How to Use the Power of Storytelling in Education Branding (Q&A)

Storytelling in Education Branding

Dead Poets Society movie by Peter Wier

Have a message to convey? Forget slide presentations and spreadsheets, advises consultant Antonio Núñez. Rather, he says, focus on telling a good story.

(Q&A originally published by GMAC´s GM News.)

The opening keynote speaker for GMAC’s European Conference, Núñez has a wealth of experience in helping corporations, nonprofit organizations, and individuals integrate storytelling into their marketing and branding. After earning his MBA at ESADE, he worked for several multinational communication companies, including Saatchi & Saatchi and SCPF, one of Spain’s leading advertising agencies. He is a founding partner of Story and Strategy, which applies communication strategies based on storytelling. Núñez shared some of his insights with GM News.

Q. You advocate the power of using stories in marketing and branding. Can you briefly describe that concept?

A. I have been interested in stories since I was a child. When I started to work with brands and consumer experiences, I realized that individual brand experiences are both experienced as stories and told as stories to other people. Thus, I discovered many parallels between what a fiction story could be and what a brand story could be.

What I do basically is to transform experiences into a story with conflict, archetypes, and beginnings and ends, to try to help consumers experience the brand as a story.

Q. Can you give one or two examples of successful storytelling in business?

A. One of the most successful examples is Coca-Cola. They collect every good story that consumers may have about their brand. In fact, they have a story-telling theater in Las Vegas where professional storytellers share stories that show how Coca-Cola is not only a brand but is also part of our lives and identity. The theater features several well-known true stories that happened around a bottle of Coke.

Apple, along with CEO Steve Jobs, represents another good example of how you can build both business leadership and brand leadership through the stories that your CEO and your employees can tell about your brand, company, and services. There are a lot of parallels here with educational institutions, where faculty members and others on campus also tell stories.

Q. In today’s business world, which obviously relies heavily on numbers and facts, how can storytelling compete as a means to convey a message?

A. We are learning that we are emotional animals—we are driven by emotions first and then by rationality. That is where stories are more powerful than PowerPoints and data. Stories contain emotions, conflicts, and many different senses. Stories are a faster way to capture an audience’s attention. Stories also have something that numbers do not have, which is that the audience gives sense to the stories that it hears. That has two advantages. First, a story involves you and demands that you decide what the story is trying to tell. Second, if you have a story, you want to share it. Stories are therefore a better way to help people remember what they need to remember about your brand, project, or presentation.

Also important is that stories come in their own words. In business today we are moving from a mass media environment to a one-to-one, online environment. That means that you have to respect how people tell their own stories. At the same time, you need to strive for brand reputation consistency, something that is very difficult. That is why stories are important.

Q. Can you give an example or two of how a business school might apply storytelling in its own marketing?

A. One thing to note concerns rankings. Sometimes is it very difficult to compete through rankings. Rankings can be very subjective and are sometimes not multidimensional but based on only two or three factors. Sometimes you want to play in a different arena. To help do that, your university or MBA program has to have a story—that is, something that has a conflict in it. Why should a university or brand embrace a conflict? Because it will become important for your target audience if that audience is interested in that conflict. By conflict, for example, we might mean “finding a job,” obviously a No. 1 concern of students but also a means to transform your family, or a means to learn and transform yourself into a better human being. Conflict is something that has to be connected to your brand.

Universities should work to spread their stories across their networks of alumni. By sharing stories within this network, you will be building your reputation and your relationship network.

Q. When you speak at the GMAC European Conference, what key messages do you hope your audience will take away from your talk?

A. The first message is that you cannot rely on traditional mass media to build your image and your reputation. Such channels are becoming less efficient and effective. You need to move to different social networks, both offline and online. In these networks, stories are a key tool. They can be supported in many media, such as video, podcasts, and websites, but the main tool is the story, and storytelling. I also plan to talk about what a true story is, which is not just about rational argument and a certain order and structure. The stories that you tell to describe your programs should have smell, texture, and many different conflicts so that they appeal to your prospective students.

Another topic will be how you can create a consistent story through the different channels available to educational institutions. There are many different stories within a university or an MBA program, and you have to create consistency while allowing people the freedom to tell their own stories. That balance is very important.

The GMAC European Conference took place 24-25 October 2010 at Ashridge Business School in the United Kingdom.

A version of this interview was originally published in GMAC-GM News

For ideas and tips on marketing, storytelling and communication, you can join Antonio Nunez´s free newsletter at antonionunez.com or follow his Twitter @AntonNunez

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