How to Tell Your Company’s Story: Q&A with Simon Kelly

Having a good story — getting messaging right, in the jargon of marketing — has always been a key element in building and maintaining a brand. Whether the brand refers to a product, a corporation, a personality or even a particular government, telling a good story has always been part of the elevator pitch.

After all, spinning a yarn has been humans’ way of transmitting stories, histories, and cultural traditions to one another since time immemorial.

Simon Kelly, CEO of Story Worldwide, has elevated the ‘storyline’ to the paramount factor in branding — a necessary response, he says, to the rise of social media and the disintermediation of relationships between brand and audience.

Kelly spoke with Karma Contributing Editor, Michael Moran, about why he thinks smart storytelling tactics should be part of every company’s brand strategy.

Michael Moran: Why is storytelling so crucial to getting ahead in today’s media landscape?

Simon Kelly: Because traditional advertising is becoming less and less effective — and the reason for that is that consumers have the ability to shut you out of their lives. You cannot interrupt the content that they're enjoying, whether it's with traditional TV, where they can cut the cord and stream video that cuts you out, or with digital advertising, because people have downloaded ad blockers on their browsers. The only way you can reach consumers in what we call the Post Advertising Age is not to interrupt the content, but to be the content.

Michael Moran: How do you determine what motivates an individual?

Kelly: If you really want to resonate with an individual, you have to understand that individual's concerns, and the only way you can do that is to unpack the data. Think about the way that investigative journalists get to the truth of a subject: they keep asking questions. So, keep asking why. If you can continue to keep asking why, then you'll understand what those individual stories are.

There are emotional stimuli that we respond to and that's true of pretty much any investment decision that we make. Take choosing a bank: Would you want to go with some of the faceless corporates that are out there? Sometimes, perhaps we do, because of a sense of security in long-established brands, such as JP Morgan Chase, or Bank of America. But also I think we, as humans, are hardwired to respond to the sense of community emanating from a brand, and that is when having a story really matters.

Michael Moran: What are the key elements of storytelling?

Kelly: Aristotle believed that there are three modes of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos. And I think that the marketing world, the finance world, and the investment world, have all been focused on ethos and logos to the detriment of pathos over the last 50 to 100 years. It's all about features. It's all about product, facts, interest rates, percentages, and so on. Nobody cares about those. People care about stories. It's as simple as that.

We used to work with Bank of America to produce their annual report. Maybe some of the investors care about the percentages of profit gains,growth patterns, and new products. But the biggest response to any of the features in this dry annual report we ever got was to the stories we told about a new product called SafeSend, which was a way for non-Americans to send money back to their home countries.

It was proof to us, and to Bank of America, that approaching even a financial product from a human interest perspective elicits an emotional response in investors and creates an authentic experience for them. They heard from individuals whose lives were positively impacted by the new product, and could buy into the security of knowing that the bank’s customers were not getting scammed by other types of “send money home” companies.

Those stories resonate throughout the investment world.The more you can think about how to drill down into the stories where your business positively impacts people's lives, the more they are true, and the more they are stories that you own, the more successful you're going to be.

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