November 18, 2016

Hemingway, Spielberg and you? Storytelling in corporate communications

Hemingway, Spielberg and you? Storytelling in corporate communications

Okay, okay, admittedly: storytelling has become an established practice in marketing. Everyone has already expressed their feelings about it; there are countless professional articles and comments on this topic. And indeed, some brands have even written success stories as storytellers. For example, the little Darth Vader for Volkswagen, the Gothic Girl for Hornbach, or the crazy Stratos stunt for Red Bull. There are still plenty of examples of successful storytelling in marketing.

But why are these still exceptions? When it is clear to everyone that in a market full of similar products and permanent comparability, storytelling can be a recipe for success for successful communication and even a unique selling point for companies.

Then why doesn't everybody do it? Let's get to the bottom of the question and see what storytelling is all about.

Stories accompany our lives

Storytelling is essentially about something straightforward: conveying information within the framework of a familiar narrative pattern, a story. Storytelling is a tradition, a cultural practice thousands of years old. Wisdom, events, and knowledge have always been passed on to listeners in the form of stories - like fairy tales, fables, novels, songs, or other media formats. Recently also as a tweet or blog entry.

Stories accompany us all our lives, from the good-night stories we heard as a child, to horror stories at a holiday camp, to the "has-been-heard" in the office corridor. Every couple has a story to tell about how they met, from every holiday we have to bring along not only a roast chicken-like complexion but also enviable anecdotes and one of the highest goals in life is to "make history" anyway. So it has become a trend to tell your life story even if you are not famous, as a form of therapy or only out of vanity and the pen of an "autobiographer." If you want to learn more about this trend or if you are already longing for your biography, you can find more information here.

In other media formats, too, the art of storytelling is increasingly appreciated and finding its way into our everyday lives: if not the theatre, then at least we visit poetry slams, the market for trade journals and specialized interest magazines (print!) is growing, and we spend our evenings full of excitement and curiosity about HBO or Netflix series ... So it's no wonder that storytelling is now also commonplace in the fields of education, journalism, PR, and marketing. The stories themselves are told orally, drawn, animated, played, or filmed.

If you want to know more about storytelling, you will find more detailed definitions here and here.

Storytelling in corporate communications: brands as storytellers

Incorporate communications and marketing, storytelling often refers to audiovisual and interactive content such as websites, animations, games, films or podcasts. This is more than just pretty packaging, but a scientifically proven way to make things easier to remember. This is called the modality effect. In a nutshell, this effect describes the improved memorability of content by sharing visual and acoustic parts in our working memory. This is one of the reasons why, for example, many pupils can learn better with music. Even if companies and brands use storytelling correctly, positive effects for the audience can be observed:


If content is brought to us via familiar and popular narrative patterns, we pay more attention to it than to advertising or other things that we perceive as disturbing or "background noise". In the multitude of messages and impressions that surround us daily, this content finds its way into our attention. We remember them more quickly and can at best even tell the content to others.


In globalized and networked markets, products and services are comparable and interchangeable. Customers do not orientate themselves only on advertising messages or on the pure facts - they listen to evaluations, tests and recommendations. They want to be able to decide for themselves and have their say. Storytelling offers an opportunity for interactive corporate communication: Depending on the idea and implementation, customers can be involved in a story, whether with submissions, interactive elements or episodes ... Stories offer the occasion and framework for interactions in which brands can convince and shape customers.


Stories convey more than facts and information. They take the recipient on a journey, a shared experience - and offer companies and brands the opportunity to address something in us and to build a connection with us. In this way we link certain emotions, values or attitudes with a brand. This makes it more than just a provider of goods or services, it is part of a lifestyle or a belief on which long-term customer relationships and trust are based.

Who tells it best?

I can see you are hot and want to start telling stories right away. The rules and tips for successful storytelling will be revealed in the next article. In the meantime, you can take a look at Pixar's 22 Storytelling Rules - they know what they're talking about!

Of course, there are already numerous tools that offer users help and support for many storytelling use cases - especially when it comes to audiovisual media, interactivity or real-time communication. A whole list of such tools can be found here.

Hemingway, Spielberg and you? Storytelling in corporate communications. #storytelling #blog Click to tweet

But before you get started, you should consider that brands with expanded media offerings and stories compete with established and highly creative channels and content. One reason for this is that users do not spend their time searching for individual media offerings, but rather use already established platforms and places where a lot of content is curated and edited - such as newspapers, magazines, TV, YouTube, Facebook, etc. In the battle for the attention of users and consumers, all media producers play a role in these platforms. This is sometimes intense competition - which we would like to learn something from ...

The New York Times provided a successful example of how a traditional industry such as publishing can realize a case for interactive storytelling with journalistic appeal with its web special "Snow Fall". On the site, a detailed article is enriched with additional content such as background stories, videos, animations and information about authors and experts. The quality of this storytelling example lies in the fact that The New York Times remains true to its core competence and its product: The brand stands for quality journalism and reliable news. From one of these products - a reportage - they have knitted an authentic and high-quality storytelling case by adding interactive elements to the product range.

This example should inspire more brands to try their hand at storytelling - because companies and people are full of stories. With the right tools and the necessary experience, these can be identified, worked out and told. Stories are best understood when they are authentic, coming from the company or products themselves.

To achieve this, both marketers and creative professionals must seriously consider the messages, customer needs, and appropriate channels. Successful storytelling campaigns are not random viral hits - they are based on clear strategies and goals, editorial plans and the work of experienced storytellers in conception and implementation. So to start your story successfully, here are some tips for you ...

Ten questions that you should answer before designing your story:

  • Who is your audience? Who are you addressing?
  • What is your audience interested in?
  • Why should they be interested in your story?
  • In which world or phase of life are they?
  • What values and views do they agree with?
  • How do you involve people - emotionally and interactively?
  • Where and how does your audience consume media content?
  • Is your story exciting enough to watch/read/hear it?
  • What does the audience take away as the core message?
  • What should they do when they have consumed your story? What is the next step?

Long Story short

Yes, storytelling is a cool tool in marketing and corporate communications! Companies can use it to leave their familiar communication paths and get in touch with customers, partners or their employees on new levels. Good stories enable activation, provoke interaction and create connections to the audience.

But if you want to play along, you have to be aware that you are sitting on the shoulders of giants. Stories fight for the attention of the audience - on every channel and in every medium. So if you want to tell stories, you should focus on quality and experience and, above all, remain authentic. Therefore my tip: Tell your audience something you would like to hear yourself, something that adds value and entertains. Make your story something unique.

What are your experiences with storytelling in corporate communications? Write us on Twitter at @storylinerlabs

Marc Süß

Marc Süß

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