Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Storytelling - The New Way Forward

Within both the content being studied in our classes and my own extra-curricular reading, I keep coming across the idea of ‘storytelling’, and I really wanted to discuss how powerful this method of communication could be for a brand, if harnessed correctly.

The first instance of storytelling that I came across was in reading an article published by The Business of Fashion on the success of Instagram. Speaking about the ‘story’ behind the brand, and its massive brand community, CEO and co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, was quoted saying that:

“We think of our user base as a community of people contributing to the larger vision of capturing and sharing the world’s moments. When I say moment, a synonym you could use is story. I mean, we really are about storytelling through a visual medium.”

What’s most interesting about this this insight, is that it applies to all companies, and not just Instagram. Consumption, in its fundamental nature, involves a moment, or many moments that create memories, evoke reactions, and build experiences. Whether it be quite literally capturing these moments, as it is the case for Instagram, or currating and controlling the moment, which is the focus for other brands, the need for a story to be told, or written is still universal.

What this means for brands is that the product or service they are selling, regardless of how well designed and sought after it is, still requires a strong context. And communicating this to customers is just as important as creating the product itself. Christopher Bailey, incoming CEO of Burberry, was recently quoted at the launch of the brand’s new flagship store in Shanghai, saying:
“I think [storytelling] is important globally, but in China it stops things from being [mere] product and starts to give it life. History and heritage is important to have as a foundation, but you have to build on top of that to keep it moving forward.”

Cara Delevingne at Burberry’s Shanghai Launch Party. (Source: Burberry)

For Burberry, a brand with such rich history in the UK, storytelling has always been a part of its brand ethos, but as they expand into new markets, or re-enter old ones, re-contextualising this story is clearly of crucial value. After all, how is a customer that is perhaps unaware of Burberry beyond its signature check pattern, able to understand how they fit in to the Burberry world? Well within Asia, part of Burberry’s storytelling strategy has been focused around the association of Burberry with weather, and conditioning Asian customers to see Burberry as a lifestyle brand, as much as a fashion one (i.e. if its raining outside, then you’ll need your Burberry umbrella to go out).

I could go on and on with different examples of storytelling in practice, but most of it is fairly intuitive, so I might save those stories for another time!

Salil Kumar
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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