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Of Storytelling And Storytellers

A version of this post first appeared in Brandtalk, May 28, 2018

This past weekend, I saw a remarkable animated film, The Red Turtle. The story, which is simple and beautiful, is told entirely through moving images, sound effects and a haunting musical score. There is no dialog at all. No explanatory title cards like in the old silent movies. The animation is exquisite, as is the relaxed facility with which the filmmakers propel the story. One hardly notices the lack of spoken word. One is drawn, effortlessly, from beginning to middle to end. It’s no wonder The Red Turtle was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 89th Academy Awards. The whole experience got me thinking about all the different ways one can tell a story without … actually telling it. And that, of course got me thinking about all the different ways brands can tell their stories without having to clobber their markets over the head with breathless imperatives or endless repetition of the painfully obvious.

Crafting an effective communication plan for a brand merits a little aforethought and planning. Do not waste money by mapping out a communication plan before you’ve established your brand strategy. You have to know what your brand is about before you can tell its story. Moreover, you have to tell the story in a way the makes the storyteller identifiable and relatable. The whole point is to go beyond the temporal – “Big sale this Sunday!” “Buy one get one free!”, etc. – to the eternal. You want your audience to feel a sense of long-term brand loyalty, no matter what the mot du jour might be. So think about the storytelling options that are available to you. Most brands can make use of:

  • Advertising – Television, radio, newspaper, magazines, online, outdoor, etc.
  • Newsletters – Weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
  • Blogs – Daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
  • Social Media – Engagement through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Sponsorships – Nonprofits like United Way or for-profits like a NASCAR team, etc.
  • Product placement – in film, television, etc.

The communication channels are almost endless. I’m sure you can think of many more than are listed here. But, if you’ve done your brand strategy work, you’ll have a good idea of what mix of channels your market will accept from you. And, of course, you’ll know your short-term and long-term objectives and what your budget is.

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So, once your brand strategy is established, and you have all your resources and constraints laid out before you, you’re ready to make your plan. All I’m asking is: Think quieter.

Beach scene

Not all communication has to be shouted. Perhaps, as in scene after scene in The Red Turtle, a beautiful or profound image can be as arresting and compelling as a page of dialog. Where must the story be told explicitly? And where can a more subtle message be even more effective? Can you show your story rather than telling it?Of course, you want your audience to hear your message, to buy your product or to commission your services. But if you do it in an obvious or pedestrian way, you may be booking an immediate sale at the expense of developing an everlasting relationship with the market.

When launching a communication strategy, you’re making your brand promise to the market. Take care to do it with thought. Listen carefully to your market. It will tell you how it wants you to relate to it. As the owner or manager of a brand, you want your market to love your story. But, even more importantly, you want your market to develop a committed love affair with the storyteller.


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