I was a young college student when Napster came onto the scene. The innovation of P2P file sharing via the Internet was so disruptive that it threatened to shake the entertainment industry to its core. And personally, it gave me reason for concern.
Born to entertainment icon Donny Osmond, I grew up in the epicenter of the industry, unintentionally becoming aware of its nuances and idiosyncrasies. I was naive, yes—but familiar with it.
Although I missed the craziness of Osmondmania in the early ’70s, I was a teenager by the early ’90s and knew everything about how my father made a living—record a few songs, throw them on an album, tour to promote the album, and then sell LPs, cassette tapes, and CDs.
So as an impressionable freshman in college, I eagerly participated in college courses such as music theory and business that would help position me as an A&R music executive. Given my choice in electives, lecture halls often became forums for debates on the topic of Napster and technology’s ability to change an industry’s landscape.
After one day of classes, I came home from school and asked my father if he was going to be out of a job, since his music was now becoming freely available. A discussion from earlier in the day had me thinking that Napster, the free music-sharing platform, would destroy the industry.
I could tell by the expression on his face that he didn’t quite understand the reason for my inquiry and why I had a look of concern. Rephrasing with a little more detail, I asked: “Is Napster going to prevent you from ever making a living again? I mean, I can just go on the World Wide Web and download songs for free, right?”
His response surprised me. He told me that Napster would change the industry; that’s for sure. But people will always want to be entertained. He said, “I’ll be fine.”
Knowing that my father had barely finished a semester’s worth of college, I thought he was being ignorant of the changing tides and his calm certainty took me aback.
A few years later and after the completion of my communications undergraduate degree, I came across this idea of transmedia storytelling. From my perspective, the application of this concept was mainly used in entertainment as a way to promote and bring awareness to the release of new movies. Using storytelling as a marketing strategy intrigued me.
As I recalled the earlier conversation with my father many years prior, everything came together. He was right. P2P file sharing didn’t dismantle the entertainment industry; however, it sure left a mark. Today, more than 15 years later, we still have musicians, performers, and celebrities. We still have the storytellers.
Entertainment is nothing more than storytelling, through music, film, and television. And the marketing that accompanies these niches play so well to the very nature of these narratives—endearing us to the protagonist and introducing drama that captivates us until the resolution.
Applying storytelling to entertainment is relatively easy. The challenge for brands in other industries is to incorporate similar, yet meaningful, tactics in an authentic way that resonates their brand positioning.
This is not always easy because our first inclination (as consumers) is to give all our attention to what’s new—the latest and greatest—and overlook the reason why this new product or service has entered the market.
The caveat is that it doesn’t take long before the sparkle dims and the fanfare fades away. Marketing the newness factor only lasts so long; sooner or later the only thing left to market is the reason why a company does what it does—its corporate narrative.
Now, if having the perfect narrative were truly a marketer’s silver bullet, then we would see countless examples of marketing success stories. The counterpart to a corporate story is developing and cultivating authentic relationships between a brand and its clients/customers.
Just as brands have narratives that serve as the reason why the company is in business, so too do the customers of these companies have stories that provide the reasons why they purchase from specific brands.
These individual customer stories come in many forms: testimonials, word of mouth marketing, complaints, and online reviews. And just to show the strength of these stories, this is why a company can spend hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars on advertising, and it only takes a handful of poor reviews on Google to negatively impact the bottom line.
As professional marketers, our success is intimately tied to the bottom line. Therefore, we occasionally feel pressure to employ less sustainable and more sensational tactics and trick consumers’ minds. However, it’s impossible to always have the lowest price or to always have the latest technology. That’s OK. Marketing the facts—lowest price, latest gadget—is a moving target.
A more sustainable trajectory is utilizing a brand’s belief structure as the foundation of its marketing. Beliefs reside in the heart. And storytelling marketing is not about tricking the mind; it’s about endearing the brand to the hearts of its clients and customers.
As brands cultivate relationships with their customers through stories, those customers will want to share their experiences (customer stories) with others—leading to more potential customers.
Consumers purchase on the basis of why; the how, when, where, and what are merely circumstantial. Why we do what we do and why we purchase what we purchase are inextricably linked with our stories.