Stories engage

A friend posted a link this morning to this fantastic video put together by Pentagram to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Rather than a typical dry image gallery of their impressive body of work, they integrated their designs for well-known products into the (fictional) story of a boy born 40 years ago. The video demonstrates the ubiquity of their designs in a clever way, and it got me thinking about the power of stories to capture attention and engage supporters and customers.

Stories are great tools for communication because they can take abstract concepts and personalize them for the viewer or reader. They humanize statistics and better convey the impact one individual can have. Stories are particularly helpful when you are trying to connect with individuals online, because they temper people’s natural tendency to skim online content. A well-told story provides a narrative thread that keeps a person moving along a pathway to its conclusion — and you can use that pathway to build a case for support, sell your product or show your expertise.

Some nonprofit organizations do this very well. charity: water distinguishes itself from a crowded field of international development nonprofits by using stories to make the case for support.

And it has worked for them. According to an article from Inc. last year, the nonprofit grew 85% from 2009-2010, with 70% of their donations coming from online. In fact, according to data from their 990s, their revenue grew from $1.8 million in 2007 to more than $16 million in 2010.

The much-buzzed about (and award-winning) two-minute “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler advertisement that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl is an example of storytelling to market a product (in this case, the Chrysler 200).

Besides cementing my love for Wieden+Kennedy’s work (and, yes, I still am in awe of the brilliance of their Old Spice campaign), the advertisement drew attention and rave reviews, despite being four times longer than the typical Super Bowl ad. People watched a commercial for a full two minutes and enjoyed the experience. While I still am unlikely to buy a Chrysler, the fact that I remember that video and the brand it was promoting 16 months after it aired is notable in the world of corporate advertising and branding.

The upshot is that next time you need to ask someone to do something online, you should consider using the framework of a story to make your case. Done well, it might just help seal the deal.

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