When you start to deal with storytelling in an entrepreneurial context, you will quickly come across the following statement: “Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone” (1). Since pretty much every storytelling article starts with this statement from Stanford University, I didn’t want to break ranks and have done the same. So…, now that the first seemingly obligatory aspect for an article about storytelling has been dealt with, let’s get started!
In my last article, “Bridging the Attitude-Behavior-Gap: What Foodies Are Doing Wrong and How Blockchain Technology Can Help,” I explored why so many people say they want to consume sustainably, but rarely do. These “swinging consumers” are a key target group for purpose companies to secure their growth and establish themselves in the market. Furthermore and more importantly, these consumers are also crucial for securing human existence on planet earth. By now, most people have understood that the way we live and consume is destroying our environment. To convince the few who do not want to accept and understand this is like fighting windmills. You can’t fight some opinions with reason. The philosopher Gert Scobel speaks in this regard of the “banality of the stupid”. But getting people who already want to consume sustainably to do so is anything but tilting at windmills. It’s much more like flying kites in a storm.
What seems to be generally accepted is that the most promising way to overcome attitude-behavior gap is to become competitive in the following four areas:
- Availability &
- Brand awareness
This is certainly true, but many consumers accept minor disadvantages in these categories if they receive more sustainability and purpose in return. The problem is that sustainability and purpose are hidden product attributes! You can’t check and compare them in the supermarket any more than you can in the online store. Providing the right, understandable and trustworthy information is therefore the fifth area in which Purpose companies should improve. By the way, OURZ sends its best regards at this point ;).
Why is storytelling important for your business?
When the right, understandable and trustworthy information is available, another significant step in closing the attitude-behavior gap is customer engagement (2). The customer’s willingness to learn more about a product depends on the extent to which he/she considers it personally relevant (3). If consumers develop sufficient interest in a product, it can be assumed that behaviors such as researching information in detail, forming a positive opinion about the product, frequency of product use, enjoyment of consumption, and product loyalty, among others, will be positively influenced (4).
So at this point we come to storytelling, because what better way to engage someone if not through a good story. And on top of that, one (or more) good stories naturally also increase brand awareness, which is one of the classic paths to success mentioned above. So what is storytelling and why are some new technologies, especially blockchain, worth considering in this context? Let’s start with normal pre 4.0 storytelling first!
How to tell a story
Storytelling transcends culture and time, and is a central feature of the human condition (5). Our brains are designed to empathize with stories in order to train us to deal with the complexity of social relationships (5). Stories cause us to release oxytocin, through which we become more empathic and cooperative (6). To achieve this, the story should be about people, their problem, and triumph over the problem (6). The point is to connect emotions and information (7). People are more likely to accept information when it is in “story mode” than when it is in critical “factmode” (5).
A story, hold on, consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end (1). Save yourself a long introduction at the beginning, though; a good story must start with conflict and tension (8). The best stories are also simple and straightforward (9). It is very important in entrepreneurial storytelling that it is not about generating customers, but the goal is to create a community (7). Think carefully about who you want to reach with your story, what you want to achieve with your story and how you can achieve this through a story (8). Depending on the audience you have to change the weighting between information and emotions, too much information is just as bad as too little (8). The biggest mistake you could make is to make yourself the hero/heroine of your story (9). It is best to think about how you can make the audience heroes.
The “science” fiction of yesterday is today becoming a reality,” says the foreword to the book by World Economic Forum founder Schwab on the fourth industrial revolution (10). I use the term Storytelling 4.0 here in reference to Industry 4.0, which originated from a working group initiated by the German government to examine the technological advances of digitalization and their potential significance for German industry. The working group came to the conclusion that the development of “more intelligent monitoring and autonomous decision-making processes” (11) had the potential for such an industrial transformation that one could speak of a fourth industrial revolution.
At the heart of this revolution through “intelligent monitoring and autonomous decision-making processes” are technologies for data collection (including sensors), data storage (especially blockchains & clouds) and data processing (especially Big Data & AI). While the potential of these new technologies is seen primarily in increasing efficiency along corporate value chains, they also hold huge potential in other areas, such as corporate storytelling. So let’s move on to the four new 4.0 possibilities of storytelling.
1.0 Reconstructible storytelling
The new technologies are not only causing an industrial revolution, they are also causing a trust revolution. Trust, which previously had a personal or systemic origin, can now be generated from the combination of the new technological possibilities for data collection, data storage and data processing. At the center of everything is blockchain technology, which allows “trust through clever code” (12) to emerge. Giddens already noted before the dawn of this millennium: “There would be no need to trust anyone whose activities were continually visible and whose thought processes were transparent” (13) and Simmel stated over 100 years ago: “The completely knowing person does not need to trust, the completely not knowing person cannot reasonably even trust” (14). With future stories, no one needs to wonder which part is true and which is made up, because thanks to 4.0 technologies, this can be verified in microseconds – every piece of information in every story is traceable to its source, forever unfalsifiable.
