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As we move swiftly into the middle of a year that has shown us, perhaps more so than ever, how vital listening and storytelling really is, we asked a number of industry experts about the importance of representative storytelling.
Storytelling is one of the first ways humans learnt to communicate, to commit lives to memory to pass tales down between the generations. Stories entertain, they excite, they inspire and delight the audience.
For brands, the last year has been predominantly about support, about spotting the places where they should play rather than wading into conversations in which they have no right being. In amongst this fundamental shift in priorities many lost sight of what it is that brands do best: tell stories.
It is through telling stories that voices are heard, perspectives are shared, and minorities seen. When brands choose to champion and give space to voices that are not often granted it, they choose to invest in diversifying the future, in offering each and every member of their audience a chance to feel represented. Because, as the saying goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
As we move swiftly into the middle of a year that has shown us, perhaps more so than ever, how vital listening and storytelling really is, we asked a number of industry experts, how can brands effectively channel the power of storytelling to both share and shift perspective?
You’re not going to effectively channel the power of anything if your audience doesn't feel like what you are doing is genuine and authentic.Rhiannon Lewis
I think the most important word brands need to remember here is ‘genuine’. You’re not going to effectively channel the power of anything if your audience doesn't feel like what you are doing is genuine and authentic.
This starts with grounding what you’re doing in research, then curating a team who have experience in that field to bring your project to life.
On the recent campaign I produced for Tommee Tippee with Manifest agency, myself and the director Fiona Jane Burgess were given the power to make decisions that rang true to us, as two of the only mothers on the core team. Not only did we bring our experience, but also our passion to show what breastfeeding is really like. This meant the final film was a real battle cry for mothers, as it was made by mothers. Shifting the perspective of feeding babies from baby to mother, putting her front and centre of the story in all her beautiful, knackered, sore and wonderful glory. The response to the ‘realness’ of the campaign has been incredible.
I also think it’s important to take on board that tokenism isn’t going to cut it. Don’t just roll out a LGBTQ+ story because it’s Pride month, don’t view BAME representation as a tick boxing exercise. Commit to talking to your WHOLE audience 12 months a year.
Brands also need to take a look at their own internal staff. Don’t just put diversity on your screens and in your campaigns, reflect that in your creative teams, your marketing teams and right up to board level. There’s a lot to be said about challenging perspectives held within a company first and foremost.
Wherever we are in the world, as we emerge from lockdown we will hear and tell stories.Richard Exon
As each new month of this pandemic unfolds, we become more aware that we are experiencing living history.
When last did billions of people right across the world go through something so intensely personal all at the same time?
Wherever we are in the world, as we emerge from lockdown we will hear and tell stories.
Stories of hope, stories of heartbreak and stories of everything in between.
Billions of words will be written and spoken in thousands of languages as we start to process the truth of what we are now going through.
We will ask questions of ourselves and our loved ones.
We will ask questions of our employers about how we work, who we work with and even why we work.
Politicians and institutions will be called on to explain every action past, present and future to help us navigate the months and years ahead.
And yes, we will ask questions of the businesses and brands in our life like never before.
The two most important questions will be, ‘Why should I trust you?’ and ‘What can you offer me?’.
The brands that get their story straight and answer these two questions in ways that are true, compelling and helpful will be the brands that succeed.
If brands want to tell a good story, they should consider giving voice to their audience.Abbey Gaunt
Storytelling is changing.
For decades, the media has idolised the distant hero, creating an industry which thrives on aspiration. Yet, in the age of information, this is shifting, and we can see the value and reward of championing real people and giving voice to the audience.
Stories driven by audiences can disrupt industry norms, category conventions and societal taboos. But most of all, can move people.
With London Youth, we didn't try to tell young Londoners' stories for them. We gave them a platform and invited them to tell their own story. We worked with a group of incredible youth members, who had personally overcome societal stereotypes, and who used our platform to rip up the stereotypes and labels which hold them back more powerfully than anyone else could have done. They didn’t just drive authenticity into the campaign, they helped us create a collection of limited-edition t-shirts, partnering with iconic clothing brand, Champion.
Not only did the campaign create conversation, with GQ magazine describing the t-shirts as ‘the hottest men’s clothing item under £250'. But all profits went to support London Youth Charity and most of all, gave young people a label that they could be proud of.
If brands want to tell a good story, they should consider giving voice to their audience. Because the stories, and the power, increasingly belong to the people.
Understand that great stories need people more than they need your brand.Alex Clough
Stories belong to people. They are born from human experience and rely on human emotion to give them their power. People simply don’t feel the same way about brands as they do about each other. Marketers too often forget this.
With life put on hold for so long, human experience became isolated repetition. Everything felt the same, as did much brand storytelling. Only those who helped us escape for a moment into the past, the future or somewhere else entirely seemed to cut-through.
Now, as the world begins to reopen, people are hungry to start creating their own stories again, and brands will need to figure out what part they have permission to play in them. Now is not the time for brands to force themselves into the centre of the narrative. Instead, be happy to observe, facilitate and celebrate all the new stories that will be created as life returns to wonderful normality.
With arts, culture, hospitality and all the places we come together so desperately wounded, perhaps the most impact any brand can have is to express their point of view by giving our best cultural storytellers a space and a voice again.
But resist the temptation to overstep at all costs. Understand that great stories need people more than they need your brand, and they may listen to what you have to say.
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