Lessons In Brand And Social Media Storytelling

Storytelling expert Michael Margolis explores the art of brand storytelling.

We’re sick of the same old song and dance.

Our tastes have expanded. Not just with food, but how we consume information, relationships, and experiences. Our expectations are on the rise.

Social media storytelling is changing things.

We demand communication that doesn’t insult our intelligence.  Our instincts tell us we’re better than this. And so increasingly we opt-out, filter, and turn off the noise. We have settings for that. The message better be worthy of our attention.

Distanced authority is how too many companies have been taught they’re supposed to talk. Keep it safe, controlled, and objective. News flash – this ain’t the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. So why are so many brands still trying to impress us with their cultivated appearance? We often see right through it.

Of course then there are the brands that step into social media like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They crash our Facebook pages and pose as the tragically hip ordering the latest cocktail infusion at our neighborhood bar. When it comes to “being real or personable”, too many brands come off as cheap polyester versions of Leisure Suit Larry.

Thankfully, there’s a new breed of brand storytelling.

We’re sick of the self-promotional ego machinations. The brands we love, come with a personality, authenticity, and unique point of view. In other words, they have something to say – and it goes beyond bragging – how great, special, and fantabulous they are.

Web 2.0 democratized how brands share, sell, or shill products to a global audience. It only takes a few button clicks to automate the bots and broadcast a message to millions. No wonder we’re obsessed about the 1,001 new tools at our fingertips. Here’s a dirty little secret: it’s less how you tell the story – and so much more about – having a story worth telling. In other words, why should anybody listen to what you have to say?

It’s hard to admit, brands don’t get far using the new tools if they’re still talking in the old voice. It’s easy to spend countless hours and money with a message that just gets filtered out as noise by the recipients. And marketers are often too busy chasing the dragon of aggregate click-throughs and response rates to really take notice of whether they’re actually connecting with people.

As the NYC street artist and philosopher De La Vega reminds us, ‘Believe in yourself. And stop trying to convince others.” What if we applied this novel concept to the practice of brand storytelling? In other words, if you really want to impress people with your brand, just be who you really are.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one drinking this flavored kool aid. There’s a new breed of brands, forged in the emerging culture of DIY/social media that are demonstrating new ways of talking and being.

Whether it’s established innovators like Zappos and Zipcar or some of the newer upstarts like Moo.com, crowdSPRING, and Mailchimp. The fastest way to translate a new idea into mainstream success is to tell a story that is bigger than your products.  A story that’s not just about the offering, but a story that’s about an ethos, a lifestyle, a way to be in the world. A story that’s in service to the needs of your market. It’s a passionate form of brand storytelling that’s about gathering one’s tribe.

Lessons In Brand And Social Media Storytelling-3

Case in point: crowdSPRING.com.

The founders of crowdSPRING didn’t waste time trying to tell the world how special they are, or trying to convince people to use their service. Instead, they developed a brand story and content that spoke to the larger realities and pressures of small business owners.

If you’re not familiar, crowdSPRING is where you can go to find a pool of creatives that bid on your logo, website, or related design project. As a customer, you’re exposed to many creative directions submitted on spec, and the best idea wins your business. This lowers the risk threshold of doing business with a new otherwise unvetted vendor. It’s an innovative model that leverages Web 2.0 and tight budgets in a novel way. They’re on to something here.

Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of crowdSPRING recounts their brand’s evolution:

“We entered a crowded, noisy marketplace. We recognized the need for more than just a business model. We needed a voice that was fun, playful, and creative. And so we thought about who we are — our personality leans towards irreverent and playful.”

Their brand voice shows up across everything they do, from their website to their email notifications, e-newsletters, and twitter account. It’s integrated. Look up Ross’s twitter account, and you will find his pirate alter ego in full effect.

crowdSPRING goes beyond “talking about their services.” They reinforce the ethos of being in business for yourself and what this means to people. They focus on the life of small business owners and the challenges entrepreneurs face in growing their companies. They highlight tutorials, freebies, and resources designed to make entrepreneurs’ lives easier.

And Kimbarovsky explains:

“We send out 50-100 tweets trying to share interesting resources for every tweet where we talk about a crowdSPRING project.”

Through a spirit of generosity they’ve become a trusted resource in their space. At first glance, it might sound a bit off scope, but in reality it’s a differentiator that demonstrates their commitment to building a community.

crowdSPRING is a curator that brings people together. Heck, they are a market-maker between small business owners and creatives. By discussing and serving the larger information needs of their customers crowdSPRING is creating a market for its story.

As Kimbarovsky is quick to admit:

“We tried a lot of things at the beginning. We didn’t know what our community wanted to hear…so we just paid close attention to what resonated most with our growing community and and made constant adjustments to stay relevant and helpful.”

Being of value, inspiration, and support is the ultimate brand story anyone should try to tell. It doesn’t get more real than this.

How to Find Your Brand Voice

  1. Brands are like people. They are a character for us to have a relationship with. Audiences project all sorts of expectations onto your brand, based on the various dimensions of that implied relationship. When your brand talks, what does it sound like?
  2. Find your point of view. Many DIY Web 2.0 services promote the perspective that anybody can do it. They demystify the process and inspire folks to take the leap forward into their dreams. Every brand needs to find its ethos, its larger reason for being, and channel that passion into a message and voice. What’s your bigger story?
  3. Reflect who you really are. Are you snarky? Nerdy? Provocative? Don’t try to be something you’re not. The more your voice reflects truth, the easier it will be to embody the brand story effortlessly across everything you do. Go back to your origins, and look at the back story. There’s a mythic thread that motivates you. Are you ready to tell it?
  4. Focus on what your audience cares about. The best storytellers realize they are forever at the mercy of their audience. Because it’s the audience that decided whether they accept, reject, or choose to interpret your story as they see fit. So share content, ideas, and resources that others will greatly appreciate. Or just make people smile and laugh on a regular basis like Mailchimp with its hilarious mascot. The key is to establish a connection. The more your story can become their story, the less you need to sell anything. What do people respond to? Find out.
  5. Create a conversational tone. DIY/Web 2.0 brands play with an irreverent yet accessible voice. And they talk in a direct first person narrative. The art of this is learning to talk to strangers like they are your BFF. You’re creating an invitation into more familiar relationship. Think of how honest, real, and fun you are with closest friends? In this era of social media storytelling, brands need to socialize the same communication habits. Can you talk, like for real?
  6. Nobody knows who to trust and what to believe. People do business with the people they know and respect. That’s why familiarity is key to a strong brand and business development platform. The more your audience feels that they “know” you, the lower the perceived risk in doing business with you. The goal is to make yourself more approachable, relatable, and accessible. How can you better reveal who you really are?

About the Author

Michael Margolis is the president of Get Storied. He advises companies and creatives how to get others to believe in their story. Starting May 20, he is teaching a 12-week virtual e-course on Social Media Storytelling. He is also the author of Believe Me, a storytelling manifesto for change-makers and innovators you can download for free.

image by Gullig

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