• 03.30.12

Why Collaborative Storytelling Is The Future Of Marketing

In the age of social media, innovative companies must invite customers to build their brands together–or be left out of the story.

Why Collaborative Storytelling Is The Future Of Marketing

Any marketer worth her salt has always understood the power of storytelling. Stories are the blood that pumps through any vital community. They document our histories, they educate us, they entertain us, and at their best they inspire us into action.


All great brands tell stories. The best even become stories. For decades the best marketing and advertising work has brought these stories to life and found ways to share these stories with as many people as possible, in the most compelling fashion, but what is changing is the nature by which these stories are shared and even constructed. We’re evolving from storytelling to story sharing, and we’re on our way to story making.

For the last decade or so, there’s been a gradual shift in how marketers think about stories. Beyond thinking about how the brand tells the story, they’re increasingly focused on how people share the story of the brand. Powered by the phenomenal efficiencies the Internet and social media platforms have created, people are able to more readily share stories with the extension of their own audiences, networks, and communities. The factors that influence personal distribution of sharable content are, I believe, still grounded in powerful storytelling.

But the story-sharing period we’ve been going through has put the “reader” (as in target consumer) in a more powerful position to influence the trajectories of where the story is shared. This has led to far-reaching and often uncontrollable dissemination of a brand’s story. And this is why every CMO in the country has been so obsessed with social media over the last few years.

Looking ahead, I think we are entering a new era in which “story making” will become more important to brands. Consumers now demand greater involvement in almost every aspect of their lives as the Internet has empowered them to know more, control more, and do more. They want to be collaborators in creating the story with the brand, and I think this has enormous marketing potential. Anyone who’s played–or watched someone play–a first-person shooter game sees the allure of a story that is created in real time through the decisions of the gamer. Television is becoming more social, and programming is becoming more participatory, thanks to second-screen experiences and interactive platforms that let the interactions of the audience determine the arc of the story. And the idea of crowdsourced and user-generated advertising content has been in full exploration for the last few years–with limited success.

All of these things are pointing to the future, where the story of a brand gets created and shared through the personal stories of connected participants, where enlightened companies share the narrative, provide the prompts, and relinquish total control.

Iconic brands like Starbucks or Burton or MINI will have an unfair advantage on this because they are so connected to their communities and have an inherently collaborative spirit. Other marketers and agencies will need to follow their lead, finding inventive and effective ways of enabling (and promoting) these new collaborative stories and shared experiences.


[Image: Zurijeta via Shutterstock]

About the author

In 1993, (and with no agency experience) John founded The VIA Agency and developed an effective model in which cross-functional teams solve complex marketing challenges and help clients find new growth. The model combined his engineering background, his unbridled love of ideas and his entrepreneurial appetite and produced results quickly and consistently—earning a spot on Inc.