Switching from Brand Story-telling to Story-making in the Digital Age

By the SMU Social Media Team 

We’re all familiar with the idea of brand storytelling—it encapsulates the origins, motivations, and inner workings of a company, to help a business appeal to its target audience. Effective story-making, however, takes this tool a step further by enabling the consumer to be an active participant in creating new experiences and narratives.

It’s a concept that’s been around for a long time. “People have been using stories to transmit values and knowledge. Brand storytelling is what brands do when they use story to express purpose, vision, mission, and values,” says Mark Chong, Associate Professor of Corporate Communication at the Singapore Management University (SMU) Lee Kong Chian School of Business, who teaches a course on Storytelling for Organisations and Brands under the SMU-X initiative.



However, story-making is a collaborative effort which engages with the audience such that they become an integral part of a fresh, insightful experience. In this way, brands effectively invite their audiences to join them in building their brand’s story. Here are some ways to make the transition from being a storyteller, to the maker of new narratives:


Be true, be authentic

Appealing to your audience’s emotions is one of the most effective ways to get your brand etched in the minds of the masses. When that elusive emotional connection is heightened through effective interactive story-making, an aura of trustworthiness and authenticity is achieved on a subconscious level, which may manifest into much coveted consumer confidence in a brand or product.

According to a 2017 survey of 2,000 adults in the UK, US and Australia, consumers crave authenticity more than ever before. More specifically, user-generated content is perceived as the most genuine and influential. And it is this emotional authenticity derived from the social content of trusted family and friends that drives engagement and, eventually, translates into sales.

As Professor Chong puts it, “In this digital age, the key challenge that brands face is the lack of trust. Building a brand that consumers trust and telling authentic, compelling stories can help the brand gain competitive advantage in this overcrowded marketplace.” Involving the audience in the story-making process lends instant authenticity and relatability to any campaign. With that emotional buy-in from the consumer, brands are able to weave compelling narratives with plenty of traction.


Maintain a strong voice

Unfortunately, in this day and age where startups are aplenty and competition is stiff, new businesses tend to outsource the creation of their brand’s storytelling in order to focus on other aspects of the business. However, what some don’t realise is that no third party could ever understand their business and brand better than the people who started it.

It’s what Taj Forer, CEO and Founder of the cloud publishing platform Fabl, was talking about when he spoke to Forbes in April 2018. He said that one of the keys to an authentic story is for a business to find “an authentic voice, narrative, or relatable-subject matter”, and that means taking the story-making in-house.

“They (storytellers from inside the brand) embody the voice, culture, and DNA of the organisation from which the stories emanate. When authenticity is put forward as the priority, the emotive stories will generate themselves as the organic byproduct of an authenticity-based focus to harvesting stories from inside the brand.”

A team that understands a brand from the inside out is also more adept at maintaining a consistent voice and identity in an audience-driven campaign, instead of losing control over the way the brand is represented in a digital sphere and becoming just another “scroll-past post”.


Establish your motivation and purpose 

But before businesses start thinking about how to connect with their audience to craft an authentic message, they first need to streamline their company’s goals and motivations. Many of the businesses that succeed in storytelling (and making) were the ones able to connect consumers to the motivation behind the brand.

When asked for examples of companies that have mastered the art of storytelling, Assoc Prof Chong named brands such as Airbnb and Always (P&G) as both have told compelling stories that resonated with their target audiences. “They stand out for me because their stories are anchored in social purpose,” he says.

Another tip he shares is to “make your consumer the hero in your story”, because “As Stephen King once said, ‘we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist’.”

That’s why it’s crucial to study the behaviours and practices of your target audience and find out the main issues they are facing. That way, you can weave your brand and its purpose into a story they can relate to, and create an experience for them. “Focus on telling amazing stories and creating premium experiences of this storytelling content. Engagement will follow,” says Forer.

While it may be tough to stand out from a sea of creative new companies—each backed up by passion and a desire to succeed, there are still ways for new brands to make a mark of their own.



To learn more on how you too can hone your skills in becoming a master storyteller and maker, check out the Storytelling for Organisations and Brands SMU-X course. 

For graduates and professionals, SMU Academy also offers the Foundations of Brand Storytelling and the Business Storytelling Studio courses, which are credit-bearing and stackable to the Graduate Certificate in Communication Management.