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Event Storytelling: How to Use the Art of Narrative to Craft an Event

January 3, 2018 | B2B, B2C, Event Marketing, Events

event storytelling

From caveman paintings to grandpa surrounded by his grandkids in the living room, the time-honored art form of storytelling has always been a part of human nature—and with good reason. Numerous studies have shown that the brain is far more stimulated by narrative than by hard facts. This is music to event marketers’ ears hoping to engage consumers on a personal level. A good story, after all, compels people to change the way they think, feel, and behave. Event storytelling is a perfect opportunity for brands to use narrative to create a memorable experience for their attendees.

Event storytelling is about taking attendees on an emotional journey, so to strengthen the story’s impact. Many brands will also take attendees on a physical journey that underscores the narrative and drives home key messaging. That’s how women’s lifestyle publication Refinery29 brings its digitally native brand, and the topics it covers, to life annually through 29 Rooms, an immersive multi-sensory experience that offers a journey through 29 distinct touchpoints at a warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. 29 Rooms “combines the interactivity of a funhouse and the cultural relevance of a museum” to highlight the issues that are most important to the publication. For example, “The Future is Female” room invites participants to put on punching gloves and smash punching bags that set off specific sounds when they’re hit, creating a “punching bag symphony.” This interactive experience perfectly highlights where Refinery29 stands on female empowerment—and it’s all part of Refinery29’s story.

Airbnb has also mastered the art of event storytelling, specifically its annual hosting event; Airbnb Open. Initially referred to as a conference, the experience has since been dubbed a “festival of hosting” to reflect the convivial nature of the event, as well as, the brand. The most recent iteration of the event took place in Los Angeles, where Airbnb aimed to provide attendees with the same sense of wonder and desire for discovery that they hope to instill in the travelers who utilize its hospitality platform. To that end, local L.A. neighborhood venues were integrated right into the fabric of the program. Attendees were able to converse with fellow Airbnb hosts between sessions at Pattern Bar in the city’s Fashion District, where the staff mixed cocktails named after famous L.A. designers. “We really wanted to reflect the senses of downtown Los Angeles,” says Sarah Goodnow, global lead at Airbnb Open. “[We aimed] to not feel overly produced, but authentic to the local community.” For a brand whose tagline is “Belong Anywhere,” it’s hard to imagine a more fitting way to incorporate its story into a memorable experience.

Another way to amplify your brand story through live experiences is leveraging event technology. Spotify incorporated this approach at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with its Spotify House activation, which provided insights on its global narratives and showcased its use of consumer data to improve the user experience. In one room of the Spotify House a projection mapping experience featured a wall mounted with easily recognizable objects. Attendees could select an item to illuminate, like a steering wheel, then review corresponding brand data, like how millions of cars have built-in Spotify integration. Technology-fueled storytelling that amplifies the brand’s data-driven strategy…Check!

Finally, consider knocking some sense into attendees—literally. A great way to forge emotional connections by storytelling is the use of a multi sensory strategy. By stimulating multiple senses simultaneously, brands are not only able to more deeply immerse attendees in the experience, but greatly increase the chances that the audience will emotionally attach to it. Aligning décor, lighting, the soundtrack and even refreshments with the broader story being told will create a more cohesive experience, and more importantly, one that evokes an impassioned response.

When you boil it down, event storytelling is often the cornerstone of a great experience. It allows brands to personally connect with, and engage attendees without feeling forced or gimmicky. Done right, it relays brand values and messaging in a way that invites attendees to become a part of that story (and share it with their friends). And as any event marketer will tell you, if your event is inducing FOMO, you’re doing something right!


Check out events and conferences designed and produced by Sparks.


Sparks clients will be at CES 2018, January 9-12 creating stories for their brands. To check out the details click here.

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