Digitial storytelling has become one of those buzzwords you throw around at networking events that seem pretty straight forward but are, in fact, not.
What is it exactly?
Storytelling involves using imagination to take an experience from ordinary to extraordinary. Why? To build community i.e. stories become part of the culture much like we see in the 90s movie ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ through Patrick Varona’s character played by the late Heath Ledger. His notoriety is built on several little stories that precede him and create the myth that gives him a certain kind of power.
Put simply: “In the beginning was the story. The story was about the brand. The story was the brand.” Storytelling is branding. It is the fabrication of myths surrounding a brand illustrating how a brand addresses existential human issues.
What’s Screen Culture Got to do with it?
EV-ERY-THANG!!!! Screens, being able to fit in the palm of your hand and go everywhere with you, have been like the reinvention of the wheel for advertising and getting your brand message in the faces of multiple audiences. However, this ubiquitous screen culture has made disseminating brand myths effectively increasingly difficult. With so many brands and now everyday consumers competing for my attention on my smartphone, my computer and my iPad, half the time I’m a world away and all their efforts just flicker by. A well-established myth, crafted by the expert storyteller and or wordsmith, creates a tribe and a culture. A story can have totemic power that starts new religions. Believers in the story form a kind of tribe forged in brand loyalty.
Part of the art of crafting your brand story is finding the right moment. I know it is easier said than done. Brands need to read the consumer pulse and tap into it. No more can brands rely on shaping our desires through fear and envy alone. Today the pulse is increasingly that of shared creativity and being a true partner to customers, where the consumer is a co-creator. Social media has perfected this model and today the platforms upend the relationship between brand and consumer in dominant media. The producing consumer was born aka prosumers. Brands are increasingly partnering with consumers to create, advocate and join their consumers’ activism as seen in the Adidas- ‘Unleash Your Creativity’ campaign, the Kenco- ‘Coffee vs Gangs’ campaign and Starbucks’ CEO committing to employ 10 000 refugees.
Adidas Unleash Your Creativity
Kenco- Coffee vs Gangs
Source: European CEO
The Curious Case of Archie Andrews
As a brand, your story arises out of your small community and the hope is to take that story to the broader public. But what happens when your brand has more than one facet e.g. the brand that makes cars and baby strollers? Diversification is not only about doubling your profit, it’s also about reaching new audiences- an important element for keeping a brand alive. Over time even the strongest brands go stale and reinvigoration makes the brand relevant and enables customers to see the brand from different angles. So what do you do? Unite the different facets by enlarging the narrative of the original story.
A great example of this is the Archie Comics brand. The 75-year old brand and its squeaky clean image no longer held appeal in the modern world. The new CEO and publisher, Jon Goldwater, set about making changes with the introduction of Kevin Keller, an openly gay character and first of its kind in the Archie universe in a new series called ‘Life with Archie’. This was the first step in showing the audience that the brand could be diverse and more representative of the world we live in. What followed were two more series belonging to the horror genre: ‘Afterlife with Archie’ and ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’. These two extensions of the Archie story were macabre but also the best-sellers for Archie Comics. They let the audience see Archie Andrews in a new light. But, how was the publisher to unify three very different storylines, timelines and genres under a single narrative? Riverdale! Riverdale is the name of the sleepy little town where Archie and the gang live. Riverdale is also the name of the TV series adaptation of Archie on The CW and Netflix and it has a little bit of everything from the wholesome good values that first defined the original Archie series to murder (as seen in Sabrina and Afterlife), mystery, love triangle, teen angst, racial diversity, Luke Perry (for us older geeks) and Kevin Keller. Voilà, all the different Archie brands united under one brand.
Telling it Like it is
Finally, where or what will brands be in the future? If the right story is told, the right way and using the right medium… they could be the new kids on an old branding block. Their stories have set the stage for cult following and brand loyalty while a combination of digital and diversification initiatives could make them legends forever cast in the minds of consumers.