As I have elaborately pointed out in my book, ‘Round the Clock’ using research proof, the world of digital has radically altered power equations all over. Such a shift has been felt I believe most in the arena of business and brands. No longer are buyers and users mere recipients of all that is dished out by brands. They are instead seizing the opportunity that digital has universally enabled to ‘speak their minds’. Such plainspeak is turning marketing on its head because it's taking listeners away from brand propagated content to material put out by consumer-influencers. The latter are grabbing eyeballs and eardrums in plenty due to the credibility they enjoyed as neutral mouthpieces.
Now I am not in the least painting a bleak landscape for marketer
influence. I am only recommending that business and brands recognize this
altered marketplace dynamics and change the way they communicate and engage
with their target buyers. It's time they armed themselves with the right
tools so they can be heard amidst all the content din in a digitised
marketplace. One such tool is ‘storytelling’.
I believe it's about time brands learnt to tell their stories.
The lure of stories can better be understood with a deep dive into what
makes up human nature. At the core of being human lies the need to stay
connected, to identify and be identified with, to share one’s dreams and
aspirations with others. The need to be accepted within a sharing community
stems from social and psychological needs that humans harbour. The
existence of collaborative stable communities has been the core of human
survival and progress. How people connect and share experiences with others
is through the telling and retelling of numerous stories. When stories are
told, people listen, and in turn tell their stories, and the sharing
continues. What’s more, stories are even carried across generations thus
keeping them in play for thousands of years.
Brands that weave story narratives and share them engage and connect with
their target audiences at an emotional level. Brain chemistry is why
emotions are aroused through the release of cortisol, dopamine and
oxytocin. Buyers who listen to well- crafted stories are prompted to stay
attentive, feel a sense of pleasure and are moved to empathise with the
brand in question. Brand stories can persuade audiences to believe in an
idea, a cause, and influence them to buy a product or service. In addition
stories create a feeling among the buyers that they are contributing to a
bigger purpose through their actions.
It is however important for brands to note that the digital marketplace has
made them and their communiques far less significant in comparison to the
material put out by buyers. In such a scenario, it’s only those brands that
break through culture to achieve cultural relevance that have their voices
and stories heard. Digital on its part has altered how culture works
through the coming to fore of the digital crowd-culture phenomena. Such a
crowd-culture has changed the rules of branding. For brand storytelling to
work in such radically altered circumstances they have to first map
cultural orthodoxies that enjoy widespread practice. They then have to
locate & identify cultural opportunities so as to start and foster a
crowd-culture. Brands have to follow up by diffusing either an aligned or
new ideology and have the digital masses buy in. They need to also innovate
repeatedly seizing cultural flashpoints so their digital cultural movement
stays alive and even finds new takers.
Brand stories that find digital cultural relevance are those that will be
listened to, and retold by netizens. Such stories will spread far and wide
in the digital marketplace and do what is expected of them; put the brand
into the buyer’s consideration set and influence patronage.
The author is the Professor & Dean at Alliance School of Business,
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