Understatement alert: Pete Buttegieg is having a moment.
The wunderkind mayor of South Bend, Ind. and fast-ascending 2020 Democratic presidential candidate seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the nation’s attention. “Mayor Pete” is easy to like, but why?
The nation has been swept into his narrative — one that’s compelling almost beyond belief. The New York Times explored his appeal and concluded that Buttegieg’s storytelling — both of his own life and those of his constituents — is what draws people into his orbit. This shouldn’t be surprising, as stories have always captured our imaginations and connected our commonalities.
The Power of a Perfect Story
Once upon a time, brands — and the marketers who worked on their behalf — told stories. Though it’s true that the industry is better informed than ever thanks to advances in technology and marketing sciences, I can’t help but wonder where compelling storytelling in advertising has gone.
When we take time to convey a relatable story, as Buttegieg is doing, we get to frame the narrative around the brand (and make no mistake, politicians are brands). Here are some methods to improve a brand’s storytelling efforts:
1. Take a look in the mirror. Storytelling is a powerful tool, but we lose if our story misses the mark, which it will if we fail to consider the diversity of the audience and the nuances of culture, region, and society. There are so many ways to tell a story, and it’s important that the narrative be inclusive.
Therefore, it could be beneficial to include women, minorities, and
members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the content-creation process. Gather as many ideas as possible in every step of the journey, from focus groups and crowdsourcing to other methods of listening
(e.g., social listening) to your audience and the world at large.
Subaru did this in the mid-’90s when it conducted market research and found that its vehicles were popular among lesbian drivers. The company amended its advertising to reflect that — quite a stance to take two decades ago.
And consider amending hiring processes to improve the corporate reflection in the mirror.
2. Open the doors to dialogue. No longer can brands speak at consumers. It’s a two-way conversation now. We need to ask consumers what matters to them, then tell the stories that feel right and that make sense for the product, brand, or service. Perhaps they value an origin story, such as the recent one f Budweiser pulled off that detailed the difficult journey of an immigrant (Adolphus Busch) and his perseverance to establish himself in America.
Maybe consumers want to learn more about sustainability efforts or any philanthropic causes the brand supports. There’s no better platform than a story to accomplish those objectives.
3. Don’t let data collect dust. To better understand consumers and why they use a product or service, we have troves of data. Those details will help flesh out great storytelling. We can perform A/B testing and track engagement success.
Effective branding requires an emotional thread, and marketers should use the technology and data at their fingertips to spin fantastical yarns. We can bet our bottom dollar that Buttegieg and his team studied their data in heavy detail before launching his aspirational campaign. Knowing what resonates (such as Buttegieg’s status as an Afghanistan War veteran) allows the focus to stay on those particular storytelling elements.
Without a hook and connection to consumers, messaging simply won’t resonate. Consumers are savvier, busier, and more demanding than ever. To grab their attention, for Pete’s sake, let's tell them an unforgettable story.