How to Tell a Great Story (Even in Times of Crisis)

May 17, 2021

One positive we saw from the COVID lockdown was the emergence of so many captivating stories, on so many different platforms. Brands who were paying attention were also able to break through the noise, telling uplifting stories in the darkest of hours. 

Derek Hubbard, a manager on the external communications team at Southwest Airlines, has been passionate about storytelling since he was a young child. In both his personal and professional life, he believes that great storytelling as all about creating and capturing moments that matter.

In this session from our DS at Home archives (full video above!), Derek delivered a bunch of helpful insights and tips for creating captivating stories, even during the most challenging of times, and put this into practice in our organizations.

What Makes a Great Story? (4:40)

Hubbard kicks this session off with three key components that he believes make up a great story. In his view, the best stories incorporate three “H’s” – 1) Honest, 2) Human, and 3) Heart. Each of these components helps a storyteller to connect at a more meaningful, personal level with the audience. 

Honest: Stories that are rooted in truth, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, personal, or told by brands, connect with audiences in a more genuine way.

Human: The best stories tap into the human condition, connecting us to larger issues at a personal level. 

Heart: Creating stories that are grounded in a place of love, caring, and acceptance will often create a deeper link to the audience at an emotional level.

How Southwest Approaches Their Social Content (7:00)

Social and digital content is at the core of Southwest Airline’s storytelling strategy. Hubbard describes the three primary types of content that the brand deploys to connect with its audience:

Transactional Content: Used to promote customer action surrounding a product or a service (i.e. fare sales and contests)

Operational Content: Used to communicate information or updates that may affect the company’s operation (i.e. travel advisories)

Reputational Content: Used to enhance brand perception and create a customer experience (i.e. telling stories that reinforce a brand message)

Hubbard shares examples, such as the brand’s #RescueTheDress social media campaign, of how Southwest Airlines tells stories via social media to connect more deeply with their customers.

Southwest’s marketing team is deliberate in the ways that they try to connect with their audience and extend the reach of these stories through other communications channels, such as PR and traditional advertising. They also empower their employees to help tell the stories on the brand’s behalf, which adds a personal element to resonate with customers.

DO THIS: Look at your own brand and determine which content “buckets” make the most sense for your business. Use these as a guiding force in your storytelling and content creation efforts.

Social Listening (15:15)

Hubbard goes on to emphasize the importance of social listening for brands as it pertains to finding great stories to tell. He believes that social listening is a powerful tool to fuel business and deliver real-time results, and recommends the following tips for developing a social listening strategy:

  • Set up a social listening system that turns noise into customers’ voices
  • Identify key social opportunities so you can respond to customers in real time
  • Learn more about your audience to keep your brand relevant
  • Create audience connections that generate more powerful brand loyalty
  • Use customer stories to promote your business
  • Activate real-time marketing to meet business goals

Telling Stories In A Crisis (24:00)

Many brands will find themselves facing a crisis of some sort eventually, and Hubbard’s team at Southwest is no stranger to this. Hubbard makes the point that brands facing a crisis need to find creative ways to still support and reinforce their core messages and tell impactful stories in a delicate way that is observant of the other factors that may be in play. He lays out six communication goals that brands should keep in mind when communicating during a crisis. These are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Transparency
  3. Quickness
  4. Genuineness
  5. Progressiveness
  6. Omni-Channel

DO THIS: Re-visit your brand’s crisis communications plan (or create one, if one is not in place) and strategize how you will respond in a crisis. As part of this plan, identify ways to listen to your audience during a crisis so that you will be able to respond swiftly and effectively.

Throughout the session, Hubbard reminds us to listen, ideate, and engage as we tell our brand stories. Through trusting our data, utilizing the skills and strengths of our team members, rallying around customer-generated content, and capturing moments that matter, each of us can create world-class stories that will keep our audiences coming back for more long after the pandemic is behind us.


To hear from experts like Derek on the regular, check out an upcoming Digital Summit event.