Test time! Which of these statements is true?
Marketing campaigns should be data-driven.
Marketing campaigns should be story-driven.
We’ve debated, gone all-in on one and then the other, and here we are again. In this particular moment in time, data on one side, stories on the other, seemingly a chasm between them.
It’s time to close the chasm. To blend the science of conversion with the art of storytelling.
But how did the divide between narrative and numbers come to be? Where did we get the false assertion that we needed to cleave to one or the other?
In addition to being an agency committed to using a data-driven process for our clients, we’re also in the business of storytelling. That’s why we’ve thought a lot about the danger of de-prioritizing one for the other.
There’s been an evolution of how associations use stories and data in their go-to-market strategies. It’s never been more important to understand how to blend them. But to fully grasp the potential of this moment, we need to trace where we’ve been.
When Storytelling Saved the Day
With the Global Financial Crisis that swept across multiple industries in 2008, marketers saw the writing on the wall. Non-essential things were getting cut. Belts were tightening.
To release the purse strings, to move out of a mindset of scarcity, people needed something more. They needed to be inspired.
Having released the first iPhone the year before, that’s exactly what Apple was doing. They were spinning a story about a product that nobody had any idea they needed, even as the economy all around was teetering.
A few years later, marketing guru Simon Sinek wrote a book called Start With Why, based, in large part, on noticing the way Apple was able to captivate and reinvent itself through the decades. People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, he wrote.
This wasn’t a new idea, but it was the right idea at the right time, and it re-ignited the power of brand storytelling. Just about every marketing firm jumped on the story bandwagon. Inspiration was the name of the game.
We lived it, too, and we helped our clients create campaigns meant to inspire. As Millennials began to come of age, with their focus on mission-driven organizations, the storytelling frenzy only grew stronger. It was about authenticity and creating deep connection.
And Then the World Started to Shift
As social media increasingly muddied the waters of authenticity, storytelling started to feel too fanciful for a world grappling with what was true and what was fake. There was a pandemic and another economic crisis, but this time, it was data that seemed to be the savior.
What can you measure? What can you track? What can you see? It was the metrics that mattered, that would cut through the white noise and distraction.
Now, we’re slowly emerging from that epicenter of fear, but the landscape is different again. We’re forced to be constantly connected—and yet, we’re wholly disconnected from each other. We’re also distrustful.
Do we need stories? Do we need data?
Yes and yes.
But what we really need is discernment about how the two are connected.
The New, Data-Driven Storytelling
What we know now about storytelling is that it’s more trial and error than it is magic. Simon Sinek wasn’t wrong when he said that people connect with WHY an organization exists, more than the particulars of WHAT they do.
But it takes a lot of work to know what stories to tell around that WHY. It takes careful measurement to know which stories, told which ways, will convert people. And more than anything, in today’s environment, it takes building trust.
Finding the right story to tell can build that trust and inspire members and prospects to take action. But you can only find it if you know how to measure and track.
When we talk about brand storytelling now, what we’re really talking about is conversion.
We’d love to hear how you’ve used storytelling in the past, and how you plan to use it going forward.
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