The power of shared storytelling

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It’s often said that the best experiences are shared, and the same is true of storytelling. A good story can be powerful, but it’s even more influential if the people you are sharing it with feel like they are part of the narrative.

This was brought into focus recently when I overheard my six-year-old son jointly telling a story with some of his friends. One of them would make up a sentence, before handing over to the next and would wait with bated breath to see what they added.

This went on for some time, each building on the sentence shared by the person before them to reveal a plot that was equal parts chaotic and entertaining. They were all heavily invested in the story and couldn’t wait to see where it went.

It dawned on me that a variation of this technique is used by business leaders when developing a vision they want staff to buy into. Rather than locking themselves away for weeks before emerging to tell everyone else what the company is going to focus on next year, the wise leader involves their team in creation of their company’s vision and objectives. This helps ensure everyone feels they have played a part in shaping the company’s future plan, making them more motivated to work towards it.

Getting others involved in the story can be equally powerful in the realm of marketing. The Good Morning World campaign launched by Tourism New Zealand in June combines videos created by our tourism marketing body, with clips sent in by everyday Kiwis.

Over the course of 365 days, the campaign is encouraging New Zealanders to share their own videos saying good morning to the world from their favourite everyday spots, whether it’s their local café or the beach where they walk their dog.

While the primary audience for this campaign is international visitors, it also plays a role in helping to build a social licence for tourism among the New Zealand public. If Kiwis are contributing to the story and take ownership of it, they are much more likely to also support the increase in the number of international visitors the campaign aims to bring to our shores.

It’s a hot topic and a slightly risky strategy – you can imagine the kinds of spoof Good Morning World videos that must be being sent in. But the thinking behind it is on the money. Not only that, it helps to ensure our tourism marketing is delivered in a believable and authentic way that promotes the welcoming nature of our people.

Powerful springboard 

Shared storytelling can also be done in other ways. Another powerful springboard can be the use of a customer survey or poll. Getting people to invest in an issue by giving it some thought and contributing their views makes them more likely to buy into the results and any subsequent reporting.

For example, a sports retailer might ask all the rugby clubs in a region what the main barriers are to young people taking up rugby, and then report the findings back to them and their national body via a white paper, which is also shared with media.

Those clubs that have been involved in the process are much more likely to go along for the ride, pushing the findings and offering commentary to media on the challenges of growing the sport. And if one of the barriers to entry they identify is the cost of equipment, then that sports retailer has already opened the door to talk to the clubs about any cost-effective gear or solutions they offer.

There are dozens of other ways to harness the power of joint storytelling in your business. All it takes is some creativity, forward planning and a willingness to collaborate. A little inspiration from your six-year-old son can also come in handy from time to time, or so I’ve learnt.

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James Heffield
James Heffield
Director of Bay of Plenty marketing and public relations consultancy Last Word. To find out more visit www.lastwordmedia.co.nz or email james@lastwordmedia.co.nz.

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