Not Darth Vader – telling a good brand story has never been this tough

Storytelling used to be easy. You as a narrator would have sat down at the fireplace, where everyone met to hear the latest. You would have used language and metaphors, which were part of the shared culture, in order to make sure, everyone understood what you said and could relate with it. The listeners would have taken along the things heard and shared it with their friends and family who were not present at the campfire. Thus a story would have spread quickly and fairly consistently, as the primal narration had attained great reach already, and the people, that were meant to understand and share it, would have formed a very homogenous, cohesive group (e.g. the Germans / the French). 

The basic principle of a good story remains the same today:  it needs to be heard and understood in order to move and be shared. However there is not this one central fireplace anymore, but thousands of it, around which small heterogeneous groups of people gather, who shape and share their own sub- and micro-cultures. It’s not punks versus mods versus the establishment anymore. It’s people meeting up and creating their very own microcosms across 620 million Facebook groups, 19 million active Discord servers, and 2.8 million subreddits. There are micro-cultures forming around interests that do not even have representations in the „real“ world, like MMO- and NFT-communities. Today’s cultures do not end at the frontiers of national states, because they are neither originating from nor bound to any kind of physical territory. Furthermore the development of communities in the digital sphere is not limited by the availability of physical breeding grounds like settlements, clubhouses et cetera. Hence there are no boundaries for cultural fragmentation. Unifying elements do of course exist. Even digital communities do not thrive in a vacuum. First of all there is language. Even in Web 3.0 or even more in the era of post-factualism with „alternative truths“ co-existing side by side, language creates reality. Just look at NFTs. An NFT is a png- or mp4-file, that is given value from a good narrative and words in a smart contract. Same as in the old art world, except van Gogh didn’t paint on pngs but cnvs. 

The whole nft market is driven by hype created by stories. If a hype succeeds there will be demand. If there’s enough demand, there will be scarcity. If there’s scarcity, prices go up. Supply and demand. You know how it works. It has been the same for over 2000 years now. The real beauty of non-fungible tokens does not lie in making and losing lots of money with colorful trading cards by the way. It lies for instance in the idea of decentralizing the financial system which is now controlled by a few and make it accessible for all. It lies in the opportunity of decentralized autonomous organizations, that are unbiased and participatory by design…we’re getting off the track here. Let’’s get back to language. 

I find it intriguing, that the strongest unifying factor of all communities, which is language, is of all things the one, that is subject to constant change. The only thing, that evolves just as quickly as our language is technology. And yes, there is a correlation. Not only we have to learn a new word every week (like non-fungible token), but also language is used to include or isolate, to set apart from others, to define cultural codes and encrypt political agendas. Words really do matter. More than ever. Language is getting more specific. Most European societies have major discussions around gender and race neutral verbalizations. Certain formerly unsuspicious terms get coined by political groups at either one or the other end of the spectrum. Today’s youth keeps on cooking up new sociolectal terminology each and every day while everyone is a narrator and a creator, but only few care enough to listen. 

In the midst of this mental babel people still need to communicate. Brands need to communicate. They need to tell their stories. They need to create hypes or at least be heard at all. It is not easy anymore. Telling a story in a consistent, credible and timely way has never been this tough. Unfortunately there is no standard recipe, how to cut through and be understood these days. 

Being able to tell a great story to different audiences and move or even excite all of them is a gift. In my opinion urging each and every brand marketer and product manager to attend storytelling seminars is not the solution. Only few will ever be capable of telling a good story. No seminar will change this. Besides there’s more to telling a compelling brand story than understanding how the plot of Star Wars has been composed. In today’s multi-campfire-world, you have to consider more, than just a neat narrative. A credible, consistent and timely narration is a complex process with many dimensions. Every single piece of your operation is part of it: Your name, your brand house, your internal communication, your PR, your advertising, what people say about you on social media, what people say about you in real life, the way you treat your employees, the way you promote diversity, your company car, your energy provider, your sourcing, your pricing, your packaging, everything.

A 30“ commercial is not your story, but most often very expensive white noise. 

Here are three recommendations I have for you, if you want to level-up your brand marketing by improving the way, you tell your story: 

  1. Get out of the office! You’re not Darth Vader controlling people’s minds from the Death Star’s executive canteen. Go to a grocery store in a small town, drink a beer in a countryside pub, spend some time on Discord, talk to people, listen to people, You will realize, that the bubble you live in has nothing to do with the realities of your customers. Being a good narrator or writer is about empathy. It’s about being able to feel into and understand people. 
  2. Tear down all internal silos and take the bird’s eye view. Are your performance marketing people sharing data with the brand marketing people? Are they even using the same data base? Do your product managers know your brand architecture and values? Who’s responsible for the website again? Can you make a quick budget-neutral win in sourcing, that will cater to your story? All of us get routine-blinded. Admit it and change the perspective. 
  3. Get an experienced spirit guide to your side. If it was easy, everyone would have gotten it right already. It is not easy. It’s incredibly hard. But it’s worth it. 

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