Customers are humans and humans like stories – here’s why there’s value in not mentioning your product.

A brand is what makes your business feel human and allows your customers to connect with it as they would with a friend. And just as friends don’t (we hope) sit in the pub and talk endlessly about all their benefits and the price of their jokes, the same should go for brands. That’s why brands should tell more stories.

Now, this isn’t a brand spanking new thing – in fact, some of you might know it as something called content marketing, which the CMI (Content Marketing Institute) describe as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” In other words, creating content that your customers like, to make them feel good about your brand and maybe lead them to buy something.

Way back in the 1930s, advertising history was made with the launch of the first soap operas. Radio dramas like ‘Painted Dreams’ and ‘Ma Perkins’ were popular amongst housewives and offered up an engaged, targeted, daily audience (which in advertising terms, is a big thumbs up). It wasn’t long before Procter & Gamble started sponsoring and co-writing their own series to advertise products like Oxydul, Duz and Ivory soaps. And so, soap operas were born (yep, our minds were blown too). This was a total revolution in advertising, because it was created to entertain the audience, instead of directly selling. It worked because there was a targeted audience who felt connected to the characters and hey, if Oxydul soap was good enough for Ma Perkins, it was good enough for every housewife with their ears on the soundwaves.

Since then, content marketing has come a long way, and we now have everything from blogs and podcasts, to product placements in influencer marketing. But with more exposure, comes more overcrowding and let’s face it, things can get pretty boring when there’s just a stream of constant ads (and that’s even coming from a bunch of folk who love ads). Audiences know when they’re being sold to – and if it doesn’t offer any value, or if it’s the 37th ad they’ve seen about Mothers Day that morning, you’re just one scroll away into the abyss of no return – dun dun duuuunn!

So, how do you actually get someone’s attention?

Let’s go back to the thought that a brand should be like a friend. With any friendship, it takes time and trust and effort to make it work, right? The same goes for the relationship between a brand and a customer.

On one hand, you could be like the random person from a festival 8 years ago who pops up on Facebook like ‘Hey, long time no speak, how’s your hamster? Listen, could you give me some cash?’ or you could invest in building relationships with a core audience that are more than happy to spread the word about your brand, and put their money where their mouth is too.

This means not talking about your product at all.

Well, at least sometimes. Probably the hardest bit about content marketing is finding the stories to tell. However, there’s probably a lot more content right in front of you than you realise, and the everyday stuff that’s seems boring to you, could be totally fascinating to someone else (yep, even that). Instead of thinking about what you sell, flip the narrative on its head and think about what it helps people to do, what your brand stands for and the stories about how your brand has an impact on things that are much bigger than the product itself.

Last year, our content agency Campfire were approached by Medtronic – a global healthcare technology company – to create a show stopping video for World Diabetes Day. So, the team travelled to Switzerland to tell the story of Cyril. Cyril has type 1 diabetes – but he lives life to the fullest as a cyclist, lumberjack and triathlete.

“By taking on this challenge, I felt like I was not only managing with diabetes, I was thriving with it.”

We met with Cyril and filmed his story, which was then seeded out across Medtronic’s social media channels and broken down into bitesize content for ads and used on their website. If the response is anything to go by it has been a massive hit (everyone loves Cyril, y’see). This was a huge change for Medtronic, because they normally speak to healthcare professionals, but by by telling the story of Cyril, someone who really benefits from the work they do, they showed how – with help from their solutions for people with diabetes – it’s possible to achieve anything (if that’s not a hot cup of inspiration to wake you up in the morning, we don’t know what is).

One of the biggest fears with content marketing is that it can take a lot of work, and unlike the wonderful world of direct ads, the returns aren’t as easy to measure. However, this work is an investment in your audience – it’s about showing the value that you can give to your customers, by telling a story that’s relevant to them, that reflects who they are and makes them want to be a part of the community around your brand.

This is where brand sentiment comes in.

First of all, content marketing can help to avoid bad brand sentiment. We once read this quote that said “if we all spoke to each other like most advertising speaks to us, we’d punch each other in the face” and it has been written in the back of our minds with a permanent Sharpie ever since (there’s no budging that one). Now, we’re pretty sure they’re not going to punch you in the face, but if you’re constantly asking to take from your audience without any consideration, they’re going to feel that you only value them for their money, which – if this was a friend – would make you feel pretty rubbish.

But mostly, content marketing is about building brand sentiment to make it even better. When you create useful, relevant and valuable content that your audience likes, they’ll remember how they feel about your brand and so, when it comes buying the type of product that you sell, you’ll be the first brand in their mind and the one they actually want to support, even if a competitor offers the same product for a smaller price.

Yes, measurement is important, yes money is important (and shouldn’t ever be seen as the enemy to creativity) but beyond all the marketing and funnels and stuff, sometimes we all need to have fun with brands. Us humans like stories and we pretty much always have: there are cave paintings that date back tens-of-thousands of years, showing that the tradition of fireside stories maybe even started around the first fire ever built, which is pretty bamboozling when you think about it. Even when we were all kids, we had our favourite bedtime stories (Hungry Caterpillar, we’re looking at you) and without realising, we learned a little something from each of them. People connect by telling stories and remembering how those stories made them feel, and that goes for everyone from complete strangers, to best friends to your customers. Brands are so much more than profit and products, they’re communities with shared values, great people and plenty of stories to tell – we just need to share them.

Need a hand telling your brand story? Check out the work we’ve done with these brands and get in touch!