Brand storytelling and heeding the wisdom of the seanchaí

22 Jun 2016

Inspirefest speaker, social media influencer and expert in conscious business and relationships, Tamara McCleary, discusses what brands can learn from the Irish tradition of storytelling.

As human beings, the desire to share and consume stories is encoded into our DNA. We seek to be a part of something greater, something more meaningful.

In researching my Irish ancestry and seeking to better understand the rich texture of Ireland’s history before my trip to Dublin for Inspirefest, I dove headlong into a study of the ancient storytellers of Ireland: the seanchaí, custodians of folklore and Ireland’s lush, yet withering, oral tradition.

Future Human

For centuries, the seanchaí often travelled the countryside, (or remained in town at a favourite pub), regaling individuals and communities with yarns spun from an amalgamation of myth and history.

Modern-day Irish seanchaí Helena Byrne explains: “Sadly, there is sometimes a notion in Ireland today that storytelling is simply a form of children’s entertainment and something that otherwise does not hold any great power as a medium to communicate.

“However, as an Irish folklore storyteller, I found this to be far from the case. What I enjoy even more than seeing children being completely absorbed by a story is seeing that their parents have lost themselves in the story too. Once you have captured an audience’s imagination, storytelling enables you to take them on that journey of adventure, empathy, sorrow and joy. There is undoubtedly a significant power in that.”

A very significant power, indeed.

Storytelling equals branding

Take modern-day marketing and our focus on the customer journey and the customer experience.

We realise the power of story as we spend our budgets on creating a powerful brand narrative that will differentiate our product or service in today’s highly-competitive landscape. We recognise a brand’s story as being central to creating an exceptional customer journey and enhancing a customer’s experience, but often our efforts are thwarted as the execution of that story across all customer touchpoints is often weak, inconsistent, or lost entirely.

‘People don’t want perfection, they want something they can believe in’

The greatest brands, whether individual, community, nation or corporation, are driven by extraordinary stories delivered again and again in a consistent manner, creating trust. We remember brands that capture our attention, we are loyal to those we trust. Great brands prompt, through their consistent delivery of story, an emotional connection. We give trust and offer loyalty based upon our identification with a brand that we perceive to be credible and reliable.

Our perception of a brand is directly proportional to the experience we have of the brand being authentic and true to their story, their promise. Over time, it is the customers’ experience of a brand that ultimately becomes the brand narrative.

Richard Branson, entrepreneur and CEO of Virgin, says: “Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealised, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character.”

The customer experience

People don’t want perfection, they want something they can believe in. Customers purchase experiences, not products or services. What do customers want? They want to identify with your story and enjoy your tale. They want to be pulled into the experience, have their suffering (their challenges or problems) solved, feel valued and know the brand cares.

The extraordinary Steve Jobs shared something similar when he said: “A brand is not so much about rational arguments, but the way that the company resonates with people emotionally.”

Brand stories make a company feel human, and when a company has a compelling story, it creates a persona. It’s this persona that people begin to attach to. In a highly-competitive marketplace, the best way to stand out and differentiate your brand is through a compelling narrative that connects you emotionally to your target audience.

A couple of key points to ponder as you evaluate the power and potency of your brand’s narrative are:

  • What is the brand’s story?
  • How does this story position the customer as the hero?
  • How does the brand story connect on an emotional level or solve a problem for the customer?
  • Is the brand story communicated uniformly and consistently across all channels? 

If you polled customer service, sales, marketing, and human resources, would each department communicate the same story about the brand?
  • Does the brand have a persona or human quality that creates a deeper connection with its target audience?

I believe our success in business and in life is directly proportional to the ability we have to deliver our own stories to other human beings.

As Helena Byrne, who carries the torch of Ireland’s ancient storytelling history aptly shares, there’s significant power contained in being able to take another human being on a journey. Stories pull us in and engage us. What story are you telling your customers?

We attract people, opportunity and adventure into our lives through the stories we tell. The stories we tell our families, our children, our co-workers, our bosses, our clients, our partners, our customers and, more potently, the stories we tell ourselves.

Tamara McCleary is the founder and CEO of Thulium, a brand strategy and social influence agency, and is ranked by Klear in the top 1pc of global social media influencers. If you’re interested in hearing more about the power of story and branding, Tamara McCleary will be a featured keynote speaker at Inspirefest.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.