Storytelling - new marketing, or another fad?

Ville Honkimäki

by Ville Honkimäki

We've all heard it before - marketers have to become storytellers. So, let's look at some examples and see how they've paid off.

If you were asked which automotive manufacturer sells the most electric vehicles (EV) at the moment I would not blame you for answering Tesla. The correct answer is however Nissan-Renault Alliance. "What?" I hear you gasp. Oh yes. Since 2010 Nissan-Renault has sold half of all EVs on this planet and only this year until end of July the EU sales statistics reveal that Nissan-Renault accounts for 28 500 units vs. 7 500 Tesla. The market value of the Alliance is 68 Billion and that of Tesla 30 Billion only after a few years and more importantly only with EVs!

What is the reason for this misconception? There might be several, but I claim that the ability to create storytelling around the brand is a profound one. Storytelling, or providing consistent and compelling content to build a picture of a company is what Tesla has been excellent at.

A UK based research firm OnePoll recently conducted a study issued by Aesop agency where they tried to define storytelling according to 10 criteria. Among those were criteria like brands “have a clear sense of purpose”, “consumers are intrigued to see what they’ll do next” or whether brands “create their own worlds”. The bare bones of a good brand story is a clear and popular purpose.

Have you ever seen traditional above-the-line Tesla advertising? Exactly, it doesn’t exist. Have you seen Nissan-Renault EV advertising? Exactly, conventional bragging and promising with brand claim Innovation that Excites. According to Robert McKee, a famous educator on story form and brand storytelling, the Millennial generation and Generation Z have an adverse reaction to bragging. They just have shorter interest spans than generations before which makes it even more important for traditional brands like automotive, utilities or financial services to adapt themselves to an audience whose mind is a story-making mind. If you give them certain elements, they will supply the rest.

My claim is that all brands have an opportunity to tell stories, not only the most obvious or sexiest like Apple, IKEA or Coca-Cola. If you take a look at, you'll see and experience how a traditional Italian fashion company has re-invented itself to the digital age by harnessing the full power of storytelling. Or take an example of a company that has never utilized their ability to tell a story on how motorcycle grips turned to earsocks on glasses or bands of the watches: Oakley, California. Two excellent Nordic examples of storytelling are the tire manufacturer Nokian Renkaat with their epic stories of Hakkapeliitta winter tires, and coffee producer Paulig with their consistent long-term approach presenting storytelling by showing craftsmen delivering quality work. When are brands like consumer goods company Fiskars, sports article manufacturer Amer Sports or wine and spirits company Altia going to enter the story scene with full force? McKee underlines the importance of companies to be empathetic because that’s when a corporation comes alive, has a heart, and is out there on a mission.

To capture all the above in a new marketing concept, I would like to emphasize the importance of doing the right (meaning laborious) things at first. Go back to your original brand identity and brand promise, analyze those well, see what elements of content you already possess (every company does), determine who your customers are and segment those and finally make your way towards technology to create and distribute at the end - not the other way around. You only have three core choices for who the story is about: it’s either about the corporation, about a product, or, if it’s a service, it’s about the consumer.

Just do it.

If you want to apply some storytelling to your marketing strategy, then drop us a line.