Making emotional connections with audiences can inspire action, as we’re biologically wired to respond to marketing messages that we can actually relate to. Thus, storytelling should always take precedence over pretty pictures. Consider this:

The science

Humans connect with concrete characters more than abstract concepts. For example, the underlying relationship with Andrex is between the customer and the concept of comfort, but the relationship is solidified through the protagonist of the Andrex puppy, appearing in the brand’s advertising for four and a half decades.

In the very first Andrex TV ad, the voiceover simply outlines the properties of the product, while the character is developed visually, which is no great accident given that 83% of perception is made through visual stimulation. At this most basic of levels, the viewer connects the disconnected audio and visuals to create an association between the described product and the depicted character. The video elicits an emotional response, which is transferred to the brand and product itself.

This power to elicit and direct emotional responses is what makes video such a powerful marketing tool. The actual emotion being evoked is not as important as the object of the emotion and the desired outcome. Your video content may be making people angry, but if it’s directing that anger towards the conversion you want to achieve – mission accomplished.

The outcome

It would be easy to see GoCompare’s Gio Compario TV spots as a misstep, given the backlash that occurred – but the role of these early campaigns was to establish the brand and character in the national psyche, and the insufferably memorable character certainly achieved that objective. Once established, Gio could be developed – killed off, rehabilitated, and permitted his comeback as a national treasure.

At each stage of this arc, the brand’s managers evoked and directed an emotional response – catharsis after his apparent death and pleasant surprise at his newfound restraint were directed toward the concept of GoCompare as a brand that listened to consumer feedback and was prepared to move with the times. Customer resistance was converted into brand advocacy. It’s as though they had planned it all along…

The story

Gio Compario illustrates the power of narrative in creating and directing emotional connections. If a narrative is in motion, a character is developing, and if a character is developing, the relationship between character and audience can be changed. All that’s needed is a strong identification of brand with character and you’re home and dry.

Narrative has power even in a single advert. A lot of story can be implied in thirty seconds. With strong imagery, simple characters, and a single key event, you can create a relationship. This might be developed elsewhere in a campaign that develops and advances the story – it should be – but each element should also stand alone, as a narrative which makes sense in its own right when it’s first encountered by the audience.

How much do you find out about these characters, and their relationship, in thirty seconds? How much can you speculate about their future, in the short term and the long? What do you think they’re going to do tomorrow, and what does Grace’s mother want her to do when she grows up? The rest of this campaign offers other narratives that feed into the core value – inspiration on the Internet – but Grace’s story is self-contained here. We know what and who she admires, we know how she relates to her mother and to technology, we know she’s ambitious and doesn’t think that being a girl holds her back, and we learned it without having to try.

The payoff

We may be dealing with emotions and relationships and abstract values here, but the success of our marketing efforts is measured in more concrete terms. Does storytelling pay off on the bottom line, where the KPI is the KPI no matter how you feel about it?

Short answer – ‘yes’. Long answer – ‘yes,  but indirectly’. What marketers often overlook is that conversion rates are seldom a direct relationship between a single input and a single output. The moment at which customers commit to a purchase is the pinch in the marketing funnel: the emotional connection, and the narratives which foster it, exist at the top. Emotional connections create awareness and encourage deeper investment, even if they’re not the factor which directly secures the conversion itself.

This holds true whatever the KPI happens to be. If you look around the world of video marketing, you’ll see brands displaying their expertise through video blogs and profiles, their responsiveness by directly addressing one disgruntled consumer, and their authenticity by telling the stories of people and places their products have touched.

Creating an emotional connection through narrative is a long-term investment which develops a long-term relationship with a customer base. The exact kind of relationship you’re looking to develop may vary – it may be true love, real friendship, or the occasional quick snog behind the bike sheds – but it begins with attracting the customer’s attention and telling them what you’re about. Bland lists of your brand’s values are the stuff of a planning meeting; you’ll need something more inviting to appeal to people who don’t already work for you.

For more insight into how storytelling can develop your brand, download our video marketing white paper.


Jon Mowat is a former BBC documentary filmmaker and he now runs award-winning video marketing agency, Hurricane Media, helping international brands tell their stories. Follow @HurricaneMedia on Twitter and connect with Jon on LinkedIn.