‘Story doing’ not ‘story telling’

Imagination creative strategy director Paul Simonet tells us why brands need to focus on actions in their stories rather than words


Imagination creative strategy director Paul Simonet
Imagination creative strategy director Paul Simonet

Storytelling matters to marketing because it helps us to choose what to do with our lives and our money. One of the best pieces of TV ad story telling of recent years is John Lewis’s ‘The Long Wait’. It is a story we all know of a child’s anticipation of Christmas but it is the little boy’s decision at the end of the commercial that it is better to give than to receive, that makes the ad unforgettable. The ad encourages us all to think a bit more about giving than receiving and that John Lewis is a good place to do that.

So if the doing bits are the most memorable and powerful bits of a story, are the most memorable parts of a brand’s story not what it says but what it does?

In overcrowded categories the generic story has been worked out and told so often it is worn thin. Soft drinks that refresh how you feel; luxury goods that are beautifully crafted; cars that put you in thrilling control; sports brands that help you make the best of yourself; energy companies that understand sustainability. Is it not better for brands to focus more on actions in their stories rather than just the words?

Cokes Happiness Tour, Hermès Festival des Metiers, Land Rover’s Experience Centres, Nike’s Run the World Events, Shell’s Eco-marathon are all brand experiences focusing on what they do rather than simply on what they say.

The use of experience content built around these activities and the proliferation of social media allows these ‘moments of doing’ to be powerful, not just for the participants but for the observers. Social media captures one of the historical strengths of great story telling by allowing the audience to become the story teller.

Shell Eco Marathon
Shell Eco Marathon

Shell’s Eco-marathon action-filled experience in 2012 attracted 40,000 visitors, a 50% increase on target, with the 2013 event seeing a further 25% increase. More significantly though, social media reach was in excess of 14m and sentiment analysis showed that 93% of posts were positive. The cumulative reach of the event across all media platforms was approximately 4bn.

Ty Montagu, former creative lead at JWT New York and founder of co:collective puts the argument for story doing over simple story telling very persuasively. He points out the greater social reach, the greater positive sentiment and the stronger company performance of businesses that take a doing approach to their brands.

What is more, for good or ill, we seem naturally hard wired to want to share what we see people do rather than what they say (I know people shared what Miley Cyrus did, I don’t know they have shared anything she has ever said).

And is it just me that feels the mighty Apple is just a bit out-dated and tired in its constant product upgrade strategy…is that all they are doing? (Oh look I can have a red one).

It seems that as digital media and social channels put brand stories back into the hands of individuals, the natural power of the doing part of a story, the bit we remember and want to share is coming to the fore. So that’s the bit we should be cherishing and focusing on… stories that are less about what brands say, more about what they do.


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