Opinion

Share a story

Essentially the success of storytelling comes down to giving consumers the opportunity to indulge in one-to-one storytelling as we combine the brands’ and retailers’ story with our own.

I recently attended the second Future of Story Telling Summit #FOST2013 in New York. The fact that a summit now exists—and is attracting such top brains and brands—just goes to show the phenomenal impact storytelling is (once again) having on our culture as it shapes the momentum and meaning of everyday life.

There is huge competition to tell the perfect and most memorable story. But, new audiences are looking for new stories. And there is a big difference between true narrative and branded content. With the continuing advances of technology and digital storytelling infiltrating and impacting on every sector of society, brands need to refocus on just how they create, share and help us experience their story.

There are many viable storytelling routes and—with film very much today’s medium of choice—we are seeing brands engage in new storytelling shorts: from the comedic, musical narration for Virgin America’s on-board culture safety video—to cognac—with Hennessy’s borrowed narration of the life and success of racing legend Malcolm Campbell; the new face of the Hennessy brand.

The new bunch of Christmas ads/films is also worth a mention as they topically pull the storytelling genres and devices to the fore. M&S is relying on fantastical fairytales—but product promotion is maybe lost in the slick production values? John Lewis has created its own cutesy, woodland animal cartoon telling the story of the friendship between a bear and a rabbit but its sugary sentiment is meeting derision as it has moved so far away from the true emotion and aspiration the retailer’s ads is known for.

But it is Tesco and Sainsbury that are really hitting home: with Tesco opting for a hefty dose of nostalgia with a family’s video-cam memories of Christmas and Sainsbury’s engaging real-life, family Christmas footage and debuting the whole film via You Tube. Both films capture the very best of the old and new storytelling tradition—but, above all, are inclusive and open to interpretation.

Essentially the success of storytelling today comes down to giving consumers the opportunity to indulge in one-to-one storytelling as we combine the brands’ and retailers’ story with our own. We are looking to brands to suggest a perfect balance of inspiration, individuality and emulation, products and experiences, allowing us to build our own story around that start from a prescriptive but original viewpoint.

We recently spoke to Jo Malone, founder of one of Britain’s most famous fragrance brands, about her new venture. We all think we know the Jo Malone story. A young girl with a kitchen sink business growing into a phenomenal global brand leader bought out by Estee Lauder. But the story behind the new JO LOVES brand is almost even more surprising, specific and personal. As a sixteen year old, Jo’s first job was as a florist in Elizabeth street, the location of her brand new store, with the creation and celebration of the story of her roots  encapsulated in her new Flowers Shop Collection of fragrances.

Photo: Jo Malone, from The Independent

Photo: Jo Malone, from The Independent

It is this hidden and unique story that has become possibly today’s most real and most wanted story. It is, in part, of course, tied into the story of the brand itself but it’s more than that—it’s about our own interpretation of and desire for a particular element of a certain brand or experience.

And that is the crux. There are many ways to tell a story. But the best way will be your way. At the heart of a compelling story is a universal truth and all brand stories should focus on their fundamental truth. Otherwise the story simply becomes, at best, an entertaining distraction.

Today’s memorable brand stories are the ones that are able to break out of the category style. But more than that they are able to develop an overall narrative across everything they do—not just in a compelling new film—by engaging a new and distinctive visual and written narrative across all touchpoints from location to packaging that is refreshingly unique. In this way the story is brought to life in a truly innovative and desirable way to create deep, lasting and emotionally resonant brand connections.

For millennia human cultures have passed on wisdom and truth through storytelling. Now, in this new age of global campfire connection, people, consumers, orators are becoming curators of their own stories—using brand stories to collaborate and create their own worlds of experiences at home that embraces, but goes way beyond, the brand. Meaning that brands need to think of storytelling as a brand new art.

About the Author

Jonathan Ford is a designer, Founding Partner and CCO at Pearlfisher.

He oversees a portfolio of award-winning designs, including a high-profile list of ethical, entrepreneurial and iconic brands. He is also a frequent speaker at high-profile international industry events and regular contributor and commentator in the design and brand press.

Jonathan can also be followed on Twitter—@Jforddesigns