Brand storytelling: What you can learn from some of NZ’s biggest brands

Brand storytelling – Air New Zealand safety videos

Brand storytelling is about more than just telling your story once. It’s about incorporating storytelling into every campaign, every new product or service launch.

At a recent Marketing Association Brainy Breakfast, Brand storytelling: How to shape your brand story, it was clear that storytelling is having a serious impact on big organisations’ brand loyalty. And while we might not all have the budgets of the country’s largest corporates, there were certainly lessons to be learned for the rest of us. So what can we take away from Whittaker’s, The Warehouse Group, Air New Zealand, and other brands excelling in storytelling?

Shorter isn’t always better

We live in a world of endless content, and according to a Millwood Brown AdReaction Study, 82% of Gen Z skip ads as much as they can. Many marketers seem to think this is because of short attention spans.

However, as Cassie Roma, Head of Content Marketing for The Warehouse Group, pointed out, we actually have great attention spans. Just look at how long we can binge watch Netflix for! We’re much choosier about how we spend our time – and straightforward ads simply don’t cut the mustard anymore. “We don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted, but we do have 30 minutes to hear a great story,” explained Cassie.

Maria Ryan-Young, Senior Manager Content Strategy & Creative Services for Air New Zealand, argued that we lose what makes content interesting by making it shorter. Instead of constantly trying to make your content shorter, look for ways to make it more engaging, and more emotional – you’ll see the results pretty quickly.

Your story isn’t about you

“Your brand is defined by those who experience it” – Brian Solis (digital analyst, speaker, and author).

This was one of the biggest takeaways from the event – that your brand is how others experience it, and that telling stories is one of the best ways to make sure that others experience your brand in the way you want them to.

Maria highlighted something that we’re big believers in – that you must stop talking about yourself. “Tell your story in the context of your customers’ needs,” she shared. “Have someone else tell your story.”

Whether that’s case studies (or as we like to call them, customer stories) focused on how your customers have affected change within their own organisation, using more ‘you’ language instead of ‘we’ language on your website, or just telling your brand story from the perspective of how you impact on customers – this shift to customer-focused is vital.

Don’t get seduced by the plot

When telling stories (or indeed, creating any content), it’s so easy to get caught up in the plot – the what, the how. Instead, consider the meaning of your stories. Like the classic Simon Sinek ‘Start With Why’ concept, this approach means considering what you believe, how you make people feel, and the passion behind what you do. And that shift has a big impact, with emotion-led stories driving people to take action.

So how can you avoid being ‘seduced by the plot’? Move from thinking to feeling, from targeting to seducing. Think about how you can use real people and real emotions to make solid connections with people. The Warehouse’s recent Father’s Day campaign worked so well because it used real staff members telling real stories and sharing real emotions – allowing other real people (their customers) to see themselves or someone like them in the ad.

For The Warehouse, which recently ditched the concept of sales and moved to an everyday low prices model, this approach has become even more important. “We had to re-learn how to drive urgency,” shared Jonathan Wrecker, CMO of The Warehouse Group (formerly of Yahoo). “We’ve removed the unnecessary stress and have now made long term value and loyalty more of a metric.”

Even stories need strategy

Many seem to expect that the best stories spring into life when you least expect them, fully formed and ready to convince prospective customers of how amazing you are. However what’s been proven again and again is that stories go hand in hand with strategy – and if you take a strategic approach to storytelling, your business will be better off.

Take Whittaker’s for example, who identified five types of stories that they need to tell through every campaign, in order to successfully engage customers and drive sales:

  1. Inform
  2. Salivate
  3. Motivate
  4. Entertain
  5. Demonstrate chocolate craft

For the launch of their Destinations range, which was about combining innovative flavour combos and enhancing spectacular ingredients to reflect the places they came from, this strategy was key.

They created the celebrity-laden TVC starring Nigella Lawson and friends, to inform, motivate, and entertain; they shared short Instagram videos to demonstrate chocolate craft; and perhaps most innovatively, they came up with an entirely new approach to Facebook with their ‘journey canvas’ which took customers on a journey across the globe and left them salivating. Caitlin Attenburrow, Brand Manager for Whittaker’s, shared, “We used integrated content to ladder up to our destination story and used the romance of travel. That’s how you turn people into loyal fans.”

Take advantage of opportunities

Of course, strategy or not, some of the best stories really do come up unexpectedly.

Someone complaining about not receiving an item they ordered might not seem like a great opportunity to tell stories, but The Warehouse proved that wrong when Emily Writes (funnily enough, a writer!) complained about her lack of a dryer in a hilarious way on Facebook. Telling a story about how long she had dreamed of her dryer, and her utter disappointment when it then wasn’t available could have been bad PR for The Warehouse – until they responded with an even more engaging (and extremely entertaining) story and the promise of a dryer on its way to her.

No business can plan every story they will ever tell – but every business can take up every opportunity to tell a story and connect with their customers. Be like these brands and tell engaging stories.

Get in touch if you need some help with that…