There are some people in this world who seem able to sniff which way the wind is blowing before the rest of us. And when they do something bold, you can pretty much guarantee that we'll all soon be trailing in their wake, hoping to catch a lift on the bandwagon they've started rolling.
The same is true of brands. Some just always seem to get there first, and – whether by cause or effect – other brands scramble to follow suit. Of course, when it comes to marketing, sniffing the wind involves an awful lot of research, analysis and bloody brilliant instinctiveness. All of which presumably led to Coca-Cola’s decision, back in 2011, to focus its strategy on storytelling. The rest of us have been catching up ever since.
Coke’s ambition was to own a disproportionate share of the conversations of popular culture by 2020, and its strategy is based upon creating content that is "liquid" (stories expressed through every possible connection) and linked (content that creates actions that meet business objectives). Now brands as diverse as Revlon and Nokia have identified storytelling as a key strategy.
It’s tempting to draw a distinction between the power of storytelling as a connector of people and branding as an abstract concept devised by professionals and inflicted upon consumers. But embed marketing principles into the storyteller’s art and you have an incredibly potent force for driving new conversations and relationships that create emotion and immersion.
Good marketers and great brands have been telling stories for years, of course. Yes, Coca-Cola was bold enough to articulate the approach for the 21st century and enshrine it at the centre of its marketing ambitions. And it’s become a fashionable touchstone that makes some pretty traditional concepts appear so very of-the-moment. But what’s really changed is the way in which consumers can now get involved and be part of a brand story, not just as active listeners, but as co-creators and, perhaps ironically, guardians of truth and authenticity. Not every marketer is comfortable with that, but ceding control is a modern marketing reality.
I love the fact that brilliant storytelling is not innately magic, but is a blend of creativity and craft. All of this gets to the heart of one of the most joyous things about marketing: its necessary melding of art and science. And how great is that as a job brief?
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