Burberry Just Nailed Storytelling

Burberry’s latest marketing effort is a cinematic trailer about the epic life of Thomas Burberry. The grand scale and budget is only one element of what makes this piece so incredibly powerful and moving. What’s more compelling is the story. Like all great modern brands, Burberry is not selling a trench coat but something much bigger – they are selling the story behind their iconic trench.

The sweeping epic of a commercial covers the struggles, failures, loves and betrayals of the genius that is this character, Thomas Burberry. In 3 minutes and 36 seconds, the director, Asif Kapadia uses music, high stakes and dramatic tension to pull us into this story so that we yearn for a piece of this world. We don’t want to buy a coat after watching this trailer – we want to buy a piece of Burberry’s genius and history.

Burberry could have easily reported the history of the company, but merely delivering facts doesn’t have the power of story. An audience will fail to remember those facts and won’t necessarily be inspired to do anything with the information. Story is different. Story has the power to influence behavior.

It might be easy to dismiss this bit of marketing genius as the domain of fashion and retail, but in fact this work is equally critical if you want to sell complex financial products or large scales ideas. Perhaps it’s even more critical when you’re selling something that isn’t sexy at all. Either way, you can sell more of what you’re selling and change more behavior with story.

If you want to inspire people to send money or change their behavior to address global warming, then don’t provide them with data about rising temperatures; tell them a story about one mother polar bear and her cub. That will move someone to write a check or think about his or her carbon footprint. Bringing the issue down to just this cub and its mother places a spotlight on the problem and creates both intimacy and intensity. It moves from general to specific, which requires us to pay attention.

I always tell my clients, “you’re selling the thing and then you’re selling the thing.” The thing is much bigger and deeper than the product or service. The thing can’t be sold in a standard features and benefits model. Security, power, protection, dreams, and purpose require a story.

Storytelling is not a trend. It’s how we are wired. It’s not going away. Whether we are speaking to an audience of one or one million, the story is what creates connection, credibility and humanity. All companies should be thinking about their marketing, sales and business development processes as they relate to storytelling. Storytelling is one of the most powerful and underutilized forms of communication in business. Burberry created an epic with their narrative. What’s your story and how are you going to tell it?

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