Having Influence as a Brand Comes With a Level of Responsibility

Telling your story in the right way helps leverage that properly

A male nurse wheels a patient in a hospital bed to the window so the patient is able to see the fireworks outside
The “Nurses Change Lives” campaign focused on those who use Johnson & Johnson's products.
Johnson & Johnson Nursing

Stories are a powerful force. Their alignment of narrative, values and emotion change how we see the world. And while it may seem hyperbolic, I’d argue that marketers have a responsibility to ensure our stories are a vehicle for the change we want to see in the world.

Unprecedented levels of influence

The number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.2 billion. By 2020, almost 5 billion people will be connected.

The role social media plays in spreading stories cannot be ignored. Whether we’re talking about influencers with 10 million Instagram followers, a publisher like The New York Times that reaches more than 100 million people worldwide or a brand like Gillette whose most recent campaign was watched by more than 30 million people on YouTube, it’s clear that without the near-instantaneous access to one another that platforms provide, stories wouldn’t be nearly as far-reaching. In fact, without social media, these stories might never get told.

We are a product of the stories we consume

Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft connected with consumers by shifting their strategies to highlight stories. The former’s “Nurses Change Lives” campaign abandoned extolling the benefits of their products, instead lauding the community that uses them most often: nurses. Framing nurses at the forefront of medical innovation and social change made an impact on their audience, and as a result, their brand. Microsoft won similar acclaim for their “We All Win” campaign, centering not on their new adaptive controller technology but rather those who get to play now that it exists. In each instance, the brands’ emphasis on often overlooked folks is what makes these campaigns—and in turn these brands—impactful.

It’s clear that without the near-instantaneous access to one another that platforms provide, stories wouldn’t be nearly as far-reaching.

It’s profoundly validating to see yourself in a story, and the most impactful marketing strategies acknowledge that. Seeing a product or service fit into an influencer’s life sparks curiosity about how it could do the same for us. User-generated content ignites excitement as our stories are assimilated into the larger story of a brand’s community of users. Seeing a unique story told well with the tools social media provides gives insight into the experiences of others.

National Geographic’s 2018 “The Story of a Face” encapsulated two years of reporting on Katie Stubblefield, the youngest American recipient of a face transplant. But the story was more than the logistics of this milestone; it conveyed Katie’s wish to educate on what led to the transplant—a suicide attempt brought on by trauma and PTSD.

It facilitated a dialogue about an important topic with readers, viewers and followers. It took advantage of highly-trafficked platforms like Facebook and Instagram to provoke conversation on the story in dynamic ways. And even for a publication like National Geographic, it changed how they think about reporting.

Tell impactful stories in positive ways

Stories like Katie’s can spell triumph for the publications who recount them, but they’re also a reminder that our work coexists alongside challenging emotions and ideas. The world we live in is not an easy place to be, with no shortage of sadness, discouragement or frustration to be felt. That could leak into our social media presence, our overall view of the world.

But with influence comes responsibility. I feel it’s more responsible to place a spotlight on the good, especially where people have forgotten it exists. A letter a young girl wrote to basketball player Stephen Curry can yield real change in Under Armour’s forthcoming line. An open letter lingerie company ThirdLove wrote in response to Victoria’s Secret CMO Ed Razek can help women who feel ignored by the latter’s famed runway, feel whole and respected. The rise of a mysterious brown egg on Instagram can carry a powerful message about the very real dark side of social media. When there are good stories to be told, either through our own influence or with the power held by our brands, we should tell them.

Be the story you want told in the world

Havas’ Meaningful Brands Index measures the impact brands have on consumers who buy from them. Within it lies a remarkable statistic: People wouldn’t care if 77 percent of brands disappeared. Of their top-rated brands, several have solidly connected with audiences through moving stories. How can brands use the power and influence that social media has afforded us to tell the right story? How should we?

First, consider your user base. What stories lie beyond your standard strategy? Whose experience with your brand is overlooked but compelling? Ask important questions and listen deeply to the answers, then highlight what you hear.

Next, match the compelling parts of these stories with platforms that can highlight them most effectively. Could you get someone to provide a day-in-the-life experience with your product via an Instagram story? If they’re a good storyteller, could a Facebook Live interview and tour show them off? Now that LinkedIn Live is on its way, what leaders could conduct an informative Q&A? The platform may be the best clue as to how the content can best be presented.

Finally, take the time and risk to tell stories that matter. In choosing to tell stories responsibly, there is a chance it won’t go over as you’d hope; think about the mixed but high-profile reception that Gillette’s “Best a Man Can Be” campaign received. Tell them anyway. The spot’s story was polarizing but it was also principled. What issues is your brand similarly principled about, and how can those values shine in the stories you tell? Brands who master this are choosing to be the story they want to see told in the world. Our influence is best used when we do the same.

As I mentioned, 77 percent of brands could disappear with no discernible impact. The same percentage revealed they want to buy from companies who share their values. Whether those values are expressed in how you do business or how your products and services align with those values, the risk is worthwhile. So as we think about the influence we have, let’s choose to tell stories that make our world better, stronger and more connected.

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