It’s easy to call storytelling a cliché, but how exactly can one move beyond it when storytelling is entrenched as the epitome of what defines great marketing?
Enlightened marketers have recognised that today’s storytelling – particularly in content based on moving images, such as online video – needs to be composed differently to the traditional Hollywood storytelling curve, with tension and peaks at different points if you want to activate both engagement and sharing.
‘Storymaking’ describes the shift away from the broadcast-era mentality of storytelling to a new approach where marketers build on stories that people share with each other. Yet storymaking needs to be dissected so that anyone can identify it, learn from it and engage in it themselves.
Here are six characteristics of great storymaking:
Participatory: One clear sign of a story that’s told, rather than made, is that the audience hasn’t been able to add to the story in some way. Beautiful stories can be told in 30-second spots, but it’s impossible for a 30-second spot alone to be considered storymaking. Storymaking requires some effort from its audience.
Fan-inspired: Sometimes, marketers create new experiences that trigger storymaking, and there’s a place for that, especially when launching a new product. Yet marketers often get into storymaking precisely because they’re seeing what their fans are already talking about and sharing. Like any kind of socially-driven marketing, it’s advantageous to have an existing fanbase to draw from.
Decentralised: If all the stories are designed to live in a central hub that the brand or publisher owns, this takes away from what people can do on their own channels. True storymaking taps into any channels people want to use, online and offline. Sometimes this involves working with content creators and influencers to reach consumers. Youth media company Fullscreen did this by promoting the movie ‘Ouija’ with a stunt where they made teenage web star Kian Lawley disappear. His multi-platform efforts to tap his fans to bring him back lead to more than 7 million Twitter mentions about the movie.
Unpredictable: Because storymaking shifts the focus from the brand’s story to people’s stories about the brand, then it opens the door for others to take the idea in new directions. When Visa Checkout sponsored Odell Beckham Jr.’s successful attempt at setting the Guinness World Record for one-handed catches, it inspired others to try to break the record. Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Tevaun Smith seemed to do so, generating a new wave of coverage for the stunt.
Reciprocal: If you want people to run with a brand’s stories, there has to be something in it for them. For both Visa Checkout and Fullscreen’s ‘Ouija’ campaigns, the brands entertained and surprised people. Adobe, on the other hand, showcases its customers’ work in its marketing for Photoshop, Creative Cloud and other products, as almost all artists love getting more exposure for their work. The value exchange is usually clear in every great example of storymaking.
Authentic: The clearest sign of storymaking gone awry is when all the stories created are positive. If marketers embrace their lack of control over where stories go, it means some stories won’t be ones that any brand would tell. Yet, as brands are starting to realise, that’s less risky than covering one’s ears. A world where people have strong opinions – whether positive or negative – offers richer ground than trying to tell people how to feel.