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The Art of Storytelling for the Digital Age

MAY 2013 Millennial Marketing Insight from HypeLife Brands: "The Art of Storytelling for the Digital Age"

I have dinner with my grandpa every Wednesday. It’s a thing we do. Growing up it was Saturday mornings, breakfast followed by a trip to the library. But Wednesdays just work better for us now. 

We talk about any number of issues, but only after we’ve ordered. We skirt around politics, spend lots of time on sports, family, catching up. But taken in sum, the last 25 years or so have heard more stories than anything. My grandpa will be 90 this year, so one can imagine the number of stories he has to tell. And yet he is reliant on his memory to help fill in the grey areas, to add color to an event that will live on with me. To have a fluent, lucid memory at the age of 90 makes my grandpa lucky, and it makes me lucky.

But today’s generation no longer needs luck. Millennials have and will continue to document their lives, their interests, their every detail in this hyper-connected world of social media that we’ve all helped to create. We’re all familiar with the decries and refrains that bemoan such personal infiltrations, these hideous invasions of privacy. Valid, sure. But there is a far, far larger audience documenting every second of their daily lives in pictures (Instagram), in words (Tumblr, Twitter), in some combination of the two (Facebook). And if you take a step back and really think about what’s going on here, you’ll see a generation gearing up for the long haul. These people are telling their stories in the unique and rewarding way only technology could afford. 

Imagine if my grandpa didn’t have to rely on memory, but on pictures he took on a random day in July in 1952, the songs he liked at the time, the two or three errands he ran that afternoon. Perhaps, even, what was going through his head that very day. Seen in the rearview mirror, this is a staggering accumulation of experiences and eccentricities that do more than tabulate minutia; this is the gradual telling of an individual story. 

Millennials understand this. They embrace it. While each one of us has at times been annoyed with a friend’s stream-of-thought post or the lack of restraint demonstrated by an athlete, it’s important to look at things from overhead. These are but stubborn threads in the fabric of the lives we all have to look forward to. I promise you one thing: Annoying or not, I bet you feel like you know this person better now than you did before he/she posted. Because while everything else is constantly changing, the value of relationships has remained steadfast. Prompted to give a starting point in the growth of a business, a salesman in the 70’s would provide the same answer as one in 2013: relationships.

So why aren’t more brands embracing social media and its unmatched ability to develop relationships? Why do I go to website after website and find the standard icons – ‘f’, ‘t’ – as mere placeholders, as if someone gritted his/her teeth and gave in to the evil that is social media? Millennials want to know your story. They want to connect with your brand. And this is how they do it. 

When we start working with clients, one of the first questions we ask is, “What’s your story?” Whether or not the answer flows easily or is a bit of a struggle is not important. What’s important is that we didn’t know. There is no more cost-effective way to tell a brand’s story than social media. And when done right, it’s arguably the most effective way to build lasting bonds with the group that has all the buying power for years to come: Millennials.

When my grandpa talks, he has a captive audience. An audience of one. Imagine having an audience of a thousand, a million, twenty million. Not everything you say will resonate with everyone. But if done right, someone somewhere will connect with the story you’re telling. You’ll bridge that divide between writer and reader, and what was written about you will become about them. And maybe, just maybe, you will convert a casual looker or reader into a loyal customer. 

Most often I’m asked how a brand can afford to dedicate the time needed to properly engage with people via social media. I think it’s time to start asking something else instead: How can you afford not to? 


Zach Russell
Brand Strategist
HypeLife Brands