Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Forbes as part of the Forbes Agency Council.
For centuries, storytelling has been the most effective vehicle for humans to impart lessons on one another in a way that resonates. As methods of communication are concerned, the story carries the most weight and offers the longest shelf-life. If you want to change human behavior, you need a good message. The best way to get that message across is through story.
Unsurprisingly, the story has been a central component in marketers’ arsenal for decades. Marketers are in the business of changing human behavior through messaging. Stories make that happen.
McDonald’s could have just sold hamburgers, but instead told the story of hardworking, busy families who deserved to treat themselves (e.g. “You deserve a break today”). Dos Equis could have just sold its beer, but instead told its story through a hyperbolic persona of what its beer drinkers wanted to become: The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Stories are not going anywhere. Their strength as a captivation tool has not withered. However, the methods of which we go about telling and amplifying those stories are evolving as data, technology, and consumer expectations change with it. And due to this evolution, the big, all-encompassing brand story is being replaced by personalized stories customized for the channel and device on which it is experienced.
Advancements in technology have simultaneously connected the world and caused it to be extremely fragmented. TV is possibly the most evident example. With countless options at our fingertips—cable, premium cable, streaming services—there are rarely cases when the entire country has its attention directed at the same show at the same time.
Live sporting events are the lone unifiers of audiences. Game of Thrones was the closest scripted example, and now even it is gone and unlikely to be replaced. Thanks to the popularity of Netflix and Amazon Prime, even some of the most popular shows are consumed at varying paces due to the method of distribution and binge-ability.
The big brand story is no longer as effective because no two consumers engage with a brand in the same precise way. Whether it is the channel in which they are engaging, the device they are engaging on, or the point in their lifecycle at that time, there is an abundance of ways and places in which brands must reach consumers with relevant messages at the right time.
A high-budget TV spot might be crafted to engage audiences and spark conversation, but if no one is watching the same thing on TV, and many of your customers are not even engaging with your brand via TV—but rather through a mobile app or social media—how effective can it really be?
Not only are audiences fragmented in how they consume content, their expectations demand more than mass-produced storytelling.
A Story for Every Consumer
Consumers have made two demands abundantly clear to the brands with which they engage: they want personalized experiences across every touchpoint, and they want brands to be instruments for them to tell their own stories.
Marketers must adjust by telling a very personal story that still communicates the overall message the brand is hoping to get across, while also providing opportunities for consumers to share the stories of their experiences with your brand.
Presenting the same message in various ways is nothing new. Humans and societies have done so for time immemorial. In the Midwest, where I’m from, we say, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” In New York, they say, “the deal isn’t done until the ink is dry.” In both cases, the lesson and message are the same—to not be presumptuous—it is just tailored to fit each segment.
The large amounts of consumer data and new marketing technology at our fingertips has allowed us to take this approach and apply it at a 1:1 level. A brand’s messaging and positioning doesn’t radically change from person to person, only the form in which it is communicated. At their core, brands are going to remain true to their identity, but it is critical that they are customizing the story of that message based on each individual consumer’s behaviors.
The widespread video ad is not going away, but for brands to be truly successful, they must maximize each consumer engagement with the right story for that one customer at the right time.