CMO Moves

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is a foundational tenet of marketing for its ability to communicate purpose and create emotional connections with customers and partners. But advances in technology have changed the way we deliver our messages and short consumer attention spans often require us to tell a story in 15 seconds instead of 15 minutes. Furthermore, consumers are now weary with a constant barrage of messages, which makes it even that much more important that the messages are authentic, grounded in purpose and delivered in the right way.  Here are some tips on storytelling from a few of my CMO Moves guests:


It’s about people

“As a brand, we try to always reveal the people here, what they're working on. And what they’re working on is usually remarkably fascinating. It might be 3D printing a jet engine part. It might be assembling a heavy-duty gas turbine. It might be helping to cure cancer through our life sciences group. We were founded by an inventor, Thomas Edison, and so we've got this DNA of experimentation as part of who we are and we’ve tried to bring that to life in our marketing. I'm experimenting with different forms of storytelling in a lot of ways. The way we go to market is as much about who our brand is, as what we say.” - Listen to Linda Boff, CMO of GE 

It’s about mission

"We found an amazing video tape of our founder, Sam Walton, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush. In his speech, he said: ‘If we work together… we'll give the world an opportunity to see what it's like to save and have a better life.’ And that message is something that we've spent the last decade trying to insert every place we can in this company.  We moved our tagline from “Always Low Prices” to “Save Money, Live Better”, because we wanted to add more of an emotional component to the brand. So all that would have been fine as a really solid rebranding project, repositioning project, but there was one other thing that we did in that project that I think will outlast all the other things that we did, and probably outlast all of us. That is we changed the mission statement. We changed the purpose of our company.” - Listen to Tony Rogers, former CMO of Walmart now Chief Member Officer of Sam’s Club

It's about purpose

“A few years ago, we re-established our brand purpose. I say re-established because it had been there all along but we really dusted it off and amplified it internally. Our brand purpose is very, very simple. Our founder was a gentleman named Harold Butler and in 1953 when he founded Denny's, he was asked in a newspaper article why he started the company. And he said these simple words: ‘Because I love to feed people.’ All kinds of companies are going off trying to create a brand purpose and we had one staring us in the face. We love to feed people, not just in the physical sense, but also the emotional sense - people's bodies, minds, and souls.” - Listen to John Dillon, CMO of Denny’s



Say something meaningful

“I accidentally got into marketing when I was looking for an alternative to journalism. As a journalist, you walk in every day stupid and you go home a little bit smarter. You work very quickly. You have to distill a lot of information - complicated information - into a powerful narrative and you have to find a way to be useful. So, I've applied that to marketing all along and found it fundamentally true that if you look at where the world has moved and where communications has moved, much has been stripped away. And that creates an incredible opportunity for a marketer to simply say something honest and meaningful, and allow the product to sell itself and get everything else out of the way, in a sense.” - Listen to Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify

Stay true to who you are

“I told my team: ‘We have to become detectives of our brand. We have to tell our story and we have to tell our story with depth.’ I'll tell you, that was a liberating thought for everybody because the message not only starts coming from an authentic place, but all of the sudden everybody starts sitting a little bit taller in their chairs. If your message is authentic; if you're not trying to co-opt a conversation that is not authentic to you; if you're not trying to connect with something that might be ‘of the moment’ that has nothing to do with your brand; if you stay true to who you are and you have an authentic message, you’re going to have a huge chance for success because it comes from the inside out.” - Listen to Diego Scotti, CMO of Verizon

Stand for something and take action

“One of the most exciting things that we are doing right now is called ‘start something priceless’. We expanded the scope of ‘priceless’ to be a holistic marketing platform, which means priceless is infused into every aspect of marketing into the product and the promotions and the platforms and into our own employee programs internally, etc… People around the world expect brands to not just throw advertisement at them, but they're really looking for brands to stand up for something that they believe in and do something about it, take some actions.”  - Listen to Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard


Great stories create deep connections

“I spent ten years on the movie side. And it took me a while to figure out what it was about marketing that I really loved. And at one point it really all clicked for me: marketing is about telling a good story. You know, you can tell a story in one frame, you can tell a story in a 30 second piece of advertising, you can tell a story in a 3.5-hour feature film. And when you think about the things that we connect with in society and in culture, oftentimes it's things that are associated with a compelling narrative.” - Listen to Evan Greene, CMO at The Recording Academy, the GRAMMYs

Use your ears, not just your mouth

“So much of it is just listening. Everyone has a story to tell, no matter who they are or where they are. And the secret to being a good storyteller is actually much more in your ears than in your mouth. Listening to what people are trying to say and being able to understand what they are about. It's the very best part of what I get to do. Obviously, being here at NPR and the heart of storytelling land is humbling for me and I’m in a place where I'm just trying to tell the stories of the storytellers and that's very exciting.”  - Listen to Meg Goldthwaite, CMO of NPR

Simplify the message and leverage technology to engage in new ways

“The first half of my career was in the advertising world. Working in advertising agencies and [creating] engaging content is so important. I think that training helped me craft a very succinct message in a compelling way. So wonderful as another foundation for me as a marketer. As a company, in our DNA is a phrase we have that we live by, 'through complexity comes simplicity'. Technology for the sake of technology isn't exciting. It's what technology allows you to do and that's what has me so excited. It is the ability for people to engage in ways that they've never been able to engage before and do things that have never been able to do before.” - Listen to Kieran Hannon, CMO of Belkin International

The medium is as important as the message

“Every time we're telling a story, we have to figure out what is the story that's going to matter?  How does that resonate with the partner that we're working with? And then what is the best medium for telling that story? We think holistically about the audience, the partner, and the medium, because sometimes the medium is just as important as the message. All of those different angles together are really important when we think about storytelling. Always with a lens of what matters to the audience. Why do they need to hear this and how is this going to impact them?” - Listen to Dara Treseder, CMO of GE Ventures