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Thinking like a child can help your storytelling

Brands should root their marketing and storytelling in human stories built on emotion, truth and simplicity — three qualities of communicating with kids

Brands should root their marketing and storytelling in human stories built on emotion, truth and simplicity — three qualities of communicating with kids

Modern marketing is a massive, billion-dollar global juggernaut; one that is in a constant state of flux as it desperately tries to keep up with audiences that are more informed, more connected and more fickle than ever before.

Millions of dollars are spent every year in an effort to understand how adults communicate with one another and with brands.

For marketers, the Holy Grail is not only understanding what makes our audience tick, but what makes them tick over from engagement to a sale.

It is no easy task. How do you start to understand the infinitely complex relationships that consumers have with one another, and how do those subsequently manifest with brands?

How do you start to untangle the dense, ever-shifting web of relationships that now span the online and offline worlds? The problem is, we’re overthinking it, and in a big way.

Just because consumers are subjected to a barrage of messages on a daily basis, doesn’t mean that every campaign has to be a multi-layered production with a cast of thousands.

In our time-poor world, complexity can often be pursued to the detriment of clarity.

In fact, rather than trying to second guess what an increasingly cynical range of consumers are thinking, brands need to root their marketing and storytelling in human stories that are built on emotion, truth and simplicity — three fundamental qualities of communicating with children.


The emotional elements of storytelling


The Cat in the Hat. The Famous Five. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Where the Wild Things Are.

You may not remember the books you read last year, last month or even last week, but we all remember a few key titles from when we were kids. And that is testament to the power of storytelling to evoke emotions in us that stay with us for decades.

Children are naturally curious and have incredibly vivid imaginations. Stories need to be clear, emotive and compelling for them to get hooked. And as any parent knows, the best ones keep them entertained again, and again, and again.

That’s why producing communications for children can be so tough. They are far from being an easy crowd, and as soon as a single element fails, you’ve lost their attention. But get the mix right — weave a compelling narrative with evocative imagery and a great story — and you have their attention.

As marketers, we need to tap back into that storytelling ability. Marketing is awash with content at the moment, but very little of it does much more than simply tick a box on a content calendar. Very little of it is compelling, and even less is evocative.

Marketing and storytelling need to not only coexist, but intricately and fundamentally align themselves. If we can start to uncover stories that are honest and simple, we can start to connect with audiences on a much more emotional level via effective storytelling techniques.

Some brands are excelling at this already. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” – now the go-to benchmark for successfully combining marketing and storytelling – has been running for more than a decade now and continues to be a fresh concept that stimulates real emotion.

Similarly, Coke’s “Share a Coke” campaign took the amazingly simple idea of printing people’s names on bottles and cans, which turned it into one of the most successful marketing initiatives of the decade.


How the art of storytelling takes you on a journey


Of course, not everyone has the bottomless marketing budgets of vast global conglomerates. But it is equally important to remember that the audience consuming the content and engaging with the campaign are people first and professionals second. No matter how technical or specialized they are, most will go home to loved ones and families at the end of the day.

The importance of storytelling in marketing, and more importantly storytelling as a marketing strategy, is has never been important. People fundamentally want to be taken on a journey. They want to be told a story and delighted in the same way they were as a child.

It doesn’t have to be cats in hats or hungry caterpillars, but the more brands can immerse itself in the world of children and take a storytelling approach to marketing, the more they will be able create engaging experiences and campaigns that both delight and compel their audiences.

As Steve Levitt (author of Freakonomics) says: “I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.”


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