Emotive storytelling — what can businesses learn from John Lewis?

It’s that time of year when talk in the office turns to the perennial subjects of the weather — will it ever get better? We doubt it; Downton Abbey — will Lady Mary manage a smile this series? Definitely not; and the John Lewis Christmas ad — how will they ever top last year’s? We have no idea but we’re certain they will.

But it’s not just their Christmas ads that are sprinkled with the kind of magic that has even our most restrained colleagues dabbing at their eyes. Take this summer’s advert for… wait for it… home insurance.

Normally, insurance adverts have me searching for the TV remote to change channels — and not just because it’s such a dry subject. Insurance adverts seem invariably to speak to all the things that can go wrong in the home, which (as I’m sure parents will agree) isn’t something I enjoy being reminded about.

The Tiny Dancer ad pretty much dispenses with all of that, and instead paints a picture. And just like the Christmas ads, it has all the elements required to provoke an emotional response: a heartfelt tune to whisk us back to our childhoods, cute kids, an aspirational lifestyle and just a hint of sadness or — because this is insurance — mild peril. You can find out more about the thinking behind the ad with this behind-the-scenes video.

So what does this have to do with engaging our B2B customers? Well, the principles are pretty much the same. You may not want to use endearing children, fluffy animals or Elton John to hook your audience in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a human angle to help your audience relate to what you do and increase their emotional attachment to the brand. The great thing about this kind of emotive storytelling is that you can let your imagination run riot — think of all the things that your products and services make possible around the world, and somewhere in there you’re almost certain to find a story that touches your heart.

You could even take a surrealist look at your services, like Sungard’s How to Move to the Cloud/Survive a Zombie Attack infographic did. Like John Lewis’ ad, it touches on a very human story (the fear around moving to the cloud) and smoothly connects that with a story that its audience will likely be familiar with — and although a zombie attack is extremely unlikely, the mild peril (again) that courses through both stories compels the reader to act in a way that a dry brochure could never achieve.

Another great example is Xerox’s Chief Optimist campaign where they got together with Forbes magazine to offer a magazine packed with customer stories. This is not just one story but a series, interwoven with tips from Xerox executives. It was extremely successful, achieving an interaction rate of 70% and achieving more than $1 billion in sales.

If you feel inspired to get writing, you may want to have a look at a story we once told about storytelling, or this how-to blog post about the Hero’s Journey. Or why not let us know what you think makes a great story by commenting below, tweeting us or posting on our LinkedIn page?

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