Google, Lego, Marriott – Storytelling Lessons from the World’s Best Companies

April 13, 2017

Whether you’re the founder of a startup or a self-employed salesperson, you’ll have to tell a compelling story of your business, of why you do what you do.

I’m sure you’ve been to a seminar where they teach you to tell your hero’s journey story of how you’ve gone from rags to riches, how you’ve struggled and how you’re now living the dream life traveling the world living in a penthouse in Manhattan.

Easy isn’t it?

Unfortunately, No…

Firstly, because so many people have learned to tell such stories, everyone seems to be telling stories like he or she are following a template. The audience just tunes out, and that’s sad because you want to be heard, be liked and trusted.

Secondly, there’s a lot of subtlety involved in skillful storytelling. “How much is just enough?” Overdo sharing the painful parts of your story, and you’ll risk “flooding” the audience with your “hard luck story”. Oversell your “glam” story, and you risk coming off as a brag. How can we skillfully keep the audience engaged to our story?

In preparation for an upcoming workshop on “Crafting your Authentic Personal Brand”, I have been researching on storytelling and looking to distil the best practices in story-marketing by some of the best. Let me bring you on a journey to distil the best practices from the stories that major corporations have been telling to better engage their audiences, and we’ll evaluate which ones were HITS, and which one gave me FITS.

I know we’re talking about branding yourself as an individual, or your small business. You don’t have the budget of these giants. I am not suggesting you do the same. My intention is to distil the elements that worked – and learn from them, and those that didn’t – so you can avoid them.

For this purpose, I have identified five criteria by which to evaluate the various content marketing videos.

  1. Relatability – Whether the target viewer can relate to the protagonist/main character in the video. If the audience cannot relate to the protagonist, they tune out and switch off.
  2. Believability – The story must realistically believable to the target audience. It can be a comedy, but it can be clever funny, instead of slapstick funny. The difference is that clever funny is related to the brand story, whereas slapstick funny is just… Funny… It distracts people to the brand’s message.
  3. Plot is Clear – Is the plot easy to follow? Is it clear what the protagonist wants to achieve? Who are the villains to defeat, or the obstacles to the outcome he wants? It doesn’t have to be explicitly spelled out. It may even be generic, for example, to reach their dreams (whatever they are). However, the plot must be clear, the audience should not be guessing, “So what’s the point here?”
  4. Congruence with the Brand’s Message – The story must convey the values, promises, atmosphere that the target audience associates with the brand. For example, AirAsia doesn’t try to tell a story of a man wearing Armani suits traveling in luxury, and Volvo doesn’t “overdo the cool” by using slapstick elements. In some cases, it might actually work, but usually, it just conveys a feeling of “trying too hard”.
  5. Message Adds Value to the Viewer – What I mean by value-adding means that it must leave the viewer better off after having seen it. It can do this by teaching them something, for example, “the importance of UV protection”. It can also inspire the audience. The Thais do it best, but not every video needs to be a tearjerker. To inspire is to touch on key human values like growth, love, human connection, fulfilling dreams, joy, or making a difference.

Marriot Hotels – Content Marketing Mecca?

After reading this Article, I decided to check out this video (Two Bell Men)

Relatability: Did you finish watching all 17 minutes of that? I’ll be surprised if you did. Unless you work in a hotel or in a similar customer service role, it’s unlikely viewers can relate to the two bellmen.

Believability: It’s quite clear earlier on that the video is a rather whimsical, fictitious one. The viewers will make up their mind within the first 1:20 whether they want to continue watching.

Plot: While the video has an elaborate plot, it’s not relatable to the audience. It’s a story of how two bellmen proved their loyalty to JW Marriott.

Congruence: Marriott Content Studios definitely pulled out all stops in shooting this video. It could be entertaining to some, but the goofy antics have no relevance to the Marriott Brand.

Value Add: Moral of the Story: Don’t mess with bellmen, tip well? Enough said…

My Verdict: Cute, but ineffective. As a customer attraction tool, such a slapstick video wouldn’t appeal to business travelers, and they don’t have 20 minutes! As an employee engagement tool, it’s way too elaborate that the message is buried. A simpler and more cost-effective tool is Ritz Carlton Hotels’ Daily Line Up. The added benefit of the daily line-up is that the source of the stories are employees themselves.

Google – More than Organizing the World’s Data

Google’s official mission or vision statement is to “organize all of the data in the world and make it accessible for everyone in a useful way.” Watch this video and see if this is an understatement.

Relatability: Google search is usually related to a search for information, it risks being seen as merely a tech company. This video brings a human element to the company, and it’s something very relatable. In a more connected world, the quality and depth of our connection are actually diminished.

Believability: Because google search is so ubiquitous, the viewers wouldn’t feel that the product placement is too stark and out of place. The story unfolds naturally and is a moving one.

Plot: In their bestselling book <<Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die>>, Dan and Chip Heath highlighted that the “connection plot” is one of the most common plots in stories that relate. This is a classic “connection plot” – will they (connect)? Will they not? The audience is drawn into a touching story of two old friends who’ve been brought apart and how they’re able to be reunited through Google.

Congruence: Google is a global brand, and this video draws attention to a lesser seen side of the brand.

Value Add: There is a cultural novelty in this video, through the introduction of a traditional Indian candy “Jhajariya” and the “walled city of Lahore”. The touching scene at the end is the real highlight here and inspires relationship.

My Verdict: A masterclass in brand storytelling. It’s an elaborate plot, but drives home the message that Google is not in the business of information search, but in human connections.

Lego – Building Blocks for Relationships

Everyone knows Lego. The beauty of it is that it can mean different things to different people. Can storytelling unify the brand behind a compelling value?

Relatability: Scenes with adults are always relatable, especially to adults with children themselves. Everyone was once a child, so it is highly relatable. The first sentence of the video states “we are a team bound by blood” draws in adult audiences who are familiar with working in teams.

Believability: We are all familiar with Lego, and what’s portrayed in the show is entirely believable.

Plot: A simple “connection plot”, with just a little twist in the middle, “we don’t always see eye to eye.”

Congruence: Lego has multiple functions, even being used in management training and corporate team-building through Lego Serious Play. However, Lego is still largely seen as a children’s toy, so the story of a father playing with his son straddles both target audience.

Value Add: This video portrays multiple messages. One is “play”, something that we don’t do quite enough as we’re caught in the stress of work and school. Secondly, the portrayal of “team” is very poignant, as parents more see their relationships with children as caregivers, rather than team-mates. This video brings a smile to your face and is a reminder of the joy of human connection.

My Verdict: Short, sharp and sweet, and is just like an oxytocin-shot to viewers, anchoring positive feelings of love and connection to the Lego brand.

Now, what’s your story?

Storytelling is a both an art and a science. To help you craft an effective story, you can pass your ideas through the 5 criteria:

  1. Is the story relatable?
  2. Is the story believable?
  3. Is the plot clear?
  4. Is the story congruence with your brand’s message?
  5. Does the story add value to the viewers?

Whether you have resources to create elaborate content marketing videos, or just develop your story to improve your business pitch or personal brand, we can learn from the elements that work for the videos we’ve studied, and avoid what doesn’t.

I’ll love to meet you to personally help you to improve your personal brand story. So sign up for the Craft your Authentic Personal Brand Story workshop, we have limited seats remaining.

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