How to Change the Conversation About Your Brand Through Disruptive Storytelling

July 10th, 2014
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How to Change the Conversation About Your Brand Through Disruptive Storytelling Tressa Robbins BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas Public Relations PRSA PR Media Monitoring Press Clipping McDonalds

flickr user Tsahl Levent-Levi under CC BY license

We all know that storytelling is a key component of public relations. We tell stories to enhance our brand, our client and/or our mission. You know your story is being heard, but is your audience really listening?

McDonald’s USA public relations manager Christina Tyler, APR, spoke last week at the PRSA Midwest District Conference on how to be disruptive to get your points across. She began by showing McDonald’s advertising clips, spanning four decades (that’s 40 years for those who are math-challenged), all saying their burgers are 100% pure beef. This message was loud and clear in the ads; yet, in nearly every focus group, the main question people had was “What’s in the beef?”

Tyler talked about consumers seeing Super Size Me and making (incorrect) assumptions about their ingredients. Or, perhaps they saw a Facebook post that was a hoax, myth or urban legend, but gets passed along by the uninformed as truth. She discussed how stimuli gets interpreted by our beliefs to form “facts” that may not be facts at all. Perception IS reality.

Time to get disruptive! It doesn’t have to be “in your face” or rude, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to engage trolls. What you do need to do is to interrupt the flow of information. Tyler laid out six disruptive tactics McDonald’s has used and why they work:

 1. Start on the inside of the organization

  • Make sure the customer’s voice is present. Be sure your messages, campaigns and programs support what the marketing team is saying/doing. Push your organization’s tolerance.
  • This works because consumers are naturally “me” focused. Consistency across all touch points improves the likelihood of being heard.

2. Play to the heart

  • Leverage your history and shared cultural experiences (like the Dove soap commercials, for example). Lead with your values. Step aside and let fans tell the stories that matter to them.
  • This works because it makes people feel “warm and fuzzy” so they are more likely to listen. People like to share their own stories—you simply provide the platform.

3. Transparency

  • Show them everything.
  • People need to see to believe.

4. Change the messenger

  • Move away from corporate spokespeople and toward real people. Credibility doesn’t always equal credentials.
  • Letting someone they trust share the story improves believability.

5. Provide unexpected access

  • First, broaden your idea of who should get access. Offer face time with CEO, or take them behind the scenes, or better yet—put them to work. Let them experience it–see it, touch it, feel it. Tyler gave the example here of taking a blogger to the farm where McDonald’s ingredients are grown and having them crack an egg or pick a piece of lettuce.
  • Seeing is believing; doing is even better. That’s why this works.

6. Take yourself out of context

  • Make it possible for customers to experience you in a new milieu. Surprise them by doing something unexpected of your brand. For example, last year, McDonald’s held a Top Chef event in New York where they gave top chefs the ingredients used in McDonald’s restaurants and had them create a menu. They invited 100 people to sample the results. People were amazed that these gourmet dishes came from the same ingredients as are found under their local ”golden arches.”
  • You can probably see from the example why this works. If you can truly set aside existing perceptions, then you have better odds at engaging in a new dialogue.

So, ask yourself, is what’s standing in the way of me disrupting the status quo and getting my message across the adherence to doing things the way it has always been done just because that’s the way it’s always been done? If the answer is yes, then get disruptive!

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