Why The Best Story Wins

The big question for marketers today is how to capture attention.

That’s because as consumers we are swimming in a sea of content – from traditional TV, print and radio stations to the almost unlimited options of social media and the web – sites, blog posts, videos, Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, Snaps. Billions of pieces of content, most of it terrible, with more produced every day.

In this endless stream bombarding us from every surface and every device, we have trained ourselves to tune out everything that lacks relevancy or an emotional connection.

Think about it – what’s the last “ad” you remember?

Exactly. You probably don’t. And if you do remember an ad, it’s likely because it was shared on social channels by a friend.

We’ve moved on from an era when content was scarce and attention was abundant. That’s because BI (Before Internet), most people only had access to a relatively small number of media outlets – local papers and radio stations, or a handful of magazines and TV stations. So our small number of options meant we tended to pay a lot of attention to what was in front of us.

But now the script has flipped. We have an abundance of content and a scarcity of attention. We can choose to watch, read or listen to pretty much anything we want, no matter where we live. With a smartphone it’s literally in the palm of our hands.

So old school “spray and pray” mass marketing approaches no longer work at all. It is premised on interruption – breaking up what we came to read or watch with an ad that we have no desire to see.

Today it is all about capturing attention.

That starts first with making some kind of emotional attachment. And emotion comes with good storytelling.

Good storytelling and good marketing is really the same thing.

Humans are hardwired for storytelling. It’s how we learn and how we are entertained. A good story drives us, from novels to movies to TV shows to podcasts.

We love Game of Thrones not just because of the dragons or Lord Tyrion, but because it is an exciting, well-paced story. We need to know what happens next. We become invested in the characters, either loving them or hating them. But we care.

So a good story cuts through the clutter to capture attention. It’s true for HBO and it’s true for any brand.

No one pays much attention to the standard blah-blah-blah of marketing.

That is why so many brands are turning to content marketing. They are telling their own stories and finding fresh ways to capture the interest of their audience.

Think about Kim Kardashian. Love her or hate her, she is a very shrewd marketer. She is the product, and she markets that product through social media. She tells her own story. It’s one that about 85 million people follow on Instagram.

Or consider this WestJet video from last Christmas. It told a story in a way that cast the WestJet brand in a very positive light, yet it wasn’t seen as self-serving. That’s often hard to achieve.

Brands have the power to build a community. They can communicate directly and effectively with their audience, reaching millions every day.

But success is hardly guaranteed. It only happens when a brand has a good story, well told.

Start there.

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is a partner with Bonfire.