Because today stories have no ending, narratives are stretched over time and storytelling needs to find richer and deeper ways to connect.
Today’s brands are built around ideas that form communities, and we see more brands emerging with purpose-led messaging anchored around a core promise. But in the 21st Century, is this enough?
As Singapore becomes the hub for regional business and media and creative agencies flock to vendor ideas to this globally focused mindset, there will only continue to be more centralisation happening around brand narratives and an increase in ways to tell stories.
These single brand stories will have to work harder to be meaningful to more people across different markets. So while an anthem around a brand will tell the world why it exists, we need to pay equal attention to how this story becomes part of the lives of people we want to reach, by reimagining the way we create connections and share stories ourselves.
Stories traditionally have always had a beginning and an end. And agencies typically do campaigns that launch and leave. But in the 21st-Century storytelling platforms have exploded and fragmented. Consumers are active participants in so many narratives, from episodes to bit-sized, human stories to story worlds, on wearable devices or through product innovations themselves, our choice of engagement has proliferated.
Because today stories have no ending, narratives are stretched over time and storytelling is about richer, deeper ways to connect with culture. And if we’re not careful our product and our brands will fragment too, as the work we do with multiple stewards simply become tactics that don’t ladder up to anything, de-voiding the core purpose we set out to make meaningful.
To matter in the world, our brands will have to have a strong, clear point of view, but it won’t be enough. We’re going to have to manage our brands stories over longer periods of time, and over more complex story arcs. Programmatic buying will enable us to target specific behaviours and audiences. Data will give us the ability to show up in the right spaces, at the right times, to the right audiences at the right cultural moments. Our communications and activations will become products of our brands and consumers will have joint ownership.
And this will be happening in real time, to everyone, anywhere. With greater visibility on what we say and more importantly do, we need to be brave and share accountability. Breaking away from traditional models of segmentation and amplification we need brand stories that are agile, as cultural changes will ultimately become our biggest critic.
Which means how we operate as an industry needs to change. As 21st-Century storytellers we need to be plugged into the world around us, not just when we are told, but always. It needs to be part of the inherent way we behave and we need to be agile ourselves, in order to tap into opportunities and iterate against brand stories to make sure they connect.
This marks a move from the siloed and departmental structures that frame the way the industry works, toward teams built around a partnership of skills. To create and make—not just be on the sidelines—we must have processes that upstream channel or format opportunities and storytelling, into the story development process itself. Because in the era of 21st century storytelling, these are one. What we do matters as much as what we say. We are no longer just storytellers, we have to become storymakers.
As strategists this means that our role changes too. We are not simply thinkers, but makers as well. Everything we do should drive involvement and lead to not only actionable ideas, but motivate and make cultural impact. We have a responsibility to make platforms that ignite stories that are lived. Because the greatest stories, the ones that get retold and remembered are the ones we make part of a cultural landscape that people can make their own.
Natalie Gruis is head of strategy planning at TBWA Singapore