Storytelling Builds Better Brands (For Promo Businesses and Their Clients)
Storytelling is ingrained in each and every culture. It’s been part of our livelihood since the beginning of time. Stories—including the ones told through marketing—are consumed in different ways, and we build emotional connections not just with the story itself, but with the environments we consume them within.
If I were to mention a name such as Netflix, Instagram, Apple Podcasts or Facebook—what do they mean to you? How have these channels (or ones like them) and the stories they tell helped shape your life?
Great stories connect us with the things we hold dear. They educate us on what has happened in the past, align us with our ideals for today and provide inspiration for the things we have yet to experience (or maybe never will). Whether it’s a great book, a funny brand video or, in the case of our industry, an effective promotional product, memories and ideas are created by the stories and experiences in our everyday lives.
Marketing = Storytelling
Yes, storytelling has been a buzzword of late, and the truth is, fundamentally it isn’t a new concept in marketing. But what has changed is in the way we do it. From a brand perspective, think of storytelling as more of a shift away from traditional advertising and more towards immersing ourselves in the way we communicate our products, services and core values throughout the entire customer experience. It must start with our employees and permeate our entire business. Only at the end is it communicated through our marketing and advertising.
As little as 10 or 15 years ago, advertising was very different. We consumed media mostly through a small number of channels that included print and display advertisements, direct mail, and TV/radio commercials. Advertising was primarily dominated by large companies with deep pockets and tremendous influence on Madison Avenue. Because of the cost to reach a broader audience, small businesses were typically confined to their geographic locations.
Consumers today have the world at their fingertips. The internet, social media, news and entertainment apps, blogs, podcasts and other newer forms of media have changed the depth and speed at which we communicate. We’re no longer limited by the reach of our geographic footprint. Advertising and building brand loyalty now has less to do with “pushing” our messaging to clients, and more to do with building community and “pulling” clients toward us with a compelling story and purpose.
Customers want to know that their ideals and values are shared by the companies they choose to do business with. They are more willing to do research and ask for referrals before choosing how and where to spend their money. Though they may be more selective, consumers naturally become much more engaged with the companies they trust, and are much more likely to tell their friends and social circles about their experience.
Our Role in Promo
Here’s a quote from author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek during his 2014 TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
The effectiveness of marketing today has much more to do with how we engage audiences and create personal connections with our brand. As Sinek put it, the “why” relates to the purpose of our business—in other words, our story.
Let’s tweak his quote a bit to apply it directly to the promotional products industry: “People don’t buy the products we sell. They buy the emotion they create.” That emotion is a much more compelling reason for promotional products to exist, and for them to be a part of both our client’s stories and our own.
One of my favorite things about promo is that we have the ability to create emotion using tangible products that connect us physically to a brand. When used properly, they become much more than just a “product with a logo”—they become a story of our experiences. Many times, the products are sharable and reusable, and it’s the only advertising medium that has the ability to ignite each of our senses with sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
Take, for example, a T-shirt handed out at a weekend relaxation retreat. Decorate the shirt with a logo, and while people might appreciate it, it will most likely end up at the bottom of their T-shirt drawer. Now, take the same shirt and decorate it with a quote, a theme or something that more specifically defines the emotion of the event, then wrap it in a small gift bag scented with a relaxing essential oil. This extension of the “story” now creates a deeper connection and is more likely to become a prized possession.
We have all heard about finding ways to add value. Start by educating your clients on how the products and services we offer help communicate their story and add value to their own brands. Whether you are a marketer or an account manager, a supplier or distributor, we all play a role in helping brands tell their story.
A Shift in Thinking
What can we do to change the course of how we go to market? The good news is that even with all of what has changed, the core principles of connecting humans together remain the same. As Donald Miller describes in his book, “Building a Story Brand,” there are seven key elements of great storytelling. At its core, a great brand story is not all that different from the stories you hear in your favorite movies, a compelling documentary or on your top 10 reading list.
The SB7 framework—as Miller describes through the book—is the methodology that all great writers and content producers follow. It starts with a character (the customer), who has a problem (do your homework!) and meets a guide (this is you). The guide gives them a path (your products/solutions) and calls them to action (your marketing tactics and messaging) that helps them avoid failure (make the customer a hero) and ends in success (defined by ourselves and/or our clients).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Like anything else, this concept takes time and practice, and each of us will rarely have a single story to tell. Outside of our brand story, we can adapt this concept to each of our products and services individually, to help micro-target the needs of our audience and connect their needs to unique solutions.
By working through the process and learning the principles of storytelling, you not only get the benefit of helping yourself and your business grow, but you get to learn a little bit about the magic of what connects us all to a great story.
RJ Hagel is a lover of branding and oversees marketing for Goldstar, San Diego, Calif. Over the course of the 17 years in the industry, he’s worked in multiple capacities as a decorator and in marketing roles as both a supplier and distributor. He is currently a board member for the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), is a lover of fast cars, great food and craft beer, and is a self-proclaimed promotional pen nerd.