storytelling in experiential marketing

“If a competitor can do it, you haven’t told your story.” – Helen J. Stoddard, Head of Global Events, Twitter

Once upon a time in an experiential agency not that far away, a girl who never really wished she was a princess sat at a dimly lit desk typing this blog article.

At the recent Experiential Marketing Summit by EventMarketer, many speakers highlighted the importance of storytelling. As keynote speaker Helen J. Stoddard of Twitter explained, storytelling should be simple, emotional, truthful and real. But brand stories need to be backed by unique, shareable and actionable experiences.

“Storytelling without experiential, that’s a book. Experiential without a story, that’s a cocktail party,” Stoddard said as she finished her speech from the stage.

We’re seeing a shift from storytelling to story doing. This change in the way we approach marketing is decreasing the number of advertising channels a brand must participate in (even though there are more channels than ever before). Experiential marketing has the power to generate brand awareness, engage, inform, create interest, encourage trial, promote consideration and prompt purchase, moving a consumer the entire way through the sales funnel. Plus, experiences are very likely to be shared when compared to any other form of marketing.

No wonder we’re so enamored by experiential marketing.

Brands which embrace experience are forming meaningful relationships with their key audiences. They’re learning more about their brand fans, personalizing their journeys of interaction and staying connected to them. They’re finding value in designing experiences rather than broadcasting messages.

It’s no longer about telling your story but about putting the consumer into your story. Your consumer becomes your story’s protagonist.

So how do we design branded experiences around a story arc? It’s simple; most stories follow a three-act structure. In the beginning, we introduce the theme and setting and any other characters a consumer must interact with. In the middle of the experience, we allow the consumer to further discover his surroundings, challenges, emotions – and even himself. This is where we encourage interaction, playfulness, imagination and hands-on participation. If he is a character in this story, let him experience the journey. Finally, in the end of the story, we peak the excitement and reveal the brand message – that hopefully, he will realize intrinsically on his own through the experience.

The best stories are simple. And they save an element of mystery until the end. That’s how experience storytelling should work, as well. We should remember to create a little bit of suspense during the consumer journey.

The simpler the message – and the better the experience connects to that message – the easier it will be for your audience to not only just understand the message but share that story with others.

In experiential marketing, it’s important to highlight the elements that differentiate your story from your competitors’ stories. If you can strip away your logo and put your competitor’s logo on the same experience footprint, then you haven’t told your story.

What about your story is truly unique? How do consumers experience your brand differently than they would experience competitor brands?

In another Experiential Marketing Summit session, Dustin Segwick of Microsoft and Chris Beeby of Wasserman, reminded attendees that a story is 22 times more memorable than facts. They said that at the heart of every great story is the human element.

If stories engage more of our brains and produce oxytocin, imagine the way your audience’s brain is firing when they’re actually inside the story.

Segwick explained that it’s not the elements within an experience that drive connections; human emotions drive connections.

A great storyteller doesn’t just write an interesting plot, she architects emotions. How would you architect your consumers’ emotions? Let’s talk!

A great story paired with a great experience equals great marketing. You should never have one without the other.

The End.

Image above from an Adobe presentation slide as presented at the Experiential Marketing Summit.