I began my personal blog back in 2008. A year later, when people actually began to read it, I started getting feedback from my readers that all seemed to hone in on one word. “Eric, that blog you wrote was so relatable,” or “Everything you write is so relatable compared to this other stuff” or “How can you be so relatable and transparent?” I was writing about my kids and my wife and my occasional struggles to make sense of it all. It was my crazy life. What are they talking about? I wondered.
In 2012, I began working in the public affairs department at Coca-Cola’s corporate offices. Storytelling was on the table at Coca-Cola long before it became today’s inescapable PR buzzword. In 1928, company president Robert Woodruff decided his product needed to be in homes and not just at soda fountains. Distribution and bottling was ramped up, the 6-pack was invented and a vast amount of the company’s operating budget was diverted to marketing with the sole goal of making the brand a household name. Storytelling became the bedrock of their marketing efforts. Soon afterwards ads were launched featuring a smiling Santa Claus happily holding a bottle of Coca-Cola and the rest is history. After learning this bit of company history I realized that via my blog I had been doing something similar. Behind every post I wrote there was a story about being a dad or a husband or both. Each story had an introduction, which presented the characters and setting, a plot, filled with challenges and conflicts, and a conclusion that either resolved the conflicts and issues or if left unresolved, made sense to the reader why this was the case.
Written as stories versus merely touting the joys of fatherhood and marriage, my content was relatable because despite however personal my experiences were I was telling my version of the universally understood story of fatherhood and marriage. People were relating my stories back to their own lives, helping them to better understand themselves, their partners and their kids. The content was consumable, and with the rise of social media, it became highly shareable. The same should be the case for brands.
Brand Storytelling vs. Marketing Wow
In the marketing world, we toss around phrases such as “content is king” and “brand storytelling,” but more times than not we continue to do what we’ve always done — hawk products and ascribe as much wow factor to them as possible. Thanks to social media and the availability of information, the marketplace is populated with uber-savvy consumers. In the past, it may have taken a considerable time investment for a white paper to be created that attempts to debunk the recent Chipotle Scarecrow video. In 2013, it took comedy site Funny or Die less than a week to create a parody video that goes for the laughs but also causes a consumer to think a little longer before storming Chipotle en masse for burritos.
How To Be Authentic: Create Stories For People, Not Products
In order for brands to be effective storytellers, a meaningful and relatable experience needs to be crafted around the brand promise or opportunity. If done effectively, this overarching story becomes the driver for consumer engagement and the source material for additional story-based content — campaigns, contests, user experiences, etc. — that are likely to foster brand affinity, create activity across the digital landscape and create engagement in the real world.
The Anatomy of The Brand Story
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Last year, Allstate told a beautifully simple story that most adults have personally experienced one way or another.
Then, in a stroke of genius, the company decided to personify “Mayhem” and cast actor Dean Winters to play the role. What followed was a series of entertaining Don’t-Do-This-At-Home commercials and videos that gave Dennis Haysbert’s character, the personification of Allstate, a brazen and maniacal antagonist to thwart with his products and services. It was source material executed with skill and humor again and again, one story after another.
Aside from the obvious storytelling masters, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, Allstate isn’t alone when it comes to effective brand storytelling. Kellog’s Cagdas Artu, Roma Boots, Minnetonka Moccasins, Aston Martin and DollarShaveClub.com are just a few of a number of brands with a firm grasp on how to engage people, rather than consumers, via storytelling. It’s not about big budgets. It’s about understanding people, what matters to them and shaping a brand’s message to meet and serve them where they are in life.
*Eric is the Senior Content Strategist at Moxie. After hours he assumes his alter ego, E.Payne, and blogs about his experiences as a father and husband. Catch him if you can during his radio and television appearances or you can simply follow him on Twitter at @EPayneTheDad.