Storytelling is key to engagement

Storytelling is key to engagement

Studies in human psychology have found that if we are told something through narrative, we are more likely to relate to the message, absorbing it further and remaining engaged from start to finish. We only need to look at history to see how stories have shaped our lives and identities. Narratives as powerful as the Bible, ancient myths and Shakespeare’s prose speak to the heart, teaching us how to relate to one another and guiding us into action. Stories are easier on the ear than ad taglines. For a brand to replicate this empowering engagement, the content must tell a story that draws us in, broadens our horizons and delivers added value to our lives. But how to do it?

In the US, Gatorade’s awardwinning Replay campaign, based on the brand proposition ‘Once an athlete, always an athlete’, is a powerful example of storytelling at its best. Aimed at men over 30 who used to consume sports energy drinks in their youth but now do not exercise regularly, Gatorade tracked down original members of two rival American football teams who, 15 years ago, came to a devastating draw in their final senior year game. The brand cleverly reignited the pre-match hype by inviting the teams to take part in a rigorous training schedule, eventually staging a rematch of the game that included the original cheerleaders and coaches. Even before the match kicked off, the audience was gripped. Gatorade documented the teams’ training via social media and a TV documentary, making them co-creators in the story. The audience was keen to be involved with the story, with 15,000 tickets to the game sold out in just 90 minutes. Engagement carried on after the campaign with middle-aged men using Gatorade’s workout plans to get in shape and a Facebook app giving former sports teams the chance to reunite and ‘replay’.

So how does the story add value to a consumer? Through recruiting ordinary people to partake in a challenging sporting event under the watchful eyes of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Gatorade told a feelgood and poignant tale of community and support while instilling the power of motivation – proving what people can achieve with a little bit of determination.The story had huge emotional impact. Overall sales in the match region increased by 63% and the campaign generated $3m worth of media coverage, helping it scoop two top awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

What makes this campaign so extraordinary is the level of audience engagement. Consumers’ participation in the story demonstrates the power of inviting your audience to interact with your brand, giving them a story so powerful they will choose to share it themselves. Storytelling is about integration. We are all storytellers at heart and with the proliferation of social media platforms, there are more and more arenas to help us tell them.

Facebook’s timeline, for instance, traces back compelling brand histories, while Pinterest becomes a visual pinboard of our lives. We are becoming collaborative storytellers, constantly publishing our own ‘life stories’ online and telling the stories of others – so much so that brand protagonists are being replaced with consumer protagonists. Today’s consumers are far savvier to the ‘hard sell’ and will turn away from heavyhanded marketing messages.

To achieve true engagement, brands must wrap their products and services in a story, not only of the brand but the lifestyle associated with their product, helping consumers to organically accept them into their life and share their story as if it were their own. They must ensure their campaign is a catalyst for social dialogue and the key is to attract, involve and sustain without telling your consumers when and how to communicate. There must be an emotional connection too, drawing consumers into the story and creating brand advocacy.

If a brand’s story has a compelling beginning, an absorbing middle and a satisfying end, and if everyone can connect with, participate in and contribute to it, people will stop to listen. They will feel empowered to share the story with others, because an even greater pleasure than being told a good tale is telling it yourself.

Dom Robertson is Managing Director of RPM [email protected]

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