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Utilising storytelling for effective marketing communication

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of human existence. Life is full of stories of love, conquests, achievements, failures, and defeat. Storytelling narratives are featured in various formats, including textual, audio and visual. For instance, I recall with great nostalgia the editorial cartoons of Josy Ajiboye, Boye Gbenro and Akin Onipede whose works were published in national dailies in the 1980s and 1990s.

Storytelling is not only an effective marketing communication tool. It is the most effective way to engage your audience and has become an essential part of the brand communication strategies of companies, especially given the increasing adoption of content marketing, which is useful for an engaging target audience and driving customer loyalty. The art of storytelling – as presented by Seth Godin in his 2012 book “All Marketers Tell Stories” – is now at the centre of strategic consumer marketing. Brand-building and communications professionals have embraced storytelling as part of their engagement strategies with the target audience.

Storytelling is effective in the way it fosters an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. The psychology of storytelling has shown that a strong narrative makes the audience experience the information. Incorporating stories in communication delivers greater impact than simply passing across the message or the facts.

Coca-Cola’s “Liquid and Linked Idea” marketing strategy is about storytelling. The global beverage giant designed the content-based marketing strategy as a framework to drive consumer engagement, boost purchases and enhance its brand value.

Coca-Cola and other astute and highly-competitive brands have identified millennials or Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1994) and Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2015) as key consumer segments. These brands are leveraging social media and other digital platforms to reach these demographics cohorts through various online content marketing strategies, with storytelling as a key element of those strategies.

A few lessons could be drawn from the beverage giant’s strategy of “Creating Brand Value through Content Excellence.” For one, consistency is key to brand storytelling. Just like in TV dramas and literature, storytelling in marketing communication can also be delivered in a serialized format to provide consistency in the presentation to the target audience. After all, stories are accounts of sequences of events. Brand communication requires consistency across the multiple mediums and channels that are being utilized.

Consistency is a key deliverable because it promotes the integrity of the brand and also helps in deepening consumers’ trust and loyalty. By including storytelling in their brand communication strategies, companies can provide platforms for the systematic dissemination of narratives about their consumers and build brand loyalty. Well-told and communicated stories elicit enduring conversations and generate followings and patronage.

Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was designed as part of the “Liquid and Linked Idea.” While the campaign was launched in Australia with personalized cans and bottles of Coke, ‘Share a Coke’ has become a global phenomenon as names of Nigerian consumers are now also labeled on Coke bottles and cans.

Organizational or brand storytelling is often creatively designed to elicit emotional connections with the target audience with the aim of building long-term relationships. Brands can deploy storytelling as a compelling means of informing their consumers about their accomplishments, challenges and community impact.

Lifebuoy, a body care brand of Unilever, is known for its health and hygiene initiatives designed to promote healthy living. Indeed, storytelling is different from advertising because various narratives are created as contents to stimulate conversations between the brand and consumers. This is different from advertising, which has the primary aim of selling. Brand narratives often involve communicating the brand values to the customers. This can be achieved by showcasing the impact a company is making, while also getting the customers to be engaged in its journey to achieve further impact, which can be social or environmental.

The award-winning “Made of More” campaign created by AMV BBDO, the London-based communication agency, for Diageo, the parent company of Guinness, has also proved how storytelling can be an effective tool for brand communication. While some brands use celebrities as their ambassadors, Guinness’ “Made of More” combines compelling narratives and impressive visuals to tell the stories of how ordinary people have persevered. The company uses the campaign as a way of telling its audience the story of its own transformation and uniqueness.

Diageo and Coca-Cola’s content marketing strategies show why storytelling humanizes the brand, thereby, producing optimum engagement with the audience. In the digital age, the process of sharing stories and humanizing brands becomes simpler and yet more profound.

Digital technology such as social media has become a very powerful medium to share brand stories as well as consumer experiential stories. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are also groundbreaking technologies that are driving storytelling. VR and AR combine media and technology, providing brands the opportunities to give their consumers the unique experience of being “immersed” in the brand.

Immersive storytelling is gaining prominence across various media such as documentaries, theatres, advertising, games, cinemas, bringing with it new consumer experiences and better ways of entertainment and consumer communication. In 2015, the United Nations partnered Unicef Jordan, Samsung, and Vrse.works to create a virtual reality experience that transported top global decisionmakers to a Syrian refugees’ camp. This experience quickly elicited reactions from the participants and the Syrian refugee crisis subsequently received global attention.

Every organization has a story to tell. But the story has to be told with great authenticity and creativity. Nevertheless, stories about brands do not only emanate from brand owners. Vested stakeholders interested in sharing brand experiences can also participate in brand storytelling. As such, trends in modern marketing communication suggest that a brand’s market success does not depend on the brand owners alone. With the democratization of new media, stories told by consumers about a brand can have a powerful effect on the brand, for better or worse. This requires brands to lead in utilizing storytelling as an essential marketing communication tool.

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