2.0 Real-Time Storytelling
Real-Stories are about the past? 4.0 Stories are real-time! Due to the trust-creating traceability of information, 4.0 stories are a window into the past, but they are also a telescope to another place in the present. Through developments like the division of labor and globalization, we hardly see how the products that shape our lives are created. We have lost the connection to them and to those who make them. Through the new technological possibilities we can change this again. For example, in Product Storytelling 4.0, customers can not only see where & from whom the product they are considering buying comes from (past) via a QR code (in the online store or on the packaging), but they can also see what is happening there at the exact moment they access Story 4.0 (real-time).
3.0 Integrative storytelling
As noted earlier, it can make sense to make consumers the heroes of the story. Is buying one of your meals connected to planting a tree? Let your consumers know when the money went to the nursery and send them a picture of the tree once it is planted! Are your products about paying the producers of mouth & nose masks more fairly? Show your consumers which workers were involved in your masks and give them the opportunity to say thank you via a virtual heart or even support them with a small tip. Let the purpose of your company or product develop relationships and create communities!
4.0 Adaptive Storytelling
The right mix of information and emotions is crucial for a story. But is there such a thing as the right mix? People have different needs for information. While for some a little information is already too much, for others there can’t be enough. Especially sustainability-oriented consumers (15) and younger generations (16) have a great desire for information. However, the density of information demanded by these classic target groups of purpose companies may possibly overwhelm and deter “swinging consumers”. As already noted, this would be fatal for the sustainability movement in business and society. Here, 4.0 technologies make it possible to individualize the information content of each story. Furthermore, depending on interests, more social or ecological aspects can be included, more regional or global aspects, more health or sustainability-oriented aspects etcetera etcetera etcetera. In addition, stories can also be adapted depending on the location, if a 4.0 story is scanned via a QR code at home (which is the case in 3/4 of scans according to our experience at OURZ), the story may definitely be more detailed than if the QR code is scanned in the supermarket, for example. Stories can now be told in a way that corresponds to the interests and (situational) needs of the individual consumer.
Sounds interesting, but more like the future? I am observing with increasing concern a highly critical trend. Many large corporations have identified Green & Sustainable as an extremely profitable segment. For example, 70% of Unilever’s revenue growth already came from their Sustainable Living Brands in 2017 (17). Please misunderstand me correctly: I think it’s great that the really big players are addressing the issue of sustainability. Small changes with them can have big positive impacts. We at OURZ would love to help them understand their value chains. But the half-hearted commitment coupled with targeted greenwashing by too many corporations is currently damaging trust in the sustainability movement (18)! While more and more purpose-pioneers of sustainability manage to advance eco-growth through their heart and sweat, in the same breath more and more large corporations infiltrate exactly this growing “niche”. Trust is like a commons. If everyone cultivates it, everyone can make a wonderful living from it. But even if only a few exploit it for their own short-term profit, soon no one will have anything left to gain from it.
To prevent this, purpose driven companies must make use of their secret weapons. Radical transparency & authenticity. Many already use them, but forget how damaged consumer trust already is. Radical transparency only helps if the transparency is credible and all the data revealed is presented smartly. This is where Storytelling 4.0 can help. Based on the authenticity and social impact of purpose companies, Storytelling 4.0 has the potential to become a game changer for the sustainability movement – today!
- Aaker (2019): Harnessing the Power of Stories.
- Gupta & Ogden (2006): The Attitude-behavior Gap in Environmental Consumerism.
- Celsi & Olson (1988): The Role of Involvement in Attention and Comprehension Processes.
- Vermeir & Verbeke (2008): Sustainable Food Consumption Among Young Adults in Belgium.
- Hsu (2008): The Secrets of Storytelling.
- Zak (2014): Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling.
- Da Costa (2019): 3 Reasons Why Brand Storytelling Is the Future of Marketing.
- Schramm (2014): A Refresher on Storytelling 101.
- O’Hara (2014): How to Tell A Great Story.
- Benioff (2017): Vorwort in “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
- Kagermann, Lukas & Wahlster (2011): Industrie 4.0 — Mit dem Internet der Dinge auf dem Weg zur 4. industriellen Revolution.
- Tapscott & Tapscott (2016): Blockchain Revolution — How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World.
- Giddens (1996): The Consequences of Modernity.
- Simmel (1908): Soziologie — Untersuchungen über die Form der Vergesellschaftung.
- Glöckner, Balderjahn & Peyer (2010): Die LOHAS im Kontext der Sinus-Milieus.
- Nielsen (2019): Gen Z Sustainable Consumers Go Digital.
- edie newsroom (2018): Sustainable Living Brands Delivered 70% of Unilever’s Turnover Growth Last Year.
- ZDF (2019): Grüne Versprechen – Wie Verbraucher getäuscht werden; ZDF (2019): Der Trick mit dem Greenwashing; ZDF (2020): Mythen – Die großen Irrtümer der Nachhaltigkeit (-> Ich habe mich mal auf einen Sender und die letzten Monate beschränkt).
- InSights (2020): The State of Consumer Spending.