Storytelling: to tell stories that sell

From Little Red Riding Hood to the Water Project. The art of telling stories as a Communication strategy

Once upon a time…

In the 50s, a college student gives up his son to a working class couple.

The young man enters a private university which he cannot afford and eventually he ends up giving up his studies.

He integrates a fledgling technology company, from which he is fired.

He returns, years later, and transforms it into a world power.

The narrative seems to belong to a fairy-tale hero. There is not any ingredient missing: courage, suffering, love and dedication.

This is actually the very real story of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

A narrative that is intertwined with the brand itself and is part of its Communication strategy.



Apple’s case illustrates the importance of stories for Public Relations.

Storytelling as Communication strategy is born from a basic desire, common to all human beings: the will to be conquered.

From Neolithic to the propagation of @

“Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”

-Alan Kay, Vice-President of Walt Disney

The art of telling stories is as old as Mankind.

Even before the development of writing, man discovered the power of narrative to retain and consolidate his knowledge.

The stories allowed our ancestors to transmit information and strengthen community ties.

In the twenty-first century, the stories continue to be a central part of Communication.

PR stories

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”

- Seth Godin, Marketing expert

A brand is a matter of perception: how it is seen and how it wishes to be seen by their publics are key issues for the establishment of its identity.

To strategically work a brand must go through the process of creating an experience that has impact on the public.

A creation made from stories, directly or indirectly.

Narratives give personality to the brand and allow it to reach more effectively and lastingly to the public.

The secret? To award a context and to develop a story, so that the public gives the brand an emotional meaning.

More than an occasional campaign, storytelling should consistently guide the company’s strategy and adapt itself according to the audience response.

A lesson that Dove studied well.

The brand has been strongly investing in its communication, developing a strategy based on the concept of “Real Beauty.”



This idea is conveyed through several media, from videos to billboards, sharing on social media to viral ads.

In common, the pieces disseminated through communication platforms have the fact that they do not seek to sell a specific product or service, but disclose a concept: “Real Beauty.”

Seeking a narrative

“Stories give color to black and white information.”

 - Todd Stocker, author

By giving the brand an identity, capturing and sharing stories, it is possible to provide consumers an experience they wish to live.

In order for the public to develop a personal connection with the brand, stories must be authentic, creative and inspiring.

From content to events and campaigns, any strategy must be embedded within a larger narrative, justifying and supporting the brand’s identity.

Like a fairy tale, these stories must have a beginning, create a conflict and reach a resolution.

However, the entrepreneurial narratives are unique because they require a fourth element: a call to action, although often indirect.

In Public Relations, a happy ending is not about buying products or services, but about the way the narrative can inspire, motivate change and increase engagement: create the identity and form a perception about a particular organisation, entity, company, brand or product.

Take the example of the campaign “Stay Together,” developed by Skype.

The brand invited users to share their real stories, creating a compelling and poignant narrative, which resorts to the basic structure of fairy tales, leaving the spectators rooting for the hero’s success.

The story of the “impossible portrait,” which joins a man who fled the war and the family he left behind, got Internet users emotional.



Listening to the public is indeed one of the fundamental lessons in order to be a good storyteller, because that is the only way you can truly understand their wishes and concerns, beliefs and attitudes.

An ongoing work, which extends throughout the campaign, in order to assess consumer reactions.

As objectives change, new initiatives should be planned to give continuity to the story and inspire new calls of action.

Coca-Cola is an example of longevity in using storytelling techniques.

The use of narratives for the construction of the brand’s identity is part of the multinational’s DNA.

Among its major communication achievements there is, in fact, the creation of the figure of Santa Claus, which we know today and that is already a part of the popular culture.

This is one of the top goals of any organisation: a story created by a brand that was etched so deeply that it became part of the common imagination of society.



In its strategic plan, the brand aims to achieve a “disproportionate share of popular culture,” creating viral content, whose dissemination cannot be controlled.

Much of its content comes from the concept “Coke Side of Life,” associated with the idea of happiness.

In addition to its global campaigns, the brand seeks to get closer to consumers, developing communication initiatives adapted to different markets.

The initiative “Small World Machines” united India and Pakistan, nations separated by territorial disputes and by decades of conflict, in a campaign that brought the audience to the center of the story; more than the brand itself, the Pakistani and the Indian were the protagonists.




Protagonist: the public

“Content builds trust. Trust builds relationships.”

- Andrew Davis, author

Just like fairy tales, storytelling is, by definition, a person-centered technique.

While it is important for brands to tell their own story, the narratives created by consumers are the ones which have a greater impact.

Consumers should be the protagonists, with the company serving as a secondary character, which provides tools for informed decisions.

The success lies in creating compelling stories that have the power to mobilise the public.

For this reason, it is one of the communicative pillars of non-governmental organisations, which use narratives in order to gain awareness for their cause.

What happens when the water shortage crisis in Africa comes to a film in Hollywood?

The Water Project sought to address this issue by developing a campaign that makes the public one of the active participants.



Instead of announcing facts and numbers, the project sought to bring the spectators to be a part of the statistics, at least for a few minutes.

The public was invited to embark on a journey with The Water Project, inspiring the sense of mission and taking them on the organisation’s journey, aiming to expand access to clean water and basic sanitation.

A Global Village populated by stories

“Social media is about the people. Not about your business.”

- Matt Goulart, founder of WebStar Content

The use of storytelling techniques was not born in social media, but they inhabit in them.

Due to the explosive growth of these platforms and content marketing, storytelling has become a strategic priority.

Online, storytelling takes on different characteristics: social media are seen as more than a distribution platform, becoming a conversation space between brands and Internet users.

From Twitter’s 140 characters to the live broadcasts on Periscope, each medium has its distinctive feature, which should be taken into account in the development of marketing strategy.


From the narrative created by President Obama on Twitter to the visual stories of Starbucks on Instagram, through the inspiring videos of UNICEF on Vine, the real-life cases presented by Make a Wish on Pinterest and Nike’s narrative publications on Facebook, social media has become a privileged stage for storytelling.

A technique that crosses formats and whose main primary driver is creativity.

And they lived happily ever after

“Stories are not indicators, they ARE the organization.”

- David M. Boje, Storytelling expert

From children’s books to the speeches of world leaders, storytelling as a communication tool is everywhere.

The public may forget names and statistics, but not the experience that the brand gave them: stories are what people remember.

Stories that help interpret the past and help building the future of a brand.

“Marketing sells products. Advertising sells images. Planning sells views. Events sell moments. People buy stories.”