The Art of Storytelling in Marketing

I guess I learned the art of storytelling, in a way that adds value to a humble product, from an aunt of mine.


Sumit Roy

3 years ago | 4 min read

I guess I learned the art of storytelling, in a way that adds value to a humble product, from an aunt of mine.

Bina Ray, (featured above), was technically my Jethima, (a Bengali term for wife of father’s elder brother), but we brothers and sisters, cousins really, all called her “Boudi”, (a Bengali term for brother’s wife), because that’s the way we had heard our parents address her.

Till the age of twelve, I grew up in a joint-family. Summer holidays were especially memorable as our cousins, then living in Delhi and Nagpur, would join us at our paternal home at 25 Southern Avenue, in what was still called Calcutta.

“Boudi” had a way that made mealtimes a much sought after occasion by all of us cousins.

Though the dining room of our spacious two stories paternal home had a dining table that expanded to accommodate twelve, “Boudi” would sit us down, on the floor, around a steaming hot thali.

On that platter, she would create a volcano of rice, with dal (lentil broth), or a vegetable pish-pash in the middle. Simple fare really. The moment she yelled, “Khete ay” (“Come, eat”) we would drop whatever it was that we were doing, and rush to take our places.

She would then ceremoniously demolish the volcano and create egg-shaped mouthfuls of food which she would arrange in sizes proportionate to our ages, with my eldest cousin seated to her left, and I, then the youngest, seated to her right, around the large platter.

As she cooled down the steaming hot food in the process, each of these “eggs” would get the names of phantasmagorical beasts, and it did not matter to us that very few of those animals were remotely connected with birds.

“Hati’r deem” (elephant’s egg) she would announce, for the large mouthful in front of my eldest cousin, while my first mouthful would always start as a “Pyara’r deem” (pigeon’s egg).

Each of these eggs was accompanied by a story, which, I now realize, was her artful way of making sure that we all chewed our food and got a generous helping of imagination.

By the time the second round of mouthfuls came our way, if any of us wanted to irritate a particular cousin, we would yell “Ghora’r deem” (horse’s egg), which is an idiomatic phrase in Bengali, meaning nonsense.

“Na, Pokkhiraj’er deem” she would intone and proceed to work in the egg of a Pegasus into her fascinating story of the day.

Much later, after I had grown up quite a bit, I realized that all of the stories that “Boudi” told us were not necessarily original. Many of them were based on the stories that abound in our rich mythologies of Mahabharat and Ramayan. Stories she had heard in her childhood. She would artfully blend them into the “eggs” she fed us giving us our daily nourishment of Indian heritage.

She had used storytelling to create a much sought after brand out of a simple meal of rice, lentils, and vegetables.

It’s an art that I find that most marketers who claim to be “storytellers” have not discovered as yet.

“Storytelling” is steadily becoming a much-abused term, in marketing. Like the word “insight”, it is losing its value, through overuse and rampant misuse.

It is now not unusual to find Storyteller built into one’s designation. Or a job description.

The term, “storyteller” in the context of marketing, seems to have come to mean someone who can write or speak engagingly.

Storytelling in Marketing is not just about being engaging. Unless your story adds value to your product, it isn’t going to build a brand.

Firstly, a really good story is something that the intended audience would want to hear again. And again. And want to pass on to others, in their own words.

In fact, if your story does not make a prosumer out of your intended audience, it isn’t much of a story. Clicking the “share” button does not make it a good story. The reader/ viewer must be able to retell it in his or her own words. Or it must inspire a similar personal anecdote that adds to the brand’s mythology.

In 21st century marketing, unless you can inspire the consumer to become the storyteller, enriching your brand with their own versions of the brand story you planted in their heads, you are not much of a story creator.

Storytelling imbues your brand with memorable characters and unforgettable rituals.

For example, there are many versions of the Cinderella story. But all the versions will have some story characteristics that don’t change, even in the retelling.

At the stroke of midnight, Cinderella will rush home and lose one of her slippers. Prince Charming must come in search of the girl and find the one that fits that metaphorical slipper. The girl that the prince found must have started out as the equivalent of a kitchen maid.

Whether the pumpkin turns in to a carriage, or a mouse into a stallion is immaterial to the essence of the story. Other embellishments can come and go. But some things in that story won’t change.

So it is with brands.

That is if you are a really good Story Creator in Marketing.

Brand stories don’t have to be long. But the idea has to be enduring.

It’s not just three-minute videos that can create relatable brand stories.

The Amul Girl is a character that we’ve grown to love. It does not take more than 10 seconds of the intended audience’s time to add to her story. At the heart of it, there has to be a pun or wordplay on contemporary Indian life. The world that’s utterly butterly delicious is not peopled by the Amul girl alone, but by characters who clearly have the same genes. You may not even use the “slogan”.

There. I’ve integrated their story into my post and voluntarily become their prosumer.

Storytellers who don’t know the business their brand is really in, aren’t really storytellers.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in marketing still struggle to answer the question ‘What business is your brand really in?’

If you can’t answer that, you do not have much chance of being a good brand story creator.

It’s essential that you know your brand’s emotionale and then find a way to weave a story around that brand purpose. (See Brands: What’s the fuss all about?)

“Boudi” wasn’t just feeding us our food. She was in the business of making us proud of our Indian heritage.


Created by

Sumit Roy







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