How Breaking the Fourth Wall Sparks Great Storytelling

April 3rd, 2017

How Breaking the Fourth Wall Sparks Great Storytelling

Your marketing firewall can get between you and your audience.

Last year I wrote a content piece about live streaming (I was honored that it was a top ten post on Convince and Convert for 2016, and thanks to Brian Fanzo, whom I interviewed in the article). The piece focused on how brands are finding success by letting users in on behind-the-scenes events. It’s also something I wrote about in my book, Stop Boring Me! It’s time to break the fourth wall in storytelling. That’s key to brand success in 2017.

Company walls are porous anyway. Whatever happens in companies does not stay there. There is no “us” and “them”—there is only a “we.” It is time for companies to take this artifice that gets between themselves and audiences down.

It’s time to break the fourth wall in storytelling—the key to brand success in 2017. Click To Tweet

Break the Fourth Wall

Breaking the fourth wall happens in performance when an actor (improviser, comedian, etc.) interacts with the audience and brings them into the performance. It creates the “we.” It says to people that there is no wall between us and the audience. And, in the corporate space, it signals that there is no wall between the company and its customers.

Truly, there isn’t—there is only the shared “we.” Improvisers (I am a businessperson and an improviser) know this well. Without your best customers, you have no brand. They own the brand, so it’s time to let them in on where it makes sense. As I said to the attendees at the Visual Storytelling Institute Conference when I gave my keynote, “When you break the fourth wall to engage your audience, you create magic.” Because when you allow people to participate in the direction of the experience as it happens, you create a shared experience of “we.”

This is a storytelling imperative for companies this year.

How Can Brands Break the Fourth Wall?

Here are a just a few ways to let users in. You can also reference some of these ideas in my article on 10 ways to kill boring content.

1. Explore Behind-the-Scenes Live Video

Allow your users backstage and behind the scenes with live video. Fashion companies have done this well, certain tech conferences have done this, and Target has done this especially well with fashion (they did a behind-the-scenes of the commercial the company did with Gwen Stefani, for example). Target could go even further, for example, and allow real kids in to test toys during holidays.

2. Bring Them Along for the Journey

Allow customers in on your next steps. Starbucks does this: They invite their VIP customers to tour their headquarters and meet with CEO Howard Schultz to preview new products, ideas, and experiences and give feedback on what’s new with the company. That builds great relationships with micro-influencers. One of their biggest micro-influencers is Starbucks Melody.

3. Embrace User- and Employee-Generated Content

Co-create content with your users and partners (as well as employees). Ask them to share their experiences with you. Tough Mudder does an amazing job—most of their content is user-created based on their group participation experiences (community videos are great!). It creates the “we.” GoPro does the same thing (its Instagram feed is all customer videos). This allows people to share their world so others can experience that same point of view. We will see more of this, especially as VR and AR become more pervasive in storytelling and in commercially viable applications beyond just gaming.

4. Co-Create with Customers

Co-create products and services with users. Dell does this with features on Ideastorm, and so does Proctor & Gamble. What percent of innovations, products, or service ideas come from your customer communities?

5. Encourage Customer Storytelling

Allow customers to tell their stories of your brand, and use that as your content. Let go a bit, and trust your best employees and customers. Your best customers want you to succeed. Let them help you. Lay’s Do Us a Flavor contest is a great example here. So is IBM’s Smarter Planet.

6. Build Vibrant Community

Build a community where your ideal users advise and give feedback as well as help other users. Spiceworks does a great job here, as does Intuit’s Quickbooks community. In these communities, the glue that keeps people coming back is that users develop relationships with other users by helping each other.

Let your best users into your world. Let them help you be better. Start with small things—video behind-the-scenes tours and Q&A sessions can help, as can asking your users to create content or co-create it with you. Start small if it’s new. Just start somewhere. Your brand doesn’t talk at users; it’s owned by them. They decide what your brand is. It’s time marketing acted like it.

How will you take the company wall down? I would love to hear from you.

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