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Storytelling in Branding

21 November 2013 Jim Harrison,

Emma Tranter writes...

I was interviewing a girl recently and she made a comment about how people only figure out their journey plans after they have left the house. Everything is done on the fly.

This conversation took place only a few days after I had taken my 4 year old son to a Fireworks display at Coram's Fields…and it got me wondering.

Wondering about the interplay of anchored traditions and the modern way of life.  Wondering about the relevance of calendar staples like the Harvest Festival, Halloween, Bonfire night and even religious festivals like Christmas and Eid. Are they at odds with a world where things are not planned ahead, prepared for or anticipated?   If we don’t know what we’re doing in the next half an hour, how can we prepare for an event in a few weeks’ time? Does this make our traditions all the more precious or are they, in fact, observed in only the most cursory sense. After all, a large percentage of Valentines cards are bought on the day itself. And of the remainder, many are purchased online – we don’t even have to make any real effort to mark such occasions.  In truth, I only knew about the Fireworks display because someone texted me an invite the day before. I went because I thought it would be nice to keep up the tradition for my son.

A new word has crept into branding in the last few years, stealthily gaining ground. That word is ‘storytelling’.

Storytelling is as old as the hills. Storytelling existed before we could write, before books and magazines, radio and television: before branding.  Storytelling has kept our traditions alive. We still tell our kids the story of the Tooth Fairy. We still tell them about Santa’s reindeer and how they like to eat carrots (in reality, reindeer eat lichen and moss but that’s not part of the story).  Brands and branding agencies have cottoned on to the power of storytelling and begun to weave stories about themselves in order to capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of their audience.  Some people buy into these stories and develop an emotional bond with the brand, in much the same way as we emotionally invest in occasions like Mothering Sunday.  We understand what it stands for and we choose to participate. But a child of the modern era will want to communicate with you on the fly. They will want to browse your website on their morning commute, purchase online, rate you to their peers, post commentaries and tweet about extreme brand experiences.

The most successful brands capitalise on both positions: not only telling stories and building traditions to fulfil our deep-seated desire for a meaningful emotional bond, but also facilitating the societal transparency and openness that technology and social media enables.  The more powerful your brand story, the more your audience will want to engage with you.

And so I found myself, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the magnificent fireworks display, photographing my son’s wondrous expression, emailing it to the grandparents and checking into Facebook and Foursquare to spread the word, all in the space of a 5 minute display.

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