If you still think that storytelling is just a “nice to have,” a luxury for blue-chip corporations who have resources to spare, you need to meet Rob Morris.
In 2004, Morris, a long-time human rights advocate, established Justice for Children International, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child sex trafficking. In its early years, the organization gained a certain amount of attention by building its marketing around shocking statistics, such as the fact that two children are sold into prostitution every minute.
But Morris knew that they were capable of much, much more.
So he started telling a story.
Back in 2002, Morris and some colleagues had traveled to Southeast Asia, where they went undercover with investigators to witness the child sex trade firsthand. When they entered one particular brothel, Morris had an experience that would change his life forever. Here’s how he describes it:
“We found ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with predators in a small room, looking at little girls through a pane of glass. All of the girls wore red dresses with a number pinned to their dress for identification.
“They sat, blankly watching cartoons on TV. They were vacant, shells of what a child should be. There was no light in their eyes, no life left. Their light had been taken from them. These children … raped each night … seven, ten, fifteen times every night. They were so young. Thirteen, eleven… it was hard to tell. Sorrow covered their faces with nothingness.
“Except one girl. One girl who wouldn’t watch the cartoons. Her number was 146. She was looking beyond the glass. She was staring out at us with a piercing gaze. There was still fight left in her eyes. There was still life left in this girl …”
Morris made this story — and this young girl — the rallying point for his organization, changing its name to Love146 in 2007.
All of a sudden, the fight wasn’t about millions of faceless minors. It was about one girl. One girl with flesh and blood and a heart and a soul. And a story.
Then something amazing happened:
The story went viral, sparking a grassroots campaign that generated worldwide awareness and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Between 2007 and 2012, the organization’s total revenue grew from $1.1 to more than $2.6 million, and it now has permanent offices in the UK, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
That, folks, is the power of storytelling.
So, what can we as content marketers learn from the story of Love146?
- Statistics can make an impression, but stories raise emotion … and emotion leads to action.
- Keep your story simple; resist the urge to provide every little detail.
- Make it easy for your brand advocates to share your story.