"For companies and brands that have something real, emotional and powerful to say, it is worth adopting a new anatomy for brand storytelling and employ people who know how to hold an audience – journalists, writers, animators, film makers with real experience as storytellers. Effective storytelling is not about the brand. The best stories embody the brand, its attitudes and promises… brands must turn themselves into stories."
There are three paradigms that are at the very core of the communications industry today. These are hyper-connectivity, authenticity and storytelling.
While these concepts are nothing new, they have changed the way we do business – significantly – and continue to do so. And they also continue to be hot topics in boardrooms all across the Middle East and globe. But it is essential to look at and consider these three important paradigms together as synergized parts, and not separately, as each depends on and is influenced by the other.
“Hyper-connectivity” is – very simply – just another way of saying that communication today is 24/7. We live in a world now that is more connected than ever before, with consumers and decision-makers having near-instant access to decision-driving information from peers. The public has an increased ability to talk directly to companies and to each other and they are hearing about a company from other consumers and third parties and not just from carefully crafted brand messages through advertising and other traditional media. This increased – and increasing – dialogue and exposure means it is more vital than ever to communicate. It is vital to be part of the conversation and embrace the power of the “people” by engaging and involving them.
And countries across the Middle East, and particularly those in the Gulf, are some of the most connected locations in the world. Whether it be the local or expat populations in these countries, most people in the likes of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan tote a work phone and a personal device, in addition to a tablet and laptop. It is a very gadget driven society with people constantly consuming content on the move. Saudi alone, for example, is the number one country in the world for YouTube uploads and downloads and is also in the top 20 for Twitter usage. It is also reported that Arabs in general produce around 10 million tweets every day.
Today’s hyper-connectivity has brought a dramatic change in the ways in which companies should and need to communicate with their stakeholders – from how they communicate, to whom, and through what channels. Hyper-connectivity drives the need for brands to tell, across multiple channels and on a consistent basis, a story that is imbued with “authenticity” and a genuine voice.
There used to be a high level of trust that people placed in companies and their leaders. CEOs were seen as rock stars, with personalities that were unique, special and lauded. Now, however, that has changed and in fact, a recent survey by the Reputation Institute found that only 15% of people trusted what companies communicated in their advertisements. And the rise of digital dialogue has been matched by a decrease in corporate trust – with consumers looking to other consumers for endorsement of brands, products and services instead.
When discussing brand communications, we often talk about trust and reputation, but ultimately what is needed is authenticity. A company, or a brand, or a leader, needs purpose and a compelling vision, but that purpose or vision must be authentic and credible. It cannot and should not be “spin” or something disingenuous. And in today’s business environment, being genuine and authentic is what matters and what stakeholders, employees and customers demand.
In his bestselling book, “Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time,” Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said: “In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
So as hyper-connectivity and authenticity become ever more critical to business success in this increasingly competitive world, brands must find a relevant and compelling narrative that clearly defines their story. Companies need to link themselves to the emotive traditions of “storytelling” as this will enable them to communicate more effectively and meaningfully with their public.
Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, describes a study done by a marketing researcher in one of her classes. The researcher asked students in her class to deliver a one-minute pitch. Only one out of ten students used a story in their pitch. She then asked the class to write down everything they remembered about each pitch. 5% of the students cited a statistic while 63% remembered the story.
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn; tell me a truth and I’ll believe; or tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. We like to tell a story, and we like to listen to stories, particularly here in the Middle East where stories have been passed on from generation to generation and where it is in fact thought that storytelling as a profession actually originated. Storytelling holds a particularly important place in Arab culture, with most historians believing that it began here as a functional tool to inform, educate and remember.
Storytelling has been, and is, the method by which people tell each other who they are, where they come from, what they believe in and how they’re different from one another. We tell stories to make sense of what we’re saying, to simplify and provide perspective, to reduce the complex, to explain origins, to establish traditions and behavior, to communicate ethical and moral positions.
For companies and brands that have something real, emotional and powerful to say, it is worth adopting a new anatomy for brand storytelling and employ people who know how to hold an audience – journalists, writers, animators, film makers with real experience as storytellers. Effective storytelling is not about the brand. The best stories embody the brand, its attitudes and promises… brands must turn themselves into stories. Messaging is what you want people to understand and believe about you – it’s what you say – but to give greater context and credibility the audience needs to make a connection through anecdotes to which they can relate. Here in the Middle East the art of the oral narrative is as alive as ever but just being transmitted through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, rather than from the mouths of actual storytellers.
So these three changing paradigms, or themes, of our industry are truly interrelated and you cannot have success in one without success in the other. Hyper-connectivity and speed in communication is driving the need for an attractive narrative that tells a story imbued with authenticity and a genuine voice. And one that gets people interested as well.
The need, therefore, for consistent and credible business communications that are aligned with a brand’s overall strategy has never been stronger. Those organizations that are saying and doing the right thing – and engaging in conversation – are better positioned to win the hearts and minds of their public to shape the future.
The communications industry continues to evolve and it is crucial to keep pace with it. We are in a decade where communication is flourishing like never before.