stratos participants
– 2,000,000 new subscribers acquired in 15 days
– 820,000 pieces of positive content created
– 400% increase over average length of consumer engagement
– 50,000 distinct links shared
– 61,634,000 trusted impressions generated

Are you ready to tell your story?

Founder at ArCompany, and Co-founder of Salsa AI, Hessie is a  seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also  an active writer for Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.

26 thoughts on “Ze Art of Storytelling: Podcamp Recap #PCTO2013

  1. AmyMccTobin says:

    You, Hessie, are a great storyteller, and every  blog post you write has a clear story.     I have been thinking about how old the concept of storytelling is, and how it has been part of great advertising since the beginning. I think of Coke ‘inventing’ Santa Clause.  I think of peddlers with their horse drawn carts spinning stories to their small town audiences.  To me, it is a wonderful thing because it highlights the humanity that is part of great marketing.

    • hessiej says:

      AmyMccTobinLast week when I was looking for examples in great storytelling I saw this one: The story of Lego: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdDU_BBJW9Y.  17 minutes long. It told the story of the man who started it all – in animation form. It brought me through his humble beginnings when he made the wooden toys, and during the war when he continued to thrive despite the country’s setbacks. Within 17 minutes, I was able to identify with the man who struggled to do the “right thing” and insist in quality despite the cost. I remember every part because I saw some parts of myself in him. You’re right, it is the humanity that touched me. I went back through some old vacation pictures of my family at Legoland in Disney and the endless hours that my kids spent piecing together their masterpieces while my husband and I baked in the hot sun. That brought back a lot of memories. Now I can look at it and have a deeper appreciation of the brand.

  2. PodCampToronto says:

    @ldillonschalk @hessiejones @markevans @randymatheson @ajenkins Thanks for sharing at #PCTO13 and throughout the year!

  3. AmyMccTobin says:

    @jkcallas Afternoon Jure. Still time to chat sometime soon?

  4. AmyMccTobin says:

    @tamcdonald Hi there Tim – thx for the RT of Hessie’s fab post.

  5. hessiejones says:

    @karimacatherine @Ldillonschalk @markevans @randymatheson @ajenkins it was a fun session, with some great discussion: Art of Storytelling

  6. Mark Miller says:

    Story is an ESSENTIAL part of any presentation. It’s the way to get emotional, visceral reactions to your message because of being able to put each listener into your story. — Mark Miller, Senior Storyteller 🙂

  7. Hessie Jones says:

    Agreed Mark Miller! For many of us who have experienced the doldrums of presentations, somehow this construct wakes up the brain and makes us sit up and pay attention.

  8. Amy McCloskey Tobin says:

    I want to be you when I grow up Mark 🙂 Seriously, for some brands it is A LOT easier. The real beauty is when a storyteller creates one for a new brand, a brand lacking history, or for a product that is simply not emotive.

  9. We can talk endlessly about storytelling because, quite frankly, most businesses do a lousy job of telling their stories. They generally drone on about things that don’t matter and will never matter to whoever is listening. 
    Some friends of mine and I are producing a business oriented radio show in which we invite local business leaders to join us on-air to tell their company story. Some of them are really good at it — they often tell the story much better than their marketing materials.

    • hessiej says:

      barrettrossie thanks Barrett! When companies stop thinking about themselves and what makes them great then maybe there’s hope.
      Times are changing, however, and companies have to think differently about how they provide value. The lessons will be learned quickly, I think.

  10. AmyMccTobin says:

    @ThinDifference Thanks Jon… I loved that piece by @hessiejones

  11. hessiejones says:

    @barrettrossie thanks Barrett! Now let’s help companies do it right! @AmyMccTobin

  12. AmyMccTobin says:

    @bdorman264 Sometimes, the women have mustaches too.

  13. AmyMccTobin says:

    @kmueller62 Well hello my long lost friend!

  14. Ldillonschalk says:

    Hey Hessie – great post.  It is such a joy to have a meaty topic to discuss with an audience so engaged.
     After podcamp, I managed to connect with Draftfcb’s behavioural scientists to talk about the social, emotional and cognitive triggers that lead to decision making – thinking it wise to address some of these into storytelling.  Although behavioural science is more about cognitive triggers – the institute did acknowledge a new body of work around brand narrative.  What I appreciated is that storytelling (or narrative) is easier to process than information.  It  also incorporates personal experience – which helps brands move closer to ‘becoming social’ (a very hard thing for many to do).
     Anyhow – my quick 1/2 presentation is here..  storytelling for the Ontario Cycling Tourism Forum (a group of equally passionate people).  My slideshare is here.. http://www.slideshare.net/ldillonschalk/your-stoires
    You will notice that I included Mark Evan’s great quote again.

    • Danny Brown says:

      Ldillonschalk “After podcamp, I managed to connect with Draftfcb’s behavioural scientists to talk about the social, emotional and cognitive triggers that lead to decision making.”
      So, hey miss – you, me and your scientists need to talk soon. 🙂

  15. ArCIntel says:

    @WhiteboardInc Thanks for the share!

  16. roberrific1 says:

    well done here Hessie  I like how you went right to the brain, re: Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area! ahh storytelling.

  17. […] Hessie Jones really impressed me with her account of the same session written on the Ze Art of Storytelling on ArCompany blog, […]

  18. […] By planning and implementing smart PR policies into your strategy, the social place transitions from a scary, unmanageable to something incredibly powerful and positive.  Social Media is a platform for you to tell your brand stories. […]

  19. […] participated on a panel entitled The Art of Storytelling at Podcamp earlier this year discussing which companies were doing it well (e.g. Audi and their super bowl […]

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