The Power of Storytelling
Cristina Jones, Chief Engagement Officer, Salesforce.org, discusses the need for and impact of intentional storytelling
Feeling Seen USA from System1 is a how-to guide that helps brands and agencies understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to making ads that celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Filled with inspiring case studies, actionable insights and contributions from industry experts, the report is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the data and best practices behind effective diverse ads.
One of our experts is Cristina Jones, Chief Engagement Officer at Salesforce.org. Jones joined Salesforce.org in 2018 from 20th Century Fox. She is an intentional storyteller, action leader and creative visionary who believes that technology, business and celebrating humanity can drive positive social impact.
In 2021, Salesforce.org became the technology partner for “Inheritance,” a project by The Atlantic that shares stories of the African Diaspora and the Black American experience. That same year, Jones helped launch Force Multiplier, an award-winning iHeartRadio Original podcast that explores how to solve the world’s greatest challenges through collaboration.
Thus far in 2022, Jones has been recognized as an honoree at Girls Leadership’s 6th Annual Power of Voice Benefit, launched the second season of Force Multiplier and led the Salesforce.org partnership with LL COOL J’s Rock The Bells to raise awareness for mental health by leveraging voices within the Hip-Hop community.
We discuss with Jones how brands can get storytelling right.
Why is intentional storytelling so important?
Cristina Jones –
Intentional storytelling makes for more impactful, authentic and relatable content. It has the power to connect better with audiences, build community and connections and inspire meaningful change. To push us forward, stories should focus on action, impact and culture. We all have different perspectives, but there are also many experiences that we all share, no matter who we are.
At Salesforce.org, we thoughtfully engage our community through the voices of visionaries like educators, philanthropists, community leaders and bridge-builders. By bringing these human experiences to the forefront, storytelling is inherently diverse.
Why must brands that commit to inclusive advertising go beyond focusing just on identity?
Cristina Jones –
While it’s necessary to showcase different identities in advertising, brands must understand that this is the bare minimum. We need to go further than simply picking specific genders, skin tones or body types to feature to achieve representation, as this often pushes storytelling to the backburner.
The content we create should be contributing to our culture. What are the issues that are connecting or even dividing people right now? What will really resonate? Whether it’s climate change or another cause, there are certain topics that can be expressed through strong storytelling. By broadening our view and bringing valuable experiences of many different people into the spotlight, we will succeed in featuring people from diverse backgrounds. While our identities are important, they don’t serve as a substitute for meaningful content.
How can brands successfully develop entertaining content that showcases diversity?
Cristina Jones –
The first step is to ensure that there is a diverse team in place. This is key to unearthing real human truths. A narrow subset of the global population should not be deciding what is relatable for everyone else or we run the risk of telling stories incorrectly or ignoring certain ones altogether.
But it’s about more than just having multiple perspectives at the table, because if some people who have been given a seat don’t feel comfortable to freely share their ideas and concerns, then there is an influence imbalance. Every chair should be the same size and sturdiness in order to offer an equal experience for everyone. Otherwise, this can also lead to inaccurate and disconnected storytelling.
Once your inclusive team is built and everyone understands that they have the power to make important contributions, you can then go about determining which issues and stories you want to highlight with the confidence that they’ll be portrayed sensitively and entertain.
As this process progresses, be open to making adjustments as you gain new insights. For example, if your storytelling is based around the experiences of Asian Americans, you may uncover through ad testing that the way in which specific aspects of their culture are depicted is leading to feelings of anger or sadness among viewers, rather than positive emotions. Take feedback to heart so that your creative will be memorable and meaningful.