How to become a great storyteller

When I was in my early twenties, I stopped freelancing and joined an advertising agency full time, for one simple reason: I wanted to belong. I wanted to belong a group of individuals that were part of something bigger. I not only wanted to be part of the overall story of that agency, but also help tell the amazing stories of the brands we partnered with.

Most of the brands I’ve had the pleasure of working with have a great story behind them. Their founders, their journey or even their “raison d’etre” tend to be fascinating. Whether it’s Ferdinand Porsche designing his first car in jail, Rolex’s quest for perfection by making their own gold or L’Oreal’ s founder applying his knowledge of chemical engineering to the beauty sector. Great stories that are told well and in a way that moves people to be part of the brand, are the Holy Grail that every advertiser strives for. 

The challenge we are facing now, is the shift from one brand communicating to many consumers, to a model in which many consumers are communicating back to the brand; creating an endless cycle of content. Not only do they also expect a response, they ultimately influence the brand reputation.

Tell engaging stories that evolve 

The key to good storytelling is to have an interesting story to tell, think of the audience you’re going to tell it to and where. I’ve seen many advertisers fail when they change the order of the equation and prioritise the platform over what they’re saying. When this happens, brands sound more like a drunk guy at 3am at a bachelor party. They don’t know where they are, they make no sense and they won’t remember anything the following day.

 If you want to tell your story, below are the golden rules we use as the basis of great storytelling. 

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Build a world 

The entertainment industry is great at it. If I say “Mad Men”, “Downton Abbey” or “House of Cards”, there is a whole world that immediately comes to mind, because the worlds are created so beautifully. However, this has been lost with brands, as very few have a distinctive and universally recognisable look and feel. There are multiple elements and dimensions to a memorable brand.

Tell stories that lead to conversations

 Don’t tell a story, drop the mike and leave the stage. Stick around and have a conversation with your audience. Use social media, data, CRM, any way you can think of. It will help evolve your story, get valuable insights and get closer to your consumer for an enduring relationship. Our latest campaign for Age Perfect, led by L’Oreal, started a movement around beauty for women at a time in their lives in which they used to feel invisible - their community is anything but invisible and actively having a two-way conversation with us.  

Read more: How Virgin Australia use social media to tell stories that matter

Tell stories, not jokes 

Jokes are funny, short, make people laugh for a few minutes and are quickly forgotten. They make people listen to you for a while and can even get your brand talked about. However, stories become part of people’s identities, and draw people to them.

Humour is appropriate in some places for some brands, but we see advertisers focused on being funny regardless of whether it’s appropriate, relevant or useful and their campaigns. Without substance or meaningful impact.

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Think big 

They need to create a franchise. Ideas, themes, spokes people, structures or characters make people actively seek for more. When they are good and the product is at the center of the story, even better.

MasterCard is a perfect example, with its narrative, “There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard”. This opens the door to multiple ways of telling it, that are easy to explain and that leads our audience to engage with it. Such is the case with the “Priceless” platform. 

Let the story flow

It’s important to listen through the use of data, tweak your story and allow your audience to fill the gaps and even inform where the story goes. Blend evergreen, seasonal, proactive and reactive content to your story. Also remember that some people read papers and magazines from the last page backwards. Use every touch point your brand might have with the audience as a potential entry point. Stay relevant on a long term basis by telling your story to new audiences. Do not assume that everybody has engaged with your story from the very beginning. Use data to make your story meaningful – but at the core is a great story and a timeless human truth.

Never lie

You are going to get found out. Whatever the lie is, it will be all over the place before you know it and it will destroy your credibility. Audiences are becoming more sophisticated, using multiple media simultaneously Consumers are becoming more segmented and increasingly more skeptical of media. They are also more active in flagging fake news or anything that might seem untrue.

Brands need to behave more like people and less like advertisers. They need to have a brain (strategy), a heart (creativity), a mouth (production) and the ability to listen (data). Good storytelling nowadays is both an art and a science. Good storytelling is about showing the brand’s truth developing in-depth, multi-sensory, layered adventures that can draw an audience in across a multitude of channels. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the investment if you get it right.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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