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Lindsay Pattison: Who tells your story?

Lindsay is Chief Client Officer of WPP; responsible for WPP’s top global client relationships, overseeing the largest accounts with 40,000 colleagues globally and driving organic growth. She is a passionate advocate for business leaders taking meaningful action to improve gender equality. Lindsay has served as a President of WACL and was featured in the FT HERoes Champions of Women in Business 2018 list.

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storytelling book from Pexels

Telling stories makes us human. Anthropologists show us how storytelling is common to every culture: humans use stories to educate, to entertain and above all to connect emotionally to those around us. No wonder then, that successful brands are those that tell stories people want to listen to.

Each technological innovation sees the forms we can use to tell stories evolve. The rise of the internet saw storytelling explode – a story told by someone sitting with a computer in their bedroom or anywhere with their phone in hand, could be shared with millions of people around the world in seconds.

The rise of the consumer creator has been an incredible opportunity for brands – influencer and content marketing are hot industry topics as brands have realised the efficacy of authenticity. But the steep rise in the amount of digital content also creates a challenge for brands: how to tell brand stories that cut through the noise…how to be truly authentic…and how to be clear on the value of being truthful in an era of ‘fake news’ where velocity trumps veracity....

One of my favourite examples of storytelling in a unique way is VML’s recent campaign for Gatorade during the Superbowl. Superbowl ads have long served as a platform for brand driven storytelling to guaranteed millions of consumers. And Gatorade has always had role in the game itself - when the successful team soaks the victorious coach in, yep you guessed it, Gatorade. This is a key, but ultimately fleeting moment. Last year though, Gatorade dominated the Superbowl by tapping into consumers’ obsession with using GIFs to tell stories and share their emotions. Partnering with GIPHY to create hundreds of GIFs, Gatorade were brought into the conversation throughout the Superbowl without having to spend millions on a Superbowl ad.

In the year that digital ad spend is set to exceed TV for the first time, marketers must ensure that we inject the same passion for storytelling that has traditionally been channelled into long-form video content into newer forms of marketing.

Indeed, the potential for technology to change the way that we tell stories is enormous. VR literally allows us to bring stories ‘to life’. AKQA’s recent campaign for Eurostar harnessed VR to realise children’s fantasy of seeing the sea life as the train passes through the Channel tunnel. A much-enhanced experience vs the reality of, well, simply darkness! To a very different end, and for a more surprising audience, Grey London’s work “The Way Back” used VR to take Alzheimer’s sufferers back in time, immersing them in the sounds and sights of the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

Just as technology is transforming the art of storytelling, so too should we embrace data as inspiration for great stories. Data analytics and social listening enable brands to join consumer conversations. But a brand will only succeed in this endeavour if the message connects emotionally with their audience. The most successful campaigns are those where human emotions shine through in the stories we tell.

This is why it is not just morally right but makes business sense to ensure our industry is inclusive and diverse. As Unilever’s Aline Santos brilliantly pointed out at Cannes last week, ‘marketers are obsessed with reaching consumers, but we need to be more obsessed with representing them’. It’s a simple solution really: our industry must be made up of people with stories to tell to represent the consumers we are trying reach. 

The amazing musical Hamilton ends with the powerful question “Who tells your story?” As an industry, we need to make sure that we can answer that with honesty and pride.

Lindsay Pattison is WPP’s first-ever global chief transformation officer.

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