The four trends driving businesses to get serious about brand storytelling

Businessman shouting loudly into loudspeaker. Retro comic pop art vector illustration

Businesses are getting serious about brand storytelling as they become increasingly aware of how stories effectively communicate their brand. Use of effective storytelling throughout your company not only creates connection with customers, but it also helps engage employees with your core values and purpose.

The last twelve months have also highlighted that human connection is more important than ever before, especially when we have been forced to physically disconnect due to a global pandemic. Now more than ever is a great time to become serious about brand storytelling.

Over the last year, there were four emerging trends that were driving business to think more seriously about their brand and brand storytelling.

Trend 1 social awareness

Customers are more likely to make decisions based on their own values. While this is not new, socially aware consumers are realising their collective power when it comes to influencing companies to make ethical choices. For example, superannuation companies refusing to invest in the likes of coal or tobacco industries.

Trend 2 purpose

Employees are seeking greater alignment between their own personal values and their employers’ values. They are looking to work for companies that have a greater purpose than simply profit. The purpose before profit segment is on the rise and will be attracting talented people to it. Therefore, companies need to get better at communicating outcomes beyond profit and market share.

Trend 3 super-connectivity

A super-connected world has resulted in a surge of transparency that people are referring to as “Glass Box Brands”. Before social media, business operations could be compared to that of a black box. This metaphor implies that it was hard to see into and easy to decorate on the outside. The rise of social media has meant it is very hard to hide an internal culture from the outside world.

Trend 4 the birth of “cancel culture”

This is when people will use social media to call out any company or celebrity that they believe has done something wrong. They will publicly withdraw support and shame them, encouraging others to do the same. Social media makes this easier to achieve.

Storytelling is increasingly being a seen as a way to address these trends and in some cases take advantage of them. If customers and employees are looking to work for and purchase off companies that share aligned values, then businesses need to get better at communicating stories that demonstrate these aspects.

Of course, there needs to be alignment between what companies say and what they do. For example, one of Rio Tinto’s values is respect, yet in May 2020 the company blew up a sacred Aboriginal site in the Pilbara region to mine iron ore. This was despite opposition from the traditional Aboriginal owners and knowing the caves were considered one of Australia’s most significant archaeological research sites, having shown evidence of continuous human habitation dating back 46,000 years. It would be fair to say that this action was a long way from their stated value of ‘respect’.

The backlash was immediate and resulted in the resignation of several senior executives including the CEO. Former CEO, Leon Davis suggested that the reputational damage from destroying the culturally significant site far exceeded the value of iron ore there. Considering the iron ore was worth an estimated $135 million that is significant brand damage. This one action and the ongoing stories it generates will tarnish their brand for years.

Regardless of whether you are trying to repair a damaged brand or simply strengthen one, taking control of the stories you share and the stories you create can go a long way towards achieving this.

Gabrielle Dolan, author of “Magnetic Stories: Connect with Customers and Engage Employees with Brand Storytelling