Rishabh Dev explores how brands can learn the art of storytelling from religion and the various elements associated with it.
Mankind invented religion to tell the story of the powers that be, that run the universe around us to make some sense of how everything worked when science hadn’t yet reached the masses. People like Galileo and Isaac Newton tried to get it out there to inspire the people to ask questions, find answers and try to get a better understanding of the universe around them. But the narrative of religion at the time was so much better and stronger that geniuses like them were cast aside and branded as heretics.
Truth can often be stranger than fiction. I mean, it is after all true that a single cloud can weigh as much as a million pounds. So why can’t religion teach a thing or two about how to run brand storytelling in the modern world?
What is a story?
When someone says story or storytelling, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it a fairytale with heroes and villains? Well, it’s a bit more deeper than that. Storytelling, to be precise, is about describing the positive emotional experience of a user. It can be expressed with design or with words. What really matters is the experience behind the story, the emotions it evokes in the audience.
Religion, brand marketing, and the art of storytelling
Storytelling has been an integral part of the human culture and history. It has been used to share and interpret experiences through times immemorial, whether through spoken words of travelers, cave drawings, books, or any other medium. Religion as such, could not have survived through the centuries without this embedded culture among all known civilizations. This intimate relationship between religion and storytelling allowed the stories to be passed through generations and stay alive in our collective conscience. These stories come with a lesson, experience, or some entertainment, and they usually have an element of creativity and often an element of surprise as well. Through one or more of these elements, it connects with the audience and gives them something to think about.
Similarly, brand storytelling has to be about one or more of these elements to connect with the audience and leave them with something to ponder over. It is more than just the content and the brand narrative, and it goes beyond the written copy on websites, brochures and presentations. It needs to be packed with facts, emotions and experience. In short, it isn’t just what the brand tells its audience, it’s also about what the audience perceives that the brand is trying to say.
Emotions are everything in storytelling
Humans are emotional creatures. Emotions run deep in our conscience at all times. Everything we do has an emotional connect with us somewhere and that’s what religion has always capitalized on. It delivers an emotional punch to the audiences. Religious stories inspire people. The audience believes that the stories are true because they have been passed on from generation to generation.
Something similar happens when a brand story inspires people and they share it onwards within their sphere of influence. When a story comes to us from a trusted source, its value for us increases automatically and we find a connect with it.
Some religions have more fans than others; So do some brands
It’s not to say that one religion is better than the other, it just means that some religions tell a better story than others. For example, while both Taoism and Christianity have survived a long time, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world while only 12 million people follow Taoism. Why? The power of storytelling. Christianity might have had its ups and downs, but those ups and downs make a great story. And even though, in principle, Taoism has a similar story to tell about humility and compassion, the narrative remains esoteric and fails to appeal to a larger audience.
Similarly, in brand storytelling, it is the story that plays out for a longer time among the masses because it touches on more than one of the facets of storytelling - inspiration, emotions, and entertainment. Such brand stories are able to tap into a wider audience because they have something for everyone rather than only a select few members of the audience.
The storyteller controls the audience
Without an able storyteller, a story will never reach the masses. Look at some of the most well known storytellers of history. Can we really say that Christianity would have survived without the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. They were the first ones to get the story of Christ to the people. They inspired the masses into following the word of Jesus Christ.
Quite similar is the case with Hinduism. Without the stories of The Puranas and The Upanishads, it could have been extremely difficult for present day Hindus to relate to the complex ideas presented in the Vedas.
Think about the brand storyteller in the same way. Showmanship is an essential trait of a storyteller. They are human - vulnerable, honest and trustworthy. They make sure that every story they tell delivers a point to the audience that they can relate to. They have the strategic insight to tell the right story at the right time with the intent and purpose to inspire their audience to think, feel and ultimately act according to their wishes.
Storytelling is for long term impact, not validity
No one has seen the Ark of the Covenant, yet we all believe that it exists and Moses actually spoke to God on top of a hill. That there is the impact of the story. No one can validate it with physical proof, but it has been passed on through generations because that story inspires people.
A brand’s story has to be shaped in a similar way. It has to inspire people to pass it on. They need not have used the brand’s product or services personally, all they need is to believe in the story’s truth because it came from another living person like them. That’s why humanizing a brand and story is essential for the longevity of the story so that it can reach a wider audience.
The power of emotions and belief weighs over ad budgets
Newspapers, radio, television, and internet are recent inventions. They weren’t around when Jesus had his last supper. But the story of The Last Supper survived, and not because Da Vinci made a famous painting, but because the story appealed to the emotions of thousands of people. Those thousands passed it on to millions and Christianity now has more than 2.2 billion followers.
When it comes to the brand story, it reaches a wider audience when there’s an emotional appeal to the audience. It doesn’t mean that the story has to make them happy, or sad, or even scare them. It just has to inspire them to take a positive action that ultimately solves a real-life problem for them. If ad budgets alone had to govern the outcome of audience behavior, then many of the so-called religious leaders who spend millions on print, television and internet ads would have more followers that the Catholic Church.
Digital channels have helped brands, big and small, by removing all entry barriers for them to tell their story. But what really matters is how that story is told.
People don’t emotionally connect to facts and statistics as much as they connect with personal stories that they can empathise with. They don’t recognize impact, they feel it and then act on it. Your organization is no longer selling a product or a service, it is presenting perceptions and it deals with people, not numbers. So get out of the comfort zone of numbers, figures and statistics and tell a story that changes someone’s world forever.