Villing & Company

3 Keys to Turning Marketing into Storytelling

What I remember most about the holidays is storytelling. My uncles are masters of the art, and at family get-togethers they would regale us with tales of small-town Michigan with just the right touches of embellishment. And I'll bet many families experience the same at their holiday gatherings.

I find it ironic, then, that the art of storytelling seems to be lost this time of year. Black Friday through Christmas Eve is the time most advertisers go for the hard sell, with marketing efforts focused on deep discounts or outlandish (or positively scary) attempts to gain customers' attention, and their wallets by extension. It seems each week we're called to "the greatest sale of the season," and at times it feels like the strategy behind the ads can be summed up in two words: shout louder.

The presence of all this noise is what makes this ad for UK retailer John Lewis so striking.

The spot is impactful not just because of the subtlety of its approach, but because of its storytelling power. In that way, it should remind marketers that the best campaigns – no matter the time of year – don't just roll out the discounted price or even an explanation of benefits. The best marketing tells a story.

Here are three things the John Lewis spot reminds us about telling a great narrative, as it applies to marketing:

  1. Choose a hero. Every story needs to have someone with whom the audience can relate. The more your audience can see themselves in the hero, the more impact the ad will have. But also remember the hero is someone who reflects the best in who the audience wants to be. In the John Lewis spot, we all can relate to the suspense waiting for Christmas morning, and we would all love to have the heart of the child who can't wait to give his parents a gift.
  2. Remember the story formula. Every story has at least three parts: exposition where the hero is introduced, a body in which the plot and conflict develop, and a climax where the conflict is resolved. In marketing, this is a chance to bring your audience into the story first, remind them of a problem they face, and resolve the problem with your product. The John Lewis spot introduces us to the boy, shows the conflict of the painstaking days waiting for Christmas, then the climax on Christmas morning.
  3. Don't forget the twist. Clearly, the John Lewis spot is memorable because of the surprise that the child was anticipating giving a gift, not receiving one. Stories just aren't any fun – and aren't remembered – when we correctly predict the outcome. While the other components listed above could be fairly scientific, this portion of storytelling is purely an art form. Here's your chance to find out what it is that is surprising about your product or brand – your true differentiator – and weave it into the story of your marketing.

Failing to tell a resonating story will leave your marketing lifeless, or worse, forgotten. The discount announcements have their place, but they aren't likely to be remembered after the sale is over. For memorable, sustainable impressions on your audience (or your family), nothing beats a good story.

Filed Under: creative

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