Inner Circle

Public Relations and Communications  

Storytelling is the Way of the Future

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

If you’re like me, some of your fondest childhood memories involve the nightly bedtime story ritual. And it’s likely that you still remember your favorites — those that got your heart pumping, imagination racing and/or emotions flowing. That’s exactly what we, as event marketers, should be trying to accomplish in our campaigns — creating memorable, lasting connections with audiences through meaningful stories.

It’s a concept that consumer marketers have been using for a long time. When Subway wanted to promote its healthier line of sandwiches, for example, rather than giving details about ingredients, calories and fat grams, the sandwich chain gave us the story of Jared. A more recent example is TOMS Shoes. TOMS tells its philanthropic story through captivating and emotional pictures. Customers insert themselves into the “One for One” story by purchasing a pair of TOMS. Even Allstate’s Mayhem commercials are examples of (very funny) storytelling.

Now that you’ve got the idea, your first step in storytelling is utilizing (or creating) characters with which your audience will identify. You can use actual event participants or create attendee or exhibitor personas and tell stories from their perspectives. It’s not as important whether your characters are real or not — it’s more important that they facilitate an emotional connection with your audience.

Even if your characters aren’t real, you still need to tell the truth. Honesty and transparency are important in storytelling. Yes, you’re crafting “stories,” but they need to be rooted in the reality of your organization, event and industry. Be creative but don’t stray too far from your brand promise.

Ensure that the stories illustrate your event’s unique value proposition. A great story that illustrates the value of any event in your industry isn’t all that useful, so ensure that the story highlights the differentiating value of participating in your conference or trade show.

As with all marketing, one size doesn’t fit all. Your stories should be highly relevant to your target customers. Telling a great story to a prospective attendee about a participant outside of his or her niche isn’t going to be all that valuable.

Know the difference between a story and a testimonial or case study. Brand stories shouldn’t read like promotional copy. They aren’t sales pitches, testimonials or case studies. Stories should be told from the perspective of the brand persona and/or with the character’s tone of voice. Boring stories won’t capture attention, be remembered or get retold, but authentic stories brimming with personality will.

Illustrate measurable, concrete results. The results or the “so what?” part of the story needs to be compelling and ideally quantifiable. A general statement like “I purchased a piece of equipment that helped improve productivity at my plant” doesn’t pack the punch of “I purchased a piece of equipment that resulted in a $100K savings over two years due to decreased downtime and increased energy savings…”

Take a sustained and integrated approach to storytelling. If you incorporate this tactic into your marketing mix, ensure that you have a strategy for doing so in a meaningful way. Will the stories exist purely on your social media sites? Or will they be part of your direct marketing campaign? How will the story arc develop? Will you utilize many personas/stories? Will you be releasing teasers and “watch this space” hooks? Have a storytelling strategy before you begin.

Good luck crafting compelling brand stories for your next event. We hope the tips above will help you intrigue, engage and connect emotionally with your prospective audience.