Storytelling is a term you hear on a daily basis in this industry. And it’s entirely understandable – stories are at the heart of who we are and inform the decisions that we live by.
A human who walked the earth 30,000 thousand years ago could have learnt our languages, written great works of literature, or created thought-provoking and controversial art. Our ancestors, however, were encumbered by the technological shortcomings of the era, and advancement in that department owes a lot to our ability to collaborate in great numbers. What facilitated this was the strengthening bonds through shared and believed stories, and a means to communicate them. For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to these mediums as platforms.
Stories, platforms and the ability to collaborate are not only at the heart of effective advertising and good business, but of who we are and how we have developed.
Without the platform it’s hard to hear the story.
Stories alone can only travel so far via word of mouth. They gain power and credence with an effective means of broadcasting them, and the emergence of platforms that allowed stories to be told en masse – such as books and newspapers – enabled some of the first human networks capable of conformity in vast numbers. However, whilst highly effective, the first broadcast platforms were rigid, and access to them was limited to the upper echelons of societies.
With the emergence of radio, and then TV, stories could be broadcast virtually instantaneously and to a wide audience. The visual medium of television also allowed creativity to shine, and it’s no coincidence that the technicolor emergence of the advertising industry from its cottage status into full stereo mainstream – with its own award shows and cult of celebrity – occurred alongside the emergence of TV. However, even television is a linear platform; stories need to be created and fed into the machine by the few capable of doing so. The rest of us still sit passively consuming whatever story is broadcast.
What changed everything was the internet.
The internet galvanized the duality of platform design and storytelling. Until this point, some bright spark designed a static platform that would outlive generations, and then philosophers and poets, writers and journalists, (and creative agencies) would tell the stories that fit perfectly into them.
Creativity had over three thousand years of fêting and idolising the best storytellers in their midst. So when the internet elevated the need for the discipline of platform design to sit alongside the storytellers, it scared the shit out of the entire industry.
Thanks for the history lesson, but what does this have to do with influencers?
Word of mouth marketing has been one of the most powerful forms of broadcasting stories for years – people love to buy from people. Conversations in the playground and in the pub have informed, corroborated and crystallized purchase decisions for centuries.
Yet for the vast majority of that time, the signal from word of mouth marketing has been weak, relying on individuals with no true democratic platform of their own to broadcast their thoughts, feelings and desires. For a brand, tapping into this rich network was usually an elaborate stab in the dark.
With this in mind, it should have been no surprise at all that once social media presented itself as the platform that would be the missing piece in the puzzle, this previously disparate network would finally start to formalize itself as technology enabled word-of-mouth marketing – or as some like to call it, influencer marketing.
Is the term influencer limited?
Our purchasing habits have been influenced by the media for as long as a capitalist system in place, but, with the emergence of social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, we are now far more in control of the ways in which we consume these narratives.
As users flocked to join the party at the provenance of these platforms, many quickly started to gain vast and wide audiences. Brands weren’t too far behind seeing the opportunity to start tapping into these new and highly engaged audiences. However, the early obsession with obtaining reach has driven a lot of influencer marketing to be a phenomenon (ironically) with its roots predominantly in the platform without a true appreciation for the story.
At Whalar, we consider the community that we nurture to be creators with influence. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s fundamental to our DNA, because it represents the story and platform elements to this nascent industry. Having one without the other misses the point; they are intrinsically linked.
What does collaboration have to do with it?
Collaboration has been at the heart of humanity’s relentless pursuit of growth, and it has been at the heart of some of the most successful stories in history.
It was an important factor in the assimilation of Roman and Celtic cultures in AD 43, just as it was in the proliferation of Christian doctrine across a predominantly Pagan European continent centuries later. Attempting to contradict the stories of millions is a dangerous game in an exercise designed to win trust, but collaboration ensured this whilst maintaining continuity of the narrative.
Closer to home, the collaboration of stories has been happening in the fashion industry for years (H&M and Kenzo, Adidas and Y3 etc.). But the principles remain the same: common ideals and a shared purpose.
For brands to really benefit from the true value of influencer marketing, they need to start viewing their interactions in this space as a collaboration with the creators with influence that are most relevant to their own story and audience. Applying the old rules of feeding the story into the platform will have limited long-term value. Instead, seek to understand the stories, art, and passion of these creators, cede some control, collaborate with them, and then the influence piece will follow.
Liberating the creative voice
Our mission at Whalar is to ‘liberate the creative voice’, which we have always believed has not just been about the global voice of the creative community, but brands themselves. It’s only through effective collaboration that this can be achieved.
Find the right creators with influence to collaborate with, and you’ll stand a far better chance of telling an engaging and enduring story that your customers will identify with, especially as their involvement and control of this story is only going to increase.
Words by Jake Mackay - Head of Business Development, North America at Whalar - originally published on LinkedIn.
Banner image from our Head of Design, Greg Haynes