Why the Human Story Will Always Beat Brand Storytelling

Why the Human Story Will Always Beat Brand Storytelling

There’s a large movement currently for brands to “tell their story”, to enable them to be more approachable to customers. Communications pro Gini Dietrich does a great job of showing the strengths of storytelling for brands on her leading Spin Sucks blog.

There are some great examples of brands that win when they insert a more story-like feel to their ad or marketing campaigns. Take Apple and Google, for instance, as highlighted by the two videos below:

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Yet, as good as they are (and both gave me a chill when I originally saw each one), they’re still clearly promotional pieces for technology (even though that technology does a great job of bringing people together).

Because of that, they can never quite live up to the same kind of emotion a real human story evokes.

The Simple Power of Love

Two stories came into my radar in the last couple of days, and – for me – show exactly why natural human stories trump brand storytelling.

The first is about two twins in Akron, Ohio, who suffered a rare condition called “monoamniotic birth”, which meant they shared an amniotic sac and placenta while in their mother’s womb.

This is a dangerous condition that could see the twins become entangled in each other’s umbilical cords, starving them of oxygen and leading to major complications.

However, the twins – Jillian and Jenna Thistlethwaite – were born without any major problems last Friday, May 9. And the truly amazing part – they were holding each other’s hands when delivered.

Jillian and Jenna Thistlethwaite

There may be many reasons for this to have happened – but for me, the twins knew the challenges they had to overcome just to survive, and gave each other the strength to do so, and continue to do so outside the warmth of their mother’s body.

As the mother Sarah said:

They’re already best friends. I can’t believe they were holding hands. That’s amazing.

The second story, shared by my friend Justin Kozuch, is about a mother who showed the love for her 18-month old son far outstripped concerns for her own safety when she saved them both from a fire in the apartment where they lived.

Christina Simoes was lying in bed with her son Cameron when she saw flames in the building. The speed of the flames trapped the pair, and the only thing left to do was jump out of the window.

Knowing the fall could be dangerous, Christina wrapped her son tightly to her chest, hugged him and told him she loved him, and then leapt from the building. The fall broke a bone in her back, which may lead to complications and limit Christina’s ability to walk. Cameron escaped with just a bruise on his head.

When asked about her heroism, Christina brushed off the term and simply said:

I didn’t think about it. All I was thinking about was getting him out of there. He mattered way more than I did.

Human Stories, Human Emotions, Human Connections

We, as marketers, talk a lot about connecting emotionally with our audience. Roger Dooley, a consultant and author based in Austin, Texas, has a fascinating blog (and books) on the topic over at Neuromarketing. It’s well worth your time and subscription.

It’s something my co-author Sam Fiorella and I also look at in Chapter 2 of the Influence Marketing book, and how the human psyche controls a lot of our decision-making process when it comes to taking an action.

However, the “problem”, for want of a better word, with emotional marketing is it treads a very fine line between being authentic, and being a slickly-produced video or narrative for a new product. Get this part wrong and the connection you’re looking for is broken.

A real human story, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this – because we know it’s real, and that’s where the power comes from.

Brand storytelling is a useful tactic when it comes to awareness and acquisition/retention – but it still plays second fiddle to real human stories (just look at the success of the Humans of New York project).

And as long as people can see the difference between a brand and a human vision, that gap will remain. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

There’s currently a fund-raising initiative for Christina Simoes over at gofundme, to help pay medical bills and replace the stuff she lost in the fire. Its aim is to raise $30,000 and presently it sits at $26,027. If you’d like to donate or support, click here for more details.

image: ashabot

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Danny Brown
Co-author Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing. #1 marketing blog in world as per HubSpot. Husband. Father. Optimist. Pragmatist. Never says no to a good single malt. You can find me on Twitter - Google+ - LinkedIn.
40 comments
AnouskaBell
AnouskaBell

@franswaine The twins born holding hands must have had people all over saying ahhhhh and smiling. Did me!

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@impactlisa Except maybe the ones about Alf the space alien. But, yes, human stories indeed. :)

HiSocial
HiSocial

These are some great examples of human story taking up the focus, causing emotions and enabling people to relate, which brand story would not be able to do. Thanks for sharing these examples with us.

BelindaSummers
BelindaSummers

That's the problem with business, it lacks heart but the one who can change this belief is the one who triumphs. Gone are the days that business relationship are built through contracts rather it's about time to used story telling build personal connections and touch more lives. :)

Art of Breaking Out
Art of Breaking Out

Hi Danny,

Love this and human storytelling is why I'm starting a new project built around it. I wasn't even aware of the Humans of NY Project ... now I'm slightly addicted ;)

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

So right Brudda. It is why I found the new Walmart ad with the mentally handicapped guy and US jobs such a fraud. They have committed $250 bil over 10 years...about 6% of sales to sourcing more american product. Yet they still need the stuff to be cheap so we know where that is leading.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

This is great Danny. Couldn't agree more. 

Sometimes I walk past people on the street and imagine the millions of memories and stories they must have. I don't necessarily get to connect with them for more than a moment, and the same is true here on line at times, but it is the soul of humanity that we should care deeply about - and that doesn't require ROI or any other metric (although, as Gini points to below, even brands have meaningful stories). 

ShelleyWebbCSO
ShelleyWebbCSO

. @LindaBVan I always loved that first commercial but having been an NICU nurse for so many years, I loved seeing the twins holding hands.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@Kabolobari Especially given that all brands are already made up of people - so why are we not highlighting that more?

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@wbsmith200 Cheers Bill - definitely more attuned to the great stories already around us than the prefabricated versions. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

That Dear Sophie video gets me EVERY TIME. I tell this story a lot - and tell it in Spin Sucks (the book) - but I'm going to tell it here to illustrate the importance of brand storytelling when you think there isn't a story to tell.

A few years ago, I met a business owner in Omaha. They make pens for the military and, because of their intricate modeling, it is imperative they are put together by human beings. What they discovered, though, is people without sight are better employees in this particular business because they don't get distracted as often as people with sight do. So he only hires blind people. He said to me, "I don't have a story to tell. We make pens. Big deal." I asked him if his competitors also hire only people without sight. He said no. So, right there, they have a point of differentiation AND a story. Then I discover one of his employees climbed Mt. Hood unassisted. And another is the number three gospel singer in the world. These are stories that people - your customers, prospects, and other stakeholders - want to know.

We all have a story to tell. It may be the natural instinct to put another's life before our own or it may be a compelling employee or customer inside your organization. Find the stories and tell them. 

Latest blog post: Good PR is Good PR

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Howie Goldfarb  Haven't seen the ad, mate, so can't comment on that - but, yeah, Walmart is one of the last companies I'd ever think of when it comes to being human...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@JoeCardillo  Ha, I so hear you on that, mate. When I've spoken recently, I've shared how I often sit and watch the world go by (cafes, parks, etc). I like to put little stories to those people (like you), and what brought them to where they are today. Not sure if that makes us weird or not... ;-)

I think storytelling is such an inherent part of our culture, trying to force it will just come across as obviously false. So why bother, when there's plenty of inspiration to be had from real-life stories?

Kabolobari
Kabolobari

@DannyBrown Makes plenty of sense! Thanks for all the wonderful thoughts on genuine and transparent marketing.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@ginidietrich  These are fantastic examples, Gini, and very true - there's definitely the potential for great storytelling examples from brands, if they focus on the real people around the brand, versus the usual history/genesis of the brand itself (although this can often be a great story too).

Cheers, miss!

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@Danny Brown @JoeCardillo  Hey if that's weird, I'm fine with it

Although, I won't pretend I haven't wondered if I'm more idiot than savant = P

I think what you're touching on is that disconnect where marketers and/or brands and leadership are asking - what do we get out of this? Sometimes, the answer is, a chance to appreciate other people. 

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  5. […] As long as people can see the difference between a brand and a human vision, brand storytelling will always play second fiddle to real human stories. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a large movement currently for brands to “tell their story”, to enable them to be more approachable to customers. Communications pro Gini Dietrich does a great job of showing the strengths of storytelling for brands on her leading Spin Sucks blog. There are some great examples of brands that win when they insert a more story-like feel to their ad or marketing campaigns. Take Apple and Google, for instance, as highlighted by the two videos below….  […]

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