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How to Tap Into Storytelling at Your Next Event to Activate Attendees

How to Tap Into Storytelling at Your Next Event to Activate Attendees

Every experience, event, or booth has a story to tell. Here’s how to make your audience the hero of it.

Marketing guru and best-selling author Seth Godin famously said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

The quote makes perfect sense, especially in the digital age where brand loyalty is earned through unique, shareable experiences and moments; where empathy and transparency win far more trust than advertising. Experts have noted that people today want an experience as much as a product or service, and research reveals that consumers are “less worried about spending money and more concerned with using it to enhance their lives.”

In brief, a leading marketing tactic these days to move consumers to action and passion is by making them the heroes of a brand story with a meaningful ending.

So how can you best leverage storytelling for your events and brand experiences? Let’s find out and see what’s in your story.

Thereby hangs your brand’s tale

At this point, you might be wondering, is storytelling relevant to events? Even further, is it relevant to my events?

I would answer both of the above questions with a resounding “yes!”

Every brand has a story, and storytelling can be vital for the branding of any event space. As we’ve shown, in today’s competitive event climate, even associations need to think of themselves as a brand to thrive.

Think of SXSW or Comic-Con: two conferences that have transcended the term event, becoming celebrated brands with universal appeal. How did they find such success? In large part, by driving their marketing with connected themes and narratives. At the last SXSW, for instance, the uber-relevant idea of Artificial Intelligence/robots and their impact on the workforce was woven into the event — from thought leader panels to speaker presentations. Beyond exposure to innovative tech and trendsetting music, attendees were rewarded with valuable data to become active protagonists in the real-life saga of the changing marketplace.

You can do the same with your event, at your own scalable level, creating lasting connections with attendees.

To achieve this, consider these two important features: structure and strategy.

All the world’s a stage, but it’s held up with structure

Marketers often talk about messaging, content, and themes that are relevant, meaningful, and honest. All of this information should be fused together for the benefit of attendees by developing a proper story with structure — complete with a beginning, middle, and end. That may seem abstract, but remember that your organization has a story with a beginning, middle, and ending. It’s a matter of tapping into the parts of that story that resonates with audiences.

I mean, what would Apple be without the gripping origin story of Steve Jobs? What would SpaceX be without the futuristic ending that Elon Musk promises the world?

Creating a structured story for brand experience should be similar to scripting a multi-act theatrical play, and this includes following a structure.

Here is your syllabus for structure 101:

The Theme: The point or goal of the story, and in your case, the goal/objective of the event.
The Characters: The experience design which consists of brands, products, audiences, sponsors, technology, etc.
The Protagonist: The service or product.
The Antagonist: The problem or challenge that the theme and characters need to overcome, which is often uncovered by marketers during the audience persona exercise.
The Setting: How the space will be used to connect the audiences with the story.
The Chapters: The progression of the story that may include a variety of touchpoints and formats.

It’s up to you and your teams to put some meat to these bones… or more like to this structure. But trust me, the narrative is there.

Turning prose into an epic with strategy

Every story needs context and the right amplification, and this takes some planning. That is why strategy is essential to make storytelling work. Regarding strategy best practices, I suggest including the following elements:

Comprehensive Discovery Phase: Take time to fully understand your brand story and experience of the show — as well as the challenges and pain points to develop the content and strategy for future experiences. Find out what has and hasn’t worked in past shows in order to develop and connect the story to the benefit audiences will receive. You know your brand and it inspires you, of course, but who exactly is your audience and what exactly inspires them about what you have to offer?

Verbal and Visual Integration: With creative teams and partners, practice being able to clearly articulate the story (with the relevant characters, conflict, chapters, etc.) both verbally and visually. You’ll soon see how all the messages fit together, and more importantly, how it can come to life.

Keep it Simple: While you want to build enduring and deeper relationship with audiences, simplicity is key. People don’t have the time or inclination to piece together a complex brand narrative. It’s our job to take away that complexity — a story that spreads is one that is relatable, easy to recall, and effortless to share.

Of course, don’t take my word for all of this, as it may be a tall tale. Instead, see the stories of very successful brand experiences that embraced storytelling.

Homeric examples of storytelling in events

Perhaps the best illustration of storytelling at an event would be (surprise!) the Future of Storytelling Summit — a two-day summit where 500+ tech, art, and marketing thought leaders share their success and inspirational stories. The event includes ample visual representation of discussions; and opts for intimate roundtables and workshops instead of keynote speakers. As one example, attendees can learn how to create a Sesame Street segment from a Sesame Street master puppeteer. Following the conference, a hard-bound book recapping personal experiences (including individual pictures on the cover) is mailed to attendees.

For a more focused case, take an exhibition promoting the film Fantastic Beasts in China. Attendees were immersed in the very plot of the movie by being tactically engaged with augmented reality activations, props featured in scenes, 3-D paintings, photo backdrops, and a digital scavenger hunt. In the end, attendees and film characters walked hand-in-hand on a Harry Potter journey.

In truth and to end, stories are the vehicles that we use to condense and remember experiences and, most importantly, make sense of the vast information around us. Stories drive everything that we do and understand as a species, whether its cave-wall paintings or persuasive content on digital signage. In the marketing space, storytelling connects brands with audiences to hopefully produce emotion that drives action.

And if done right, your event will have a very happy ending.


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Parul shah

Parul Shah

Strategy Director