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WHY Your Storytelling Isn’t Working

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Do you know why people respond (or don’t respond) to you brand storytelling?

The answer doesn’t lie in your typeface, your graphic design or even your social networks.
The answers lies in your strategy and customer clarity.

Let me put it another way: do you know what motivations your customers respond to most powerfully?

Several years ago, I launched a marketing incubator designed to help marketers connect the dots between personality types and motivations. What I learned when I did that was few marketers understood how to trigger basic motivations and even those who did, didn’t really understand why they worked. These were great and successful marketers who were committed to becoming even better. These weren’t lazy marketers, these were great people, good at what they do.

Before I go on, let me explain something: I did not make up these motivations. I am not even the first to write about them. They are ancient and hard-wired into the human experience, in fact, these motivations reside in the largest part of our brain, what I call “the other 90%.” Simply put, these motivations are not some flash-in-the-pan-do-whats-trendy-now strategy, these are strategies which trigger reactions from the oldest part of our brain.  Over the last few years, more and more has been understood about these motivations. But one thing is clear: despite the fact that these motivations developed in the earliest days of humanity’s survival of the fittest experiences, these motivations are very much alive and well today. What triggers them in the modern world is just different than what triggered them in our earliest evolutionary days.

So over the next weeks, I’m going to write a series about the seven Captivation Motivations all marketers should know. But not just marketers, product development, developers and anyone else who’s trying to trigger an immediate and memorable reaction.

The first Captivation Motivation I’m going to cover is so over-discussed and yet misunderstood, I wanted to get it out of the way: Storytelling

It’s important to understand WHY storytelling works and as importantly, what stories trigger us to buy.

If you take nothing else away from this blog post, understand this:

People buy for two reasons: it either reinforces how they see themselves or it reinforces how they want to be seen. (Tweet This)

In essence, every purchase we make is part of our story and we know this, deep, deep down.

What stories do we like to listen to?
Stories about us.
Stories that make us feel smarter, better, part of something.
Stories that reinforce how we see ourselves or reinforce how we want to be seen.

Why is this? It’s because the biggest part of our brain is focused on, you guessed it, us.
This is why brand stories have to be very carefully crafted.
As marketers, we want to tell the brand story, but the reader wants to read a story about them.
This disconnect is HUGE.
And yet, we see excellent examples of great brand story telling all the time. Simplistic and elegant and purely captivating.
One of my favorite examples is Coca-Cola. They kicked off their brand story telling years ago with “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” So celebrated and so ingrained in our culture, that it was the final episode of Mad Men and suggested as the career pinnacle of outrageously creative Don Draper.
Coca-Cola continues to tell it’s story through it’s consumers. Think about the soda bottles wrapped in names and now adjectives like “VIP” “Latino” “Super Star.” Every single on of these is designed to tap into how we see ourselves or how we WANT to see ourselves. You can even buy your own personalized bottle. When this first released and still today, it created a ton of user generated content on social. People loved taking pictures of themselves with bottles that told their story. Reinforced their place in the world.
You never once see Coca-Cola telling some long drawn out boring-as-all-hell story about what goes INTO the bottle, or who works in marketing at Coca-Cola, no. The story is always about the consumer and the story or movement they want to create. There is connection, not disconnect. You are Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola is you.
The reason Coca-Cola’s brand value is somewhere in the neighborhood of 45% of the company’s value is because the brand “gets”  the consumer, not the other way around. (Tweet This)
Apple is another great brand, although I personally feel they’ve lost their brand-way a bit. Still, the company is one of the most valuable brands in the world, regularly commanding a premium for technology that has been commoditized. Why? Because the brand had complete and total clarity from beginning. It didn’t make computers, it designed products to enhance our lives. They key word was design. Elegance, simplicity, easy integration into our lives. If Apple hadn’t insisted on these brand traits, it would just be another computer and laptop company. But again, these brand traits, they were customer-focused. They weren’t about Apple, they were about the user. And Apple has some crazy brand advocates who feel like owning Apple helps define who they are. Owning Apple helps them tell the world who they are. That is the pinnacle of advocacy and brand storytelling.

So when you start to integrate story telling into your digital brand strategy, ask yourself three questions:

Who is the story REALLY about? (hint: be honest with yourself here)
How does it reinforce my customer’s image of themselves or the way they want the world to see them?
What emotion will they feel after finishing the story?