The Power of the Narrative

By Kimberly Charles

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” 
 Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works

The art of storytelling has never been more relevant in our sound bite, 140-character modern culture.  Although we navigate our days with truncated dialogue, at our core, each and every one of us loves a great story. Think of how the start of many great conversations will offer a lead into a shared intimacy, via a narrative: How did you meet your partner? When did you realize what you wanted to do for a living? What inspired you to take a certain path in life? We are fascinated and hungry to share more, and although our mediums are different than the past, there has never been a more fruitful time to celebrate this delightful art form.

As marketers, we live for the stories of our clients.  No matter how long we may have known the people we are proud to represent, we don’t underestimate the power of curiosity and the ability to elicit new insights that help us in turn share the uniqueness of each company and the people behind it with their fans and key stakeholders.  As part of our path of continuous improvement and best professional practices at Charles Communications Associates, recently I attended The Art of Storytelling conference presented by The Exchange Forum in beautiful downtown Yountville, CA. The keynote speaker was Mark W.Schaefer, blogger, speaker, author and consultant who has written four best-selling books including “Social Media Explained: Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend.”

 I wanted to share some of the more intriguing takeaways from the conference in this post to help all of us sharpen our communication skills, and to be aware of the rapid evolution of the medium and the messages in storytelling. Three key takeaways were:

·       Brands have a “Love Curve” that takes time and patience to develop

·       We have experienced four digital revolutions since 1990, and the volume of information we are exposed to is becoming untenable—so how to manage?

·       Generationally we are experiencing “Radical Honesty” in communication and dialogue is king

 The Love Curve

Sounds enticing doesn’t it? Brands are connected to companies and companies are connected to people. Our relationship with a brand begins in an indifferent way, much like meeting someone for the first time—a blank slate before us. If we are initially intrigued by what a brand has to share, we “Like” it and if the brand remains dynamic, viable and fresh as well as interactive and engaging to us, then we grow to love it, eventually becoming brand champions—sharing the brand’s attributes and unique story with our spheres of influence. It’s lucky if a brand becomes Beloved by its fans because it is then that it is engrained, shared and endorsed in the best possible way. The age we live in is indeed transparent, and that alone has benefits as well as drawbacks, but if a brand can both learn and share with its fans, it will stand out among its peers.

We are still using older metrics to measure success: number of “Likes,” “Followers,” “Friends” or web hits. Now, we look at interactions over a time continuum and how deep the engagement goes. As I used to share with Ernest Gallo, for whom I had the privilege of working in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “We have to be evolutionary, not revolutionary!” Try telling that to a 90+ year-old man who had one of the sharpest minds in the wine business, time was not a commodity to him.   

The Digital Revolution – Four Eras

I’ve always been a tech junkie. From the debut of the Apple computer in the 1980s to the advent of email and cell phones, I was always drawn to the power of technology. It’s incredible that in the short span of the tech revolution vis a vis the consumer, we’ve had four revolutions in only 20 years. Schaefer outlined the following at the conference:

·       1990-2000: Establishing a presence via a website or blog. A very static way to share information with your key constituents.

·       2000-2010: The Era of Discovery when the power to mine the Internet was in our hands, the advent of search via Google, Yahoo etc.

·       2010-2015: The Era of Utility, taking the information and mobilizing it, putting the power of search and information gathering in our hands.  

·       2016 and beyond: The Era of Immersion, wearable technology, augmented reality—terra incognita.

I’ve noted that within the wine industry, many companies have embraced the era of utility, but in doing so often leave out a unique narrative, or default to a safe zone of sharing more quotidian information. More successful brands not only share their unique point of view, culture and ethos with their fans, but are consistent and tailored with their engagement. The wine business tends to embrace technology more slowly due to its arcane structure, but power to those who break through the clutter and gain mindshare in original and creative ways.  

Radical Honesty

The millennial generation is the least trusting generation of our lifetime. They don’t love companies, they love people – all the more reason to peel the layers back from a product and share the stories of those behind it. Millennials have low involvement in advertisement unless it has depth, relevance and resonance and they LOVE stories. Interesting learnings from the Art of Storytelling conference were that: 71 percent of companies have had a 30 percent decline in Facebook interactions in the last year. The hit rate on a page was on average 23 percent in 2011 and is now closer to 6 percent in 2014, reflective of the ubiquity of generic postings by companies.  

We are buried in an avalanche of content. It is predicted that by 2020 roughly 75 percent of data will be generated by consumers. We spend an average of 10 hours a day consuming content and given the explosion of data forecasted, it is estimated that we will need 15 ½ hours a day, just to process all the information coming at us. This is of course, untenable and the brands that establish strong emotional bonds now, ought to remain relevant as long as they pace with technology and platforms. Those that don’t, will likely languish. Schaefer shared that brands need three elements to thrive: 1) An unsaturated niche 2) An aggressive keyword strategy and 3) A focus on quality of content, keep it fresh constantly.

Brands that will succeed with the 75+ million next generation will have to take the time to create relationships with their audiences, develop content that is educational and entertaining and keep keen with respect to the tools with which to deliver that information. Get to the party early, it’s not too late!


All the Swirl is a collections of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting