Storytelling or Storymaking? Your Marketing Needs Both

Storytelling or Storymaking? Your Marketing Needs Both

Dec 3, 2014

When David Berkowitz declared the “The Beginning of the End of Storytelling” in Ad Age, the advertising executive told five separate stories to make his point. As CMO of the ad agency MRY, Berkowitz was telling his own ‘brand story’ in arguing that ‘storymaking’ is future of connecting with people (MRY does storymaking). Berkowitz is on to something, but I don’t think storymaking will oust storytelling. The two strategies are inseparable.

The Basics of Storytelling Versus Storymaking

Let’s start by clarifying our terms: ‘storytelling’ is when marketers create and distribute content about their brand. Every piece of content made or paid for by the brand – a TV ad, a blog post, the tags on a pair of jeans or the copy on a carton of coconut water – are all stories. The name of the brand, what it is and what it does are all made up from scratch.

‘Storymaking’ is the process of making the brand’s audience the storytellers. This isn’t an entirely new concept. Testimonials, reviews, Tweets, Instagram photos and many other forms of user-generated content (UGC) can fall under this domain. The difference with storymaking – versus a generic Facebook post about a brand – is that marketers actively solicit, curate and redistribute the stories made by their audience.

Storymaking is the answer to years of research that deem word-of-mouth (WOM) the Holy Grail of marketing. WOM took center stage in 2013 when Nielsen reported that 84% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family above all other sources of advertising – branded websites, the second most trusted source, trailed WOM by 15 percentage points. Marketers have repeated and re-invoked this statistic more often than any other that I’m aware of.

If people trust recommendations from friends and family more than a brand’s content, marketers reason that people also place more trust in content generated by peers on social media, even if they’re strangers. In March 2014, research released by Crowdtap and Ipsos helped confirm this idea, finding that the Millennials say UGC is more memorable, more trusted and more influential in purchasing decisions than any other media. In essence, storymaking is a version of WOM marketing in which brands take a very active role.

To Make Stories, You Have to Tell Stories First

Storymaking relies on turning audience members into storytellers. However, to spark participation, collect UGC, curate it and re-distribute it, marketers still need to tell stories.

Think about how Bud Light (a Thismoment customer) took over Crested Butte, Colorado, renamed it “Whatever, USA” and then invited 1,000 people to attend a weekend-long party. The first step was telling the #UpForWhatever story, which began with Bud Light’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial. The real-world stunt showed that being #UpForWhatever means being spontaneous and embracing the unexpected, whether it be Don Cheadle with a lama or a “tiny tennis” match with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It demonstrated that Bud Light will take a random person like Ian and put him through a spontaneous, unforgettable night – because that is what Bud Light is all about.

Without this initial story – staged and told by the brand – the march towards Whatever, USA couldn’t have succeeded the way it did. When Bud Light asked its audience to audition for the weekend in Whatever, over 100,000 people submitted audition videos because they already understood that #UpForWhatever meant a chance to have a weekend at least as epic as Ian’s night. In other words, the invitation to storymaking is great storytelling.

The Final Product Also Requires Storytelling

In traditional word-of-mouth marketing, brands are cut out of the production stage. When I tell my friends that this coffee shop I’m typing in makes the best coffee in Utah, that’s it. The coffee shop can’t vet, curate and redistribute my words. A key difference with storymaking is that the brand gets permission to use UGC and then present it to an audience in final form. To make this final product engaging, the marketers have to include a story about the process and intention of the storymaking.

To illustrate this concept, let me direct you to UPS’s Wishes Delivered page and Michael’s Make it Merry page (both Thismoment customers). On Wishes Delivered, UPS leads with a video and some text framing the story of Wishes Delivered. UPS is in the business of delivering goods that fulfill people’s wishes – if you share your wish with #WishesDelivered, they’ll donate $1 to a charity partner. The storymaking – people’s wishes – don’t make sense without this storytelling that contextualizes who, what, when, where, why and how. Dido with Michael’s Make it Merry page – the introduction explains that the holiday crafts tagged with #MadeWithMichaels are all projects created with material’s from Michael’s – the company is curating and presenting these images to inspire your own DIY holiday projects.

As storytellers, marketers must explain the motivation and process behind their storymaking. Why are you asking people to submit content? What does the final, curated content mean? Who benefits? How do I participate?

Tell and Make

While storymaking may be a more engaging way to share a brand’s story and connect with an audience, you can’t get around storytelling. There are no participants for storymaking until marketers have invited them with a compelling story.

More than half the battle in storymaking is winning over an audience. Why should I participate in this campaign? Why should I add your hashtag to my photos? Just like Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercial, your storytelling has to answer this why (we’re going to bring you to the party of your life) – then, what and how are pretty simple. Like UPS and Michael’s did, marketers must also tell the story of storymaking (read that carefully) in their final product, otherwise it won’t make sense.

So don’t ditch storytelling. Use it on its own – especially if you need to write an article about the downfall of storytelling – and use it to succeed at storymaking.

Richard Ellis
Contributor Bio: Richard Ellis is a writer based in Park City, Utah. His clients include high-tech startups, venture capital firms, healthcare organizations, marketing agencies and media brands, and has had his articles featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., Ad Age, VentureBeat, TechCrunch and other publications. If you ever see the terms “best-of-breed”, “leverage”, “value-added”, “robust” or “customer-centric” in an article, Richard didn’t write it. A snowboarder, mountain biker, kettle bell enthusiast and yogi, Richard has a passion for the outdoors and fitness.
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