Storytelling in 2020: What I learned at Web Summit

Storytelling in 2020: What I learned at Web Summit


Last week I tuned into Web Summit’s virtual event to hear from a mix of world leaders, entrepreneurs, executives, investors, sports stars, musicians, and actors on how they overcame the challenges of 2020, lessons learned, and what they’ll be striving for 2021.

As an editorial strategist at M+M, I focused my attention on hearing how brands have been evolving their approach to storytelling this year – particularly across their digital channels – and how they’re increasingly using it as a strategy to connect with their customers. Here are some of the top takeaways I gleaned from Web Summit:  

Your brand is more than a logo – it’s your entire story

Too often, people see their brand as simply being the company logo, font type, and tone of voice that’s written down in a manual somewhere. Your brand is the very heartbeat of the company that influences everything from the employee culture to customer experience. Your brand is your story – a living, breathing organism that is constantly iterating and evolving. 

Whether you’re a start-up or a 100-year-old enterprise it’s never too late to write or review your brand’s story. So, where to begin? To start, it’s crucial you know the answers to these questions:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What problem are you trying to solve for them?
  3. Why should they care?

These answers will give you your brand’s purpose and this purpose should be the red thread that runs through the entire company and all of your storytelling. Communicating your brand’s purpose consistently is key for building a connection with your customers especially with 2020 showing us that people want brands to stand for something more than ever.

As many companies look ahead to 2021, running a stop, start and continue exercise across different parts of the business is a great way to make sure that everything you’re doing or planning to do is aligned with your brand’s purpose. 

Selling your story requires creating a human to human connection

Once you’ve articulated your purpose the next step is to know the specifics of your story – particularly the human detail that can help you cut through all the other stories out there. To use a metaphor from That Lot’s David Schneider, this messaging is the carrier pigeon that will transport your brand’s purpose from human to human. 

Having worked with tech brands for over 10 years, I’ve found that the danger zone many companies face is weighing their story down in lots of jargon and technical terminology that simply doesn’t resonate with real people. As marketers, our role is to humanize technology through storytelling and focus more on how new products and services are solving problems for people and creating better experiences for them. 

It may sound simple but a lot of people underestimate the explosiveness they need to tell a great story that gets people’s attention. This might be because they tend to tone it down to play it safe and try to be all things to all people. However, as the writer, Bonnie Gillespie said: “when you try to be everything to everyone, you accomplish being nothing to anyone.”

Use data to inform effective storytelling

Gathering data and insights about your target audience can help you avoid the pitfall of trying to sell your story to everyone. Data can help brands become more aware of the increasingly different needs their different customers have. Understanding the distinct character and priorities of the communities and individuals you serve can help your brand evolve its story so that it’s closer and more responsive to their customers. 

2020 has also taught us that it’s hard to develop a marketing calendar ahead of time and many brands are now looking at how they can respond to customer needs and broader issues in real-time. Again, gathering data about how your audience is reacting to those cultural moments can help you make smart choices about whether it makes sense for your brand to join that conversation and share your story of how you’re helping to make a positive difference. 

As we countdown to 2021, purpose, human connection and data are the three ingredients brands need to set the foundation for their story next year. From there, creativity can begin as you set about crafting different subplots and themes that can help your brand respond to an ever-changing world in a smart, thoughtful, and nimble way.