Monday Mornings with Madison

Storytelling = Marketing

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, marketing is defined as “the activities that are involved in making people aware of a company’s products (or services) and making sure that the products (or services) are available to be bought.”  Based on that definition, every employee is really engaged in activities that either make people aware of what the company is selling / providing or make sure it is available for purchase.  Each employee is involved, in one way or another, with increasing awareness and availability of what is being sold.  From an entry level clerk to the highest level of leadership, every person is involved in marketing their place of employ.

There are countless ‘marketing’ opportunities in the stories about what makes a company – any company — great.  Every company has great stories about its products or services, its people, the ways that the company goes above and beyond, or the ways it helps the community. Every company has a multitude of stories, that when told strategically, have the power to convert lookers into buyers, prospects into customers, critics into fans, and one-time customers into loyal followers.  A well-told, strategically-delivered story has the power to engage, encourage and enchant.  You may wonder what story can the average worker have to tell and how can it be deployed strategically if the person doesn’t work in the marketing department or isn’t a great writer?  You’d be surprised.

Sharing Great Stories

Even though emerging forms of communication are typically based on the latest technologies, the hottest trend in marketing is the ancient art of storytelling because of the natural thread connecting the Internet, social networks, content marketing, and storytelling. With more channels of engagement and greater consumer control over what gets a potential customer’s attention, more and more businesses are coming to understand the power of making content that connects and captivates its audience.  And that is the art of great story-telling.

Great stories can emerge from any department or team of workers and can be disseminated in non-traditional ways that even the most cunning CMOs could not conceive.  Case in point.  In 2009, ironworkers – who were constructing the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston — spray painted the names of young cancer patients onto the iron beams used in the building structure. The children who went to the clinic would write their names on sheets of paper and tape them to the windows of the walkway across the street for ironworkers to see. Every day, the ironworkers would then paint the names of those children onto I-beams and hoist them into place as they add floors to the 14-story building.  In time, the building’s steel skeleton had over 100 brightly colored names, a monument to the scores of children receiving treatment at the clinic.  For the children, the steel and spray-paint tribute afforded a few moments of joy and a towering symbol of hope at a time when they were fighting for their lives.  When each new name went up on the building, the children would cheer and clap.

The ironworkers weren’t asked or paid to write the children’s names on the I-beams.  They weren’t employed as professional marketers and no marketing department exec told them to do it.  My guess is that none of them are professional writers either.  Through their actions, the ironworkers – employed by the union constructing the building – were telling a story.  Although their job was to build a structure, they each were also acting as marketers for the Local 7.  The compelling story they told with those neon names was about sick children, the hope that comes with medicine, and the care that the ironworkers put into building a place where doctors could focus on curing kids with cancer.  Their strategy for deploying that message was splashed — big as life and permanently — across the building’s structure. And then their story went viral and got reported by newspapers and news stations far and wide.

Of course, they weren’t doing it as a marketing ploy, but their actions did play a role in marketing the union and the union’s customer, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  The fact that it was genuine and unscripted made the story even more compelling.  Even now, four years later, their story is being re-told here.  Now that’s good marketing.

The Art of Good Storytelling

That story was unscripted and actually involved very little writing other than the spray painting of the names.  However, most storytelling does involve writing or capturing the story in some way.  Here is where it gets tricky.  Finding and capturing those stories as effective pieces of content that can be shared and leveraged can be a challenge.

The first thing to remember is that goal of storytelling is to increase the customer’s (or potential customer’s) emotional involvement in the company.  Then the story has to be disseminated and then the story can be woven into a company’s storyline, offline experiences and marketing initiatives.

Here are some tips in the art of storytelling for marketing.

1.  Be honest and genuine.

Honesty and transparency are important in storytelling for marketing. The “stories” must be rooted in the reality of the company’s brand, products, and industry.  For example, the “Mayhem like me” stories that AllState Insurance tells in its ads focus on the fact that ‘bad things happen’ and insurance coverage is protection in those situations.  Their stories are rooted in the reality that bad things really do happen to people every day.  The stories are honest and genuine.

2.  Be consistent.

If brand stories are inconsistent, they’ll confuse consumers who will turn away from the brand in search of another that meets their expectations in every interaction. In other words, find stories that deliver the same message in a lot of different ways, but that all have the same point.  It is okay to be creative but it is important not to stray too far from the brand’s promise. Confusion is the most powerful brand killer.

3. Include personality.

Stories used for marketing should be told with a clear brand persona and personality.   Boring stories won’t engage or connect with the audience.  Stories brimming with personality do.

4. Infuse winning characters.

Like a good book, storytelling for marketing requires characters that the audience will like and embrace.  But the stories cannot be fictional.  They need to be real.  For example, the children at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute gave a point of view that might not have been considered as people saw a building being built.  Characters enable an audience to become emotionally connected to such an extent that the audience wants to follow the character and the story.

5. Have a beginning, middle, and end.

All stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. No one wants to be left hanging at the end of a story.  In the beginning, the story needs to establish the setting and the characters. The middle should set up the character’s problem and present conflicts that get in his/her/its way before finding a resolution at the end.

The goal of storytelling in marketing is to surround customers with brand or product experiences that allow them to connect with the company in real, personal ways.  Those stories open the door to future sales.

Quote of the Week

“Because storytelling has been put in the hands of everybody, we have all now become storytellers.” LeVar Burton


© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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