Fresh off of learnings from SXSW Interactive, I headed to Social Media Marketing World to stay ahead of shifts in platforms and approaches for 2016 and beyond. The conference kicked off in San Diego yesterday, filled with networking events and workshops that helped attendees dig deeper into some of the concepts growing in importance.


I attended “The Business of Story: How to Craft and Tell Compelling Brand Stories That Sell” led by Park Howell, a brand story strategist and host of the new podcast the Business of Story. His approach to the 10-Step Story Cycle is reminiscent of PulsePoint Group’s approach, solidifying the timelessness and staying power of our oldest form of communication, now applied to business. Storytelling is hugely powerful for brands because the neuroscience behind it and the intoxicating effect it has on our brains. Powell reported that Adelante Healthcare grew by more than 300% from a local community health center to a national leader in sustainable health care after committing to its story. Goodwill of Central Arizona grew by more than 400% by understanding and sharing their authentic brand narrative. And our favorite example is how REI wove the universal story structure into its disruptive #OptOutside Black Friday campaign.


The REI campaign truly epitomized storytelling success. It showed how a brand expressly living its values can galvanize an entire community – in this case, to get outside. As Powell sees it, here are the steps of the Story Cycle that REI framed #OptOutside with:


  1. Backstory: Turn Black Friday into a glorious outdoor outing
  2. Heroes: Employees, customers, shareholders and prospects
  3. Stakes: Finding oneself bonding with nature and REI
  4. Disruption: Appreciate the value of spending time outdoors instead of losing yourself in the consumer wilderness of Black Friday
  5. Antagonists: Movement cynics
  6. Mentor: REI, who equips you mentally and physically to find yourself outdoors
  7. Journey: The online tools and community to Sherpa participants to their next outdoor adventure
  8. Victory: Social sharing that encourages and celebrates individual quests
  9. Moral: The spiritual reward of opting-in to the great out-of-doors
  10. Ritual: Begin your next adventure at REI


Though Howell didn’t go this far into detail in his workshop (he focused primarily on defining the “hero” and helping attendees discover their story), it’s clear that more and more businesses are adapting storytelling to their content and campaign creation. To learn more, read Howell’s “You just completed your first Story Cycle workshop, now what?” blog post that reinforces workshop teachings and offers resources to help audiences put them into practice.


The workshop begs the question: Is your business crafting stories to humanize your brand and more deeply connect with your employees, customers, and stakeholders? If not, it’s time to develop your storytelling capabilities. The very fact that such emphasis is being placed on it at Social Media Marketing World suggests that companies can no longer overlook stories if they hope for success in 2016 and beyond. Let me know how we can help.


With Workshop Sunday under my belt, it’s time for the first day full of sessions. Here are my top 7 picks for Monday:


  • Social Media Marketing in 2016: What the Newest Research Reveals
  • Brand Storytelling: How to Leverage the Power of Story to Grow Your Business: A Panel Discussion
  • How Big Brands Are Using Social Influencers to Gain Massive Reach
  • The New Age of Influencer Marketing: How Businesses Are Fast Tracking Success
  • How to Organize Cross Functional Marketing Across the Business
  • How to Thrive and Not Just Survive Your Next Crisis Management Situation
  • Testing, Hustling and Outrageous Transparency in the Digital Age


Can’t attend? Stay tuned for a SMMW recap documenting my key takeaways.