PROOF | change communication & employee alignment

Story…telling…making…catching… creating…what does it all mean?

by Ben Wickham

The world has gone story crazy. Design houses, creative agencies, fashion houses, cultural institutes and large corporations have all jumped on storytelling. Grabbed it, claimed it, used and abused it.

By why storytelling? Is story, as one CEO we work with said, just a trick invented by agencies to sell more products?

It’s the job of the trend watchers, creative agencies and design gurus of this world to read the zeitgeist – the changing waves of vogue, mood and behaviour – and ensure the tightest fit and greatest impact between what we (as a business) want to say and how (our audience) interpret, understand and act on it.

Story is one of the most effective ways of doing that. Why? I’ve outlined some ideas below.

Story is Human

Story is how we make sense of the world, explain the unexplained, try to understand what is going on. My four-week-old son does four things: eats, sleeps, poops and dreams. Dreaming is storytelling – it’s our brain joining up random events to try and make sense of them. Ever wondered why your dreams are so weird? Our brain is a storytelling machine.

Consider three images: an empty beer glass, a crashed car and a church service… you can’t help but link them together and create a narrative. In fact it’s impossible not to. Our brains are designed to make connections, to combine random events and create a narrative.

To deliver information in the form of a story is the most natural, oldest and most human way to communicate.

Story is a Sugar Cube

When I was six I went to the doctor for a polio vaccine. The doctor placed the fairly nasty tasting polio suspension on a sugar cube and, as a six year old I gobbled it up without thinking about it. I’m now immunised for life.

Story is a Trojan horse for delivering ‘content’. It bypasses our natural mental defences (neocortex) to plant a seed in our brains that will continue to grow. It’s virtually impossible to get a story out of your head once it’s taken root. It’s why they are so repeatable (“You’ll never guess what happened to Bob…”).

Something else is happening… our brains have an inbuilt conversion device that enables it to listen to a story and break it down into a format, ideas and experiences that we can relate to. We reflect ourselves in the stories we hear.

Story connects the inside with the outside

In a world that demands transparency and authenticity – story connects what we say externally with the culture, narrative and purpose of the business internally. It gives substance, credibility and authenticity to a brand.

In a world in which reputation is becoming one of the defining features of business success – story, which by definition means discussing challenges and obstacles – Is a proven tool.

Unilever released their results a few days ago – what was apparent was that their most successful brands were the ones with a clear story.

Three great examples of how companies are using Storytelling:

  1. HEINEKEN Green Room: an advocacy platform where employees and the business create and tell stories:
  2. ING a case study film for a storytelling platform we created the global business. 75 Reporters (storytellers) around the world creating film and story content about the culture and values of the business.
  3. ACTIZ, an interactive employer branding campaign where the audience is actively involved in finding the solution to the story – it’s Agatha Christie for recruitment.

Take a look at photos from our Storytelling Workshop we did at the agency a few days ago

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