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Storytelling: Inside-Out and Outside-In

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been focusing on the impactful role that storytelling plays in marketing and on social media platforms. This week, we’ll shed some light on storytelling in action with two strong cases. One is an “Inside-Out” example of a brand using storytelling in traditional media, and the other is an “Outside-In” example of a brand leveraging consumers’ stories as a social communication strategy.


Our first example is this Thanksgiving-themed commercial from Publix, one of the nation’s largest grocery chains. It is a heartwarming example of how a brand can craft a storyline that is relatable for viewers – and especially for their target audience – while showcasing their products.


The commercial begins with a mother putting some finishing touches on a homemade pie – presumably her college-aged son’s favorite dessert. Her son arrives home and she greets him happily, but they don’t have much time to talk between the excitement of family and friends arriving, and getting the food ready. In between closeups of various dishes being prepared and then enjoyed during their Thanksgiving meal, the mother appears to be repeatedly saddened each time her son is pulled away by another relative or distracted by his phone. As the meal comes to an end and the parents clean up, mom has the last piece of pie in hand when her son suddenly announces that he is going out “with the guys” for the night. After a moment of sadness that is felt both on screen by mom, and likely by viewers at home, the son returns after a change of plans (more likely, a change of heart) and he and his mom sit down together to enjoy the last piece of pie – finally having their coveted “catching up” time.


Anyone who has spent time apart from an older child due to college, traveling, or relocating can relate to the difficult dynamic of finding a quiet moment to sit down, enjoy each other’s company, and make up for missed time. Publix does an outstanding job letting this story unfold while featuring beautiful shots of their products being prepared, presented, and enjoyed at a large family meal. The story not only tugs at viewers’ heartstrings and communicates that Publix “gets it” when it comes to family time, but it also showcases emotional ties to food that are especially present during traditional holiday meals. And, of course, it subtly reminds viewers that Publix has all of the ingredients for those favorite family recipes.


How can you apply storytelling lessons from the Publix example to your brand? Think about the different facets of your target audience’s everyday life. What do they value? What challenges might they face? Immerse yourself in seeing the world from their perspective, and close in on a thread that you can pull through from beginning to end. Consider how you can inject your product into the story without needing to be obvious about it – and let the story do the work.


Adding this type of human element to storytelling is a simple and powerful solution to breaking through to your audience. However, it is important to acknowledge that some of the best stories come from people – not the brands themselves – which is why customers’ voices should be heard through storytelling as well. When you humanize your content with real-life stories, your audience has a better chance of feeling more connected to your brand. Therefore, sharing user-generated content is an even more powerful way to get to know your audience, earn their trust, and further the authenticity of your brand by leveraging their stories.


Airbnb, the world’s largest community-driven hospitality company offering homes and experiences to travelers, is well-known for its captivating storytelling. Their brand is completely focused on people – an Airbnb host, or a guest staying in an Airbnb home. Through storytelling, they are able to show how connecting with others and with our world represents their brand’s values, and showcases the many options that they provide to consumers.


Airbnb even has an entire page on their website dedicated to stories from the brand’s community, with the sole purpose of getting a glimpse into a real-life adventure. These stories feature testimonials and documentation of what life is like from various places and perspectives around the world. Since Airbnb’s audience is made up of hosts and guests, these pictures and videos offer a look into both experiences. Follow a colorful adventure in Cuba, a solo escapade through Vietnam, or a family trip to Cape Town. Airbnb has done an outstanding job connecting their unique product offerings to real stories that are both relatable and inspiring – and may even entice new customers to replicate one of these journeys for themselves.


So, how can you engage consumers to use social channels to amplify their engagement and have a “viral” effect for new customers? Take a note from Airbnb and think about how your product or service is used in consumers’ lives. What does that look like? Create opportunities for consumers to share what they’re doing with your brand. Encourage them to post on social media using brand-specific hashtags. Open your brand up to success story submissions. You can even run a contest where users are rewarded for sharing photos or videos of how they use your brand. Build a space on your company’s website or social media page that is dedicated to telling customers’ stories. Celebrate these stories, and repurpose them in other channels to show that you place value on authentic, consumer-generated content. Customers will notice.


Consumer-generated storytelling is becoming an increasingly popular practice among brands, likely because the reach of consumer-based stories is one that is constantly growing, thanks to its organic origins and engagement that stirs inspiration and invites participation from others. While the traditional example of Publix’s TV spot is a great example of storytelling, its reach is largely limited by the brand’s budget, and it does not stimulate the creation of new stories as seen in Airbnb’s approach. Choose your stories wisely, and consider how a consumer-generated storytelling strategy can give your brand more legs, and more impact. So, while an “Inside-Out” approach may resonate with consumers, an “Outside-In” approach will have a more meaningful effect.


Marketing Agency Blog Post Author of Storytelling: Inside-Out and Outside-In

November 21, 2018
Written by Tom Sullivan

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