How To… Tell Stories in Physical Spaces
Nathan Watts, creative director at FITCH, WPP’s retail and brand consultancy, explains how using a space to tell a story can be the way to a consumer's heart.
I love a good story, but I love telling a good story even more. My skills as a verbal storyteller are still some way off perfection, ask my kids. More often than not they demand a kind of free-form story.
I’m trying to embrace the art of improv, of seeing where the story takes me. Sometimes I end up down a rabbit hole, but on occasion, I manage to latch onto a strong thread and find a killer end. When it happens, its magic. But it’s rare. I must practice I know!
The importance of storytelling
Modern brands know the importance of narrative and the power of a good story. More than a logo or a strap-line, the story, with its narrative, chapter structure and characterisation has a unique ability to connect at a deeper level and stir emotion. When we open ourselves to a good story, we allow the storyteller to apply layers of context. For brands, these layers provide a real opportunity to tell compelling stories that are ultimately more memorable. Indeed, a brand story, when applied artfully, can itself be a powerful differentiator.
At FITCH, we believe brands and retailers are missing a huge storytelling opportunity by ignoring a different type of channel, and it’s not online.
Above: (adidas Predator) Part of a multi-channel campaign designed by FITCH, the Predator Boot Experience tells an epic narrative of combative fear, aggressively imagined through form, texture, tone and imagery.
"In order to tap into emotions, it’s necessary to influence the right senses in the right way. Spatial design is all about putting together tactile surfaces and materials with the effects of light, colour and shadow."
Spaces for storytelling
So, why should brands consider using their physical spaces for storytelling and how can they go about telling their stories effectively in this way?
One of the key benefits of space for building narrative is that you, the guest or customer, are invited - and often required - to participate. More than simply listening or watching, the guest, by virtue of the physical parameters, enters the story and must navigate it. The participant is required to becomes a part of the story itself.
Brands and retailers need to harness the attributes of their physical assets to tell stories. Physical storytelling relies on recognising and activating a larger suite of sensory opportunities.
Above: Acrelik Cooking Station; The centrally located Cook Station advances the retailers story from being ‘a place to buy’ to ‘a place to achieve’.
"Space and volume can be used to evoke the awe of scale or the confines of intimacy."
Clarity and feeling more
In our day-to-day lives we’re constantly attempting to cut through digital clutter, and as a result, our 'offline' world has become a kind of refuge for clarity and realness. Here, we're exposed to the elements, our senses are active and primed. We are capable of digesting more, feeling more, we are more aware and more open to influence. The sensory and spatial conditions of the real world - where physical, human and digital elements collide - offers an ideal opportunity to bring narrative to life.
Emotion is a key component of effective physical storytelling. In order to tap into emotions, it’s necessary to influence the right senses in the right way. Spatial design is all about putting together tactile surfaces and materials with the effects of light, colour and shadow. Engaging spaces often augment layers of sound, smell and even taste. When combined effectively, these have the capacity to create an incredible wide range of feelings, from calm serenity one moment to extreme exhilaration the next.
Above: Disruptive car brand Lynk & Co offers unusually flavoured drinks at arrival to its offline store, the first of a series of quirky guest touchpoints, establishing the ‘doing things differently’ narrative for the unconventional automaker.
The key is in the orchestration of these elements, how they are arranged with the understanding of the physical space. Space and volume can be used to evoke the awe of scale or the confines of intimacy. It can also influence the guest in a free-flowing manner, or in a sequential movement. It’s the creative control over these dimensions that can turn a series of experiences into a compelling story.
For brands who want to tell stories more effectively in physical spaces, here are some techniques that can be used:
- Create a world: Construct an entire world providing context and scene setting.
- Control the journey: Control your journey and your story will unfold as you intend. A physical narrative is constructed with a beginning, middle and end.
- Use power of contrast: Amplifying the contrast between spaces can help to create drama in the journey. This can support storytelling where defined chapters are key to the narrative.
- Use symbols of metaphor: By using bold, physical metaphors, the space can hang off highly memorable, thought-provoking moments.
- Augment analogue with digital: Integrate moments of immersive digital to augment the analogue narrative.
So now you have some understanding of the opportunities, the tools and the techniques, it’s time to ask yourself ‘what stories shall we tell?’. That’s another story, but, for me, I need to practice my improv… it's nearly bedtime.