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Let me tell you a story – a brand story

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In the first of a series of five daily blogs to mark National Storytelling Week 2016, Insight Agents’ Founder & MD Sam Knowles reveals the three most important barriers companies face in telling better brand stories.

Recent estimates suggest that the average Brit spends almost nine hours on media devices every day. In that time, each of us is exposed to 5,000 marketing messages and more than 100,000 words trying to convince us to do something. Welcome to the world of information overload, quantified.

This ever-increasing wall of noise in our always-on world has forced us to become incredibly skilled at filtering out irrelevance and paying focused attention; to separate the signal and the noise. To cope – to survive – to overcome the barrage of stuff that simply doesn’t matter to us, today more than ever we abandon content that is it not immediately accessible and engaging. And this is forcing marketers to create ever-more compelling and relevant words that resonate with current and prospective consumers.

How do we do this with most impact? Through story. Storytelling’s where it’s at now for brands and corporations – B2C and B2B – if they truly want to engage with their consumers, customers and stakeholders. Inside and outside their organisations. The skills of the storyteller are much in demand to turn passive observers into full-bore advocates. Businesses around the world are adopting the tools and techniques of those who tell stories with most impact: Hollywood scriptwriters, novelists and poets.

On the one hand, this is about adopting story structure – the narrative arc, heroes, villains, struggles and redemption – to engage readers emotionally as well as rationally. And beyond narrative structure, to create stories that are signal not noise, business writers need to write better. Simpler, clearer, with more impact. Less sector or industry-specific jargon, fewer abstract nouns, and fewer and shorter words. Fewer words per sentence, fewer syllables per word.

00. Information Overload

Every year, an organisation called the Society for Storytelling runs an event to celebrate the power and impact of story, in the form of National Storytelling Week. This year, the week runs from 30 January until 6 February. Stories will be told in clubs, theatres, museums, schools, hospitals, spoken word venues, and care homes around the country. It’s not about corporate and brand communications, but for businesses looking to cut through the clutter, it certainly should be.

So to mark National Storytelling Week, we at Insight Agents asked researchers at the University of Sussex’s Innovation Centre to ask those responsible for brand storytelling to tell us what they find gets in the way of effective storytelling. We chose retail as a vibrant representative of UK plc. Our research identified that the three principal barriers that hold back corporate and brand storytellers from telling impactful tales about their brands are: consistency, jargon, and authenticity.

Throughout this sixteenth National Storytelling Week, we Agents of Insight will be using our blog to take a look at each of these issues in detail, providing insights into the challenges faced by those responsible for telling their brand’s story. With each challenge, we offer our own advice on how to overcome the barriers to joined-up brand storytelling. We hope they help you to become better storytellers.

An expanded version of this blog originally appeared on PRmoment.com. Thanks for the platform, Ben.

Sam Knowles
Sam Knowles is Founder & MD of Insight Agents. He helps companies, brands, and third-sector organisations find simple, true, and authentic language. This gives them the tools, permission, and confidence they need to communicate effectively. His purpose is to help organisations talk like people.

Sam has recently written a book called “Narrative by Numbers: How to Tell Powerful and Purposeful Stories with Data”. It will be published in April 2018 by Routledge.