Storymaking: The Evolution of Storytelling

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Guest Contributor

In a world of too many corporate stories being told for enough to be heard, 'storymaking' empowers consumers to tell the stories themselves.

Storytelling is all the rage these days. More than just a topic of conversation and an almost endless stream of articles, it’s seen more frequently as a job title or job description, and not just for public relations and marketing professionals, but for other functions as well. Plus, organizations are increasingly tasked with brand storytelling at multiple customer touchpoints, all part of their “content marketing” strategy.

Storytelling is a good idea, but like a lot of good ideas, when applied too broadly and without thoughtful intent, it’s ineffective, and it only adds to the noise of a lot stories being told, but precious few being heard.

You see, storytelling, at its root, is a one-way “broadcasting,” or telling, of a message. It’s a decidedly Web 1.0 tactic in a Web 2.0 world, and consumers are not interested in passively hearing stories – it’s way too easy to simply tune out and move on. Rather, as David Berkowitz points out in his great AdAge piece, “The Beginning of the End of Storytelling,” people are most interested in proactively creating their own stories, and sometimes they enlist the help of their favorite brands.

In retail, many stores are stuck firmly in storytelling mode, a hangover of sorts from the glory days of yore and a dependence on traditional advertising and promotional tactics. Facing fierce competition from both online and in-store fronts, the temptation for many retail marketers is to further ramp up the telling of stories, and technology is often the unwitting ally.

In the retail world, it can be easy to stumble into the pitfalls of too much storytelling, and not enough storymaking, or even listening. Beacons, with their iBeacon protocol, and Wi-Fi are two foundational, enabling technologies that have tremendous promise to redefine shopper engagement and dialogue. Of course, that’s if they’re used correctly.

A new report from inMarket indicates marketers risk a 31.3 percent drop in application use when more than one beacon message is delivered per location. Conversely, rewards can be rich  – when beacons are used as a utility for consumers and shoppers, they can lead to a 500 percent increase in interactions compared to standard push notifications.

In-store shopping, by its very nature, is a social experience, but most stores are just now becoming more social media savvy in their approach to enabling shoppers. First forays into social media included the one-way broadcast of messages and promotions – storytelling, if you will.

Better applications of social networking and mobile technologies move into creating authentic two-way dialogue, engaging shoppers, and creating community around common interests. It starts with asking and listening, and it leads to shopper loyalty and increased shopper retention.

The next frontier for retailers to explore and trial is with enablement, going beyond engagement and dialogue and empowering shoppers to craft, curate and share their own stories, with shoppers themselves as the subjects, and the store and its merchandise as supporting players.

Currently, many stores enable showrooming and expanded product research through free, opt-in Wi-Fi, and some retailers go so far as to loan connected mobile devices to shoppers who might not be carrying their own. Those connected ecosystems are still centered on “pulling” information down, but are fully capable of empowering shoppers to “push” their stories outward.

Through those networks, stores are experimenting with virtual mirrors and fitting rooms, both with abilities for shoppers to instantly connect to, share with, and, of course, influence their vast social networks. It’s a newfound opportunity for retailers to have shoppers tell the store’s own branded stories.

As an industry, retail is rarely an innovator, but its ultra-competitiveness requires being a fast follower – that or be left almost hopelessly behind. As fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs) like Coca-Cola and it’s “share a Coke” campaign, move from storytelling to storymaking, retailers will undoubtedly jump on board and push it to a higher, more immersive and compelling level.

And, once retail sets its mind to it, storytelling will never the same.

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