Storytelling in marketing

Thu, 24/12/2015 - 09:40

Early in 2015, world-renowned creative consultancy Wolff Olins hired acclaimed novelist Mohsin Hamid as its first Chief Storytelling Officer (CSO).

It is an unusual title, to say the least, but so important has telling the story of a brand become that it was almost born out of necessity.;

“Stories are fundamental to how we think about the world," Hamid told Fast Company magazine shortly after his appointment.

“Nelson Mandela told a story about what post-apartheid Africa could look like. That story was persuasive enough to promote change, and it became reality. JFK told a story about putting man on the Moon, and it inspired people and came to pass. These types of huge events were built on stories.”

The demand for storytelling is interesting. It comes at a time when short, concise social media posts dominate the landscape, yet there remains a strong need for it.

One of the reasons is that companies have begun to recognise the importance of having a specific narrative that is endemic to the business. Obviously companies have been telling their stories for decades via press releases or public communiques, but often they will overlook how there are perceived by their own workforce.

Serious businesses want to attract top talent, specifically those individuals who are forward-thinking and creative. A strong internal narrative, one that is full of intrigue and interesting plot development, can inspire people.

At its heart, brand narrative needs to follow the fiction model; that is, there needs to be elements of suspense and aspects that put the consumer into the story. By no means is it easy, but just as is the case with the best novelists, practice makes perfect.

A few guidelines that are worth keeping in mind


The best novels are built around strong characters, and so it should be with brand storytelling. Every company has those personalities who stand out for one or other reason, so their tales should be told. People love human interest stories – simple as that.

Keep them guessing;

“What happens next?” is a powerful literary tool used to great effect by novelists like Jeffrey Archer. That works in marketing as well.

Particularly if a business makes use of social media, it can always post alerts such as “Watch this space for more” once the first installment of a brand narrative has been uploaded to the company website. By making use of multiple platforms to relay the story, engagement will occur at many levels, thereby ensuring that consumers are entertained.

Don’t forget the brand

While it is very tempting to get carried away with plot and character development, the business should not forget that the entire purpose is to craft a narrative that puts the brand in a good light. By all means be creative, but make sure that whatever is written is positive and will make people interested to learn more about the company, its products or services.

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