If I could go time travelling I’d want to visit the advertising executives from the 1960s and show them the John Lewis Christmas ads.

I’d want to watch their faces as they realise how much times have changed; how people are not just willing, but excited to watch these adverts.

And what's more they voluntarily share these adverts, this company’s marketing material, with their family and friends.

What’s even more exceptional is that there are doing this at a time where other companies are struggling to make their marketing stick. With so much compelling content at our fingertips, and more choice than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly hard to stand out. People no longer have to sit through an uninspiring or indulgent sales pitch when their smartphone is just inches away with the promise of distraction.

Yet companies like John Lewis are racking up 15 million views on YouTube. These are impressions wholly separate from the audience they get on terrestrial TV. These are 15 million times a potential customer has actively chosen – above everything else they could read or watch or scroll through on the internet – to watch their advert!

And it’s no accident. John Lewis get millions of views every winter by genuinely understanding the spirit, and the hopes and desires for the season. By understanding people don’t set out looking for products, but for presents and meaningful gifts. They appeal to our emotions, our optimism.

We live in an age of exceptional storytelling. From Harry Potter to Game of Thrones and Netflix to Amazon, audiences everywhere are developing increasingly complex and sophisticated tastes. And despite the vast choice of entertainment on offer, audiences are showing a willingness to deeply engage with and buy into more immersive and lengthy narratives, when they hit the right buttons..

So what can we learn from these counterintuitive successes, and how do we apply it to our own organisations?

Photo by  Jay Wennington  on  Unsplash

Consider dinners in a restaurant.

They haven’t come here simply to consume calories to fuel their bodies. if our relationship with food was simply about a biological transaction then our kitchen bookshelves and TV schedules would be half empty.

These diners are looking for a sense of occasion. They’re seeking good food, but also wanting atmosphere and ambience. There’s enjoyment to be gained from pouring over the menu and being seduced and beguiled by the romantic descriptions of the dishes on offer. They want to engage with their meal on a deeper level.

Consider those same dinners, the night before, searching for a place to eat. They find your restaurant and see a short video of the head chef in her kitchen describing how she put the seasonal menu together; exploring the provenance of the raw ingredients, demonstrating the flair and virtuosity of her craft, sharing her passion and knowledge. The customer’s experience when they visit the next evening is not just enhanced but feels immersive. As well as lighting up the senses, each course in front of them stimulates the mind and emotions too.  

By sharing a little of the story and the magic behind the scenes, the food takes on new meaning, the meal feels involving and the connection between you and your customer becomes more personalised. And in an increasingly digital, faceless economy people become inexorably drawn back towards tangible, deeper experiences.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

So what can the tools of storytelling do for you?

Telling your story shouldn’t be a chronological biography of the business. It should be about focussing attention on what sets you apart.

For many businesses – creative media, start-ups and artisans especially – your staff may be your brand. Their personalities, skills and quirks form the DNA of who you are and what you make, and as such are the ideal aspect to showcase, allowing the audience to connect and create a feeling of community.

For others, the product takes centre stage. Watching how it is made can generate a sense of fuller interest and investment, all of which can be further enhanced with an artfully told origin story.  

 As the choices and options that come with every purchase, or every decision about what to do this weekend, multiply and become overwhelming, it’s increasingly hard to stand out. And when customers are disoriented by reviews, and all too aware of the numerous alternatives, it becomes even more important to find ways to enhance their expectations and curate unique experiences.

John Lewis aren’t looking to hit short-term sales targets with their storytelling, they’re creating a long-term, meaningful connection with their audience. In competition with online giants, their goal in not simply concentrating on transactions, but on cultivating a sense of loyalty and shared ownership. Encouraging people away from the convenience and low cost of the internet and back onto the high street takes a compelling pitch and a strategy that looks beyond the here and now.

You don’t have to create a blockbuster, or break the bank to have an impact. To succeed you want to create something which people will enjoy, something which moves them, surprises them or even inspires them. Create something that people relate to and feel invested in.

The advice given to new writers is to “write about what you know”. Luckily for you there is a subject you know better than anyone else around.

If you could sit face-to-face with your customer right now, what could you tell them about?

To find out how Second Draft could tell your story, GET IN TOUCH: mark@seconddraft.co.uk