Break the Fourth Wall for Brand Storytelling Success

Last year I wrote a piece about live streaming (I was honored that it was a top ten post on Convince and Convert for 2016 and thanks to Brian Fanzo who I interviewed in the article). The piece focused on how brands are finding success by letting users in on behind the scenes events. It’s also something I wrote about in my book: It’s time to break the fourth wall in storytelling. That’s key to brand success in 2017.

That is a huge point. Company walls are porous anyway. There is no us and them – there is only a “we.” It is time for companies to this artifice that gets between themselves and audiences down.

Tech and the Fourth Wall

Break the Fourth Wall

Breaking the 4th wall happens in performance when an actor (improviser, comedian, etc.) interacts with the audience and brings them into the performance. It creates the “we.” It says there is no wall between us and the audience, and, in the corporate space, it signals that there is no wall between the company and their customers.

breaking the fourth wall

Source: Wikipedia. Pam from the Office and Brian, the sound guy

Lots of shows have broken the fourth wall with audiences: How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, House of Cards (Kevin Spacey’s character), Saved by the Bell, 30 Rock….just to name a few.

Because truly there isn’t – there is only the shared “we.” Improvisers – I am a businessperson and an improviser – know this well. Without your best customers, you have no brand. They own the brand so it’s time to let them in on where it makes sense. As I said to the attendees at the Visual Storytelling Institute Conference when I gave my keynote: “When you take break the fourth wall to engage your audience, you create magic.” Because when you allow people to participate in the direction of the experience as it happens, you create a shared experience of “we.”

This is a storytelling imperative for companies this year.

How Can Brands Break the Fourth Wall?

Here are a just a few ways to let users in. You can also reference some of these ideas in my article on 10 ways to kill boring content:

  1. Allow your best users backstage and behind the scenes with live video. Fashion companies have done this well, certain tech conferences have done this, and Target has done this. Target can go even further, for example, and allow real kids in to test toys during holidays.
  2. Allow them in on your next steps. Starbucks does this – they invite their VIP customers to tour their headquarters and meet with CEO Howard Schultz to preview new products, ideas and experiences, and give feedback on what’s new with the company.
  3. Co-create content with your users and partners (as well as employees). Ask them to share their experiences with you. Tough Mudder does an amazing job – most of their content is user- created based on their group participation experiences. It creates the