Brand Storytelling in 2017: What’s the Point in Telling Stories if Nothing Changes?

The title of this blog is possibly the most important statement I’ve heard in 2016. I wish they were my words.

But they are the words of photojournalist Giles Duley.

At a recent conference, One Question, Duley spoke about his career, from a photographer in the fashion and music industries, to focusing his work on humanitarian projects. In 2011, whilst in Afghanistan, Duley stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). He lost both legs and an arm.

It was two years before he began taking photos again. Once back to work, one project in 2013 was to tell the stories of Syrian refugees. Two years later he returned. However, once back in Syria, when visiting the same individuals he had photographed previously, he was faced with the stark reality that little had changed. During his session at One Question, Duley told the audience how he felt that he’d failed those people in Syria. That the stories he had told hadn’t made an impact. He hadn’t made a difference.

In Giles’ words: “What’s the point in telling stories if nothing changes?”

“What’s the point in telling stories if nothing changes?” - Giles Duley


Once upon a time…

We love stories. From nursery rhymes, to Shakespeare, to a binge-watch of Breaking Bad on Netflix. We immerse ourselves in different formats of storytelling. My daughter is 2 years old, and for the best part of the first 20 months of her life I have read “Peppa Pigs Christmas Wish” to her at least once every day. For the majority of those readings, she didn't understand the words I was saying. And the majority of the time, it wasn’t even Christmas! Regardless, she loved the story. She still does. Listening to Daddy. Looking at the pictures.

So what changed?

Suddenly, she began interacting with the story. She was learning through the narrative, developing a deeper understanding, and created her own emotional connections. On page one, when Peppa and her friends climb aboard the ‘Christmas Elf Train’, she now excitedly makes the trains “Toot-toot” noise instead of letting Daddy read the text. When Peppa realises that Father Christmas has forgotten her present, my daughter says sadly to herself: “Poor Peppa…”

Stories told well evoke emotions in us all—young and old. Joy, fear, excitement, anger. Cubby Graham, social strategist at charity: water said at Spredfast Summit in Austin this October:

“Behind every face is a story. And we believe that every story matters. At charity: water we really believe that people respond to stories, not statistics. They move us. They activate us. They drive us. They inspire us.”

Think about your favourite TV show. When the action builds, your excitement intensifies, and you’re on an emotional precipice—just to be met with the closing credits. “Tune in for more next week.” As humans, we are designed to crave these rollercoaster emotions, these page-turning desires, and we thrive off these dopamine ‘hits’ in our brain. For brands, understanding the behaviour of their audiences and triggering these emotions can be a challenge. At a recent Spredfast event in London, Digital Behavioural Scientist, Dr. Jillian Ney said:

“There are three important elements to creating persuasive content – grab attention, provoke interest, and convert action. If our attention span as a human is now less than 8.25 seconds, less than a goldfish, our content needs to grab audience attention.The content then needs to stimulate our brains. It needs to touch upon triggers in our minds and create associations with our memories to provoke interest. Finally, content needs emotion to motivate action. But we need to really know our audiences to understand their emotional triggers.”

The importance for brands to create stories with meaning for their audiences is clear. Stories that create emotion in our audiences drive action—maybe drive purchase. And whether purchase or engagement in its many definitions, action is the behaviour that brands want their consumers and fans to demonstrate.

Stories that create emotion in our audiences drive action—maybe drive purchase


If it was easy, everyone would do it

Good storytelling for marketers now contains many elements. We know more about social data and behavioral science, and how those disciplines can reveal trends and insights into our audiences. We have different techniques and platforms available to deliver our content – and we know more about why people engage with these different types of content. We have the ability to innovate and elevate brand stories like never before, and we can learn a lot from experts like Cubby Graham, Dr. Jillian Ney, and Giles Duley.

On 16th January at 3pm (GMT) we can learn even more from experts including:

  • Leo Ryan, Vice President of Customer Solutions EMEA, Spredfast
  • Leah Davis, Head of Marketing, Team GB – British Olympic Association
  • Jennifer Brett, AMER Insight Manager, LinkedIn
  • James Whatley, Planning Partner – Innovation, Ogilvy & Mather

These experts will join a webinar with The Drum to discuss all of the previous points of this post—and more—in a session titled Experiments in Storytelling. Listeners to this webinar will be able to garner tips, real-world examples, and industry best practices, but also pose questions to the panel on the best way to use content through storytelling to engage consumers. This session will tell stories that will evoke change. Because what would be the point in telling stories if nothing changes?

Register for the webinar here. This is a session not to be missed.

The End.

December 7, 2016
Social Media Language Patterns During the Holidays
December 9, 2016
3 Lessons for Posting Branded Content on Medium
Graham leads Spredfast marketing efforts across EMEA and APAC to help organisations understand how to create social campaigns that resonate, curate relevant social content across every major social network to create incredible social experiences and access real-time insights, and historical data, to plan campaigns and develop content strategies.