By Matt Pigott - July 15th, 2016

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The second installment of our three-part series on content and the art of brand storytelling

Social platforms lead a return to the long-form

While some lament the fact that storytelling has become something of a dry buzzword, the essence of it sucked out by overuse, it’s worth noting that nothing beats it, and that brands need to get better at it. It's one of the reasons brands are often bypassing agencies and making a beeline for filmmakers and journalists to craft their narrative for them. Why is this happening? Predominantly because of social media and the elimination of restrictions on video length. Despite supposed short attention spans and scanning by viewers, the long form is making a rampant comeback, and both filmic and journalistic skills are in hot demand. On top of this, consumers increasingly expect a brand narrative. The caveat here is that whatever story gets told needs to be good – convincing, informative, sans BS, relevant, timely, engaging. It's a tall order. Just ask Coppola and Scorcese.

Or, you could keep it short and sweet

Still, anybody who thinks that telling a great story is synonymous with delivering a protracted yarn would do well to consider Ernest Hemmingway’s shortest story ever told.

         For sale: Baby shoes. Never Worn.

Short and sweet, it hits the spot. The apocryphal tale (the story around the story if you will), is that Hemmingway took up a bet that he could write a six-word story that would make people cry. Put another way, he believed in the power of words to transform thinking and touch the emotions in less than the two or three seconds it takes to read his six short words, pounded out on an old typewriter.

Kleenex mops up with emotion

Kleenex happens to agree with Mr. Hemmingway. In an effort to make people cry and have them reaching for their favorite brand of tissues, this summer Kimberly-Clark, the company that owns the brand, launched a new campaign entitled Time for Change. The campaign resonates with the Pay it Forward ethos of helping people when they’re down, and making the world a better place.

Although selling on the basis of facts and functionality, things like  texture and absorbency, have hitherto been the go-to strategy, Kleenex is now going straight for the heart with ‘share care’ videos. In the words of Eric Higgs, Kimberly Clark’s general manager, a Kleenex tissue isn’t just a tissue, but a “gesture of care”. The strapline someone needs one reflects the brands shift away from the product toward some of the emotive situations in which the product will be used. Other brands are also framing themselves in similar ways. 

The bell tolls for luxury homes (in a good way)

Take Toll homes, the biggest luxury home building company in the US. The reason Toll homes has managed to successfully connect with consumers is that it isn’t focusing on itself, it isn’t saying “look at us and the fabulous homes we build”. The focus instead is on the experience that takes place in the spaces the company creates. Videos on its lifestyle channel – lifestyle being the big clue here – run the gamut from wine storing tips and outdoor home maintenance reminders, to fully fledged three-minute cooking shoots with award-winning chef, James Beard. The point is, focusing on the product is what people expect, and Toll has gone beyond expectation to drive phenomenal engagement. In a test launch, its 'grilled shrimp and arugula' video had 1.6million views. But the more important metric is that 90 percent of people watched more than 70 percent of the video, highlighting the demand for quality content.

Delivering the unexpected keeps people engaged. And here it seems that the age-old adage: sell the sizzle (or shrimp), not the sausage (luxury homes) still applies.

A novel idea, or are brand stories in a league of their own?

One of the questions that springs to mind when thinking about storytelling is this: is telling your brand story similar to telling other types of story, such as novels, fairytales, and screenplays, or is it different enough to be treated as a unique discipline in its own right? Does telling a brand story need to be handled in a completely different way? The short answer to this would be, yes, handle it differently, and here's why...

Go to any movie, read any book from cover to cover, and something becomes apparent. If it’s any good, it will engage the emotions, stimulate the mind and lead to deeper thought and possible conversation. In other words, it will stick. But a movie will end, and a book will end, whereas a brand story never ends. A company established for a hundred years is no doubt bursting with potential stories. The difficult thing is choosing what to say, and getting behind an emotive message that will resonate best with the target audience. 

MorningStar Farms boxing clever

As mentioned, many brands are turning to professional filmmakers and journalists to convey their sentiments, employing a documentary-style approach to their messaging. MorningStar Farms made "The Veg Effect", running with the strapline: ‘5 stories, 5 different veggie full lives’.

Using stories to promote a vegetarian lifestyle, the brand called on a butcher (ironically), tap dancer, beer brewer, stuntwoman, and hip-hopper to tell their individual vegan and vegetarian tales?

Real stories, real people. Carefully curated, the subjects have been expertly filmed in their specific environments to talk about their vegetarian lifestyle choices. Once again, the camera doesn’t linger on branded products but draws the audience in with stories that resonate at the human level. And lest we forget, these real, emotive, visually captivating stories aren’t there to sell veg per se but to sell a specific type of veg-based product, namely products made by MorningStar Farms. They’re not shouting their name from the rooftops, or even the farm furrows, they're getting behind stories that people can relate to, and it’s working.

Find out more on this topic in our third and final installment of content and the art of brand storytelling

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