Storytelling vs Storydoing: the art of bringing the audience to the story

Brands must ensure their messaging connects with their values to win the next generation of consumers

Alex Young

Managing Director We Are Futures


With audiences becoming more and more fluid and social platforms continually evolving with new toys, features and filters to catch people’s eye, it’s never been more important for brands to find a format through which they can engage the public effectively. And as every CMO knows, it is the consumers of tomorrow who should be a key priority. Namely, young people. 

Brands who wish to reach young people today should abandon any thoughts of just story-telling and replace it with story-doing

Alex Young, Managing Director, We Are Futures

If a brand wants to make a real impact with young audiences then creating a connection is crucial, and for that to happen they must look beyond merely traditional advertising. It’s not just about trying to work out where this audience is and deliver an ad anymore, brands have to be savvy and do more than tell a story. Draw them in and offer them value before even considering selling a product.

In fact, selling a product should be low down the list of objectives in youth marketing. At this important stage in the life of an Emerging Adult - that is, someone aged between 16 and 24 - the priority should be getting on their radar in a positive way. This age group is incredibly principled and passionate and are looking for brands that resonate with that as they make unconscious decisions about which products and services to align with as they enter adulthood. And don’t be lulled into a false sense of security knowing they are not the breadwinners in their household; their influence on their parents’ purchasing habits cannot be underestimated.

Brands who wish to reach young people today should abandon any thoughts of just story-telling and replace it with story-doing. Think initiatives such as young inventor competitions, personal banking challenges, innovation schemes, education and skills building programmes and if you don’t know what that looks like, let me share with you a few key pieces of advice on the best approach.

1. Spend time with your audiences

This cohort is one who have arguably suffered the most through the pandemic, seeing key education and social milestones directly impacted. Add in Brexit, the cost of living crisis and university fees and these young people are leaving school with some impossible decisions ahead.

Take time to learn their needs right now: what’s important to them, what would add value to their lives and what they may be lacking that they can’t get access to elsewhere. Free education or training in certain areas - such as finance or STEM - could deeply enhance their lives, inspiring them and opening up doors they didn’t know existed. Meet them in the middle and make their lives and future prospects better with some form of added value.

2. Connect on their level and understand their mindset

While the aforementioned Emerging Adults are the key audience to consider today, Gen A shouldn’t be forgotten. Each audience is of course very different, but assuming you have done sufficient research then tailoring programmes to a broad range of ages - with separate and age-appropriate focuses - ensures no one is left out.

And yet, while establishing age-appropriate content, also make an extreme effort not to patronise people of any age. Young people have a strong voice and know their minds. They feel empowered and want brands to speak to them on an equal footing. Take your time to respect their intelligence.

3. Give them something to celebrate

Young people respond well to praise, and offering training or education programmes that include some form of accolade or accreditation that they can share and celebrate will deepen the connection and enhance the positive relationship between them and the brand. Crucially this value exchange will also offer them a way to share the achievement and in doing so promote your offering to their peers, helping amplify your invaluable impact on their lives.

4. Strike the right linguistic tone

Remember you’re trying to appeal to and connect with people on their level, and this means language too. Social media means people form their opinion of a company from a range of sources so falling back on the traditional method of splitting the company’s narrative between the corporate website, the social platforms and the press/media is no longer effective. Adopt the right tone in your messaging, opinions and principles and then weave them through every element of your external communications. And leave the corporate speak in the boardroom. 

5. Be authentic

On a similar note, while you need to consider language and the importance of connecting on their level, don’t be seen to be trying too hard or being fake. As a brand you have a voice, just tailor it to the audience’s way of thinking, their cultural reference points and passion points, instead of trying to become part of their culture.Young people care deeply about the environment, equality and diversity: speak to these issues with genuine authenticity and you will win support. Try to fake it and the gauge will swing hard the other way.

6. Bring them something different

In the world of education, get creative with platforms, digital tools, tech or whatever you have at your fingertips that sits outside of young peoples’ everyday lives. Turn their heads, excite them and give them a reason to engage. Make learning attractive and appealing and spark something inside that they will forever associate with having started with you.

In short, spend time with youth audiences, learn their needs, relate to their story and make your communication about them, not you. The brand must meet the audience in the middle and endeavour to enhance their life with some form of added value. If you can connect now, with story-doing and not storytelling, you stand a good chance of being part of their own story for a long time to come.

Guest Author

Alex Young

Managing Director We Are Futures


Having spent a career working in advertising, digital and integrated marketing agencies, both at large groups such as WPP and in smaller independents, I felt the need for a change. To build more positive outcomes not just for clients but for the audiences involved too. To put the skills I had developed in the commercial and creative worlds to more purpose-driven aims. I found the answer in We are Futures, its clients, and our unique focus on building mutually beneficial partnerships with young people. My job is to ensure we continually provide our clients with the most powerful and connective solutions, while providing our audiences with enhanced opportunities, learning, development, careers skills and more, to set them up more positively for life. I’m proud of the work we do at We are Futures, our forward-thinking clients that share our vision, and of course the teams at our agency that make it all happen.

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Gen Z Youth