Tuesday 12 September 2017, London

“Businesses won’t be heard unless they’re telling good stories.” We communicators generally know this to be true – but why do stories win, and how can we tell them in an effective and coherent way across an entire digital ecosystem?

Matt Guarente, Managing Director at Bladonmore

To focus on one thing, instead of allowing our mind to wander, requires huge amounts of energy. Matt used the torch analogy. In diffused mode, you’re waving the torch around, not settling your attention on anything in particular. In focused mode, you’re shining the torch on one small area. Problem is, even if you manage to get someone to point a narrow beam, our attention easily wanes and gets dragged into other areas.

Modern technology often gets the blame. On average, every day we devote an hour to Youtube and half an hour to Facebook. In the course of our lives, we’ll spend longer social networking than we will eating or drinking.

But technology’s not the issue. We’ve been creating visual and mental shortcuts forever. The amount of time we devote to these channels does spell trouble, however, particularly for younger generations. As Lady Greenfield warns: “Kids experience on social media are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance.” We adults are not immune.  

So, what can communicators do about it?

Matt described how we listen. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt for the first 20 seconds, after which our attention begins to waver, perking up again only when we know the speech is coming to an end. If the speaker starts out well, then the modulation in-between is reduced. If they start out badly, our attention drops and stays low. In other words, get to the essence of the story fast.

How do you do that?

Good stories are as they’ve always been. Aristotle talked about ethos (credibility), logos (knowledge) and pathos (emotion) in the 4th century BC. It’s exactly the same today because of our unchanged biology. From presenting facts, through to making observations and creating metaphors, we’re stimulating different parts of the brain and releasing emotion.

Matt also referenced the “Ladder of Abstraction”. From the concrete through to the conceptual (e.g. mum, parents, relatives, people), stories should move between rungs, talking about big concepts and then drawing our attention to the granular detail, before drawing us back out again.

Matt: “Stories are our best hope of convincing people, when convincing people is a tricky game.”

Dominic Zammit, Strategy & Content Director, Industry Innovations

The advent of mobile technology means we can access information at any time, in any place. We have the ultimate consumer power. For companies, this means customers consume their brand through a series of fragmented micro moments, requiring their brand story to resonate equally across all of those moments.

Dominic presented the latest Google insights, measured over a two-year period, which he chunked into:

  • Informed clients: 80% increase in searches that include “best”; 35% increase in searches for “product review”
  • Local clients: 130% increase in searches that include “near me”
  • Impatient clients: 53% of visits are abandoned if a website takes more than three seconds to load; 50% are more likely to expect an immediate purchase when they enter a site; 3 in 4 users turn to search for immediate needs

These behaviours carry through to how we interact with brands at a corporate level. Brand stories, therefore, need to address all of these needs.

So, how do you achieve a story that’s “simple, honest and memorable”? Dominic says, first establish your plot. Know your audiences, their preferences and what channels you can use to engage them. Figure out what story you want to tell across the entire customer lifecycle: from ‘discover’, through to ‘explore’, ‘engage’, ‘retain’ and ‘advocate’.

Then, empower your storytellers. Employees will bring you the best value and return, so focus your efforts on developing an employee advocacy programme. This requires cultural change at a fundamental level. To tell and sustain a great brand story, companies need support from the top and a culture where staff feel trusted and free to participate in storytelling. Employee advocacy programmes also benefit from incentivisation through induction and appraisal processes, perks and even gamification, as well as plenty of guidance, in the form of workshops and training, and measurement of success.

Companies then need to spread their efforts on networking (online, in-person), publishing (thought leadership, corporate news), engaging (commenting, liking, sharing) and prospecting (client research, lead generation).

Dominic ended with a glimpse into the near-future; a digital world where personalisation and automation, online client management and community development, become the norm. Further off, we can expect augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to become the digital tools that help us tell stories.

By Jessica Nicholls, Senior Consultant at Linstock Communications