News & Views

Opinion / Storytelling for meaningful connections

by Contagious Contributor
Brands should beware of relying on ‘story creation’ over storytelling, argues Simon Black, group strategy partner at Design Bridge

We’ve been reading a lot recently about the death of storytelling and the rise of story-creation: the idea that fresh and exciting content is generated and shared, creating the illusive ‘buzz’ and rocketing a brand to the dizzying heights of the Twittersphere’s trending data. 

Story creation can sometimes get results that have relevance, but not always credibility. In order to make genuine and lasting connections with people, brands need both of these things, which is why storytelling is still so important. Story creation is not an alternative to storytelling, it’s part of it. It’s the way the story is told, what aspects are brought out to help create meaning.

At its best, storytelling is about motivations and passion, not only about the founder’s story or the first days of business. Yes, it is often people-oriented and derived from a founder, but there is no need to make an apology for that. The mode of telling the story is where the secret lies.
Arthur Guinness and Piotr Smirnoff donate their credibility as founders – and you know that history can’t, nor should it ever, be reinvented for any reason, but it can be reimagined tonally to match the ambitions of society today. What is a constant is the motivation of creating something special and personal – not just a liquid – but a way of life, in respect of the choices we make. What motivated the founders to deliver something new and better may be as relevant today as it was in the 18th Century. We borrow codes and story elements such as character traits and ensure they are fit for purpose in today’s world yet for tomorrow’s generation.

A nuanced understanding of the differing disciplines of marketing and branding can surely help us see why both the original story and telling it brilliantly for today really aren’t mutually exclusive options. Marketing exists as a broad discipline to extract value from products and ensure they answer the needs of a society (or market) – essentially a ‘now’ thing. Branding is a sub-discipline of marketing. It exists to define and create a layer of story between product and the company that created it, differentiating it from other similar offers. Stories aren’t static though – they so clearly evolve and develop as time passes. New stories – be they experiences a consumer has with a brand, or products and extensions that the brand creates to engage new audiences  are all a part of proficient storytelling.

The story is what it is, but design has a rich and powerful role in ensuring that the story is not just credible but relevant. We don’t need to make things up randomly. Rather we need to listen properly to the story and use its ingredients with a style that can deeply resonate and connect today. For us at Design Bridge, telling the story of Guinness through design has been a story of unlocking the same motivations of the founder, and allowing them to feel totally relevant to new and unrecognisable audiences centuries later.

In short, new experiences – indeed stories – must be created, but this is what storytelling is all about. We learn from our past and our raison d’être in order to understand why we should go in certain directions. Without it we are on a road to generic convergence rather than distinctive assets built from truth and personality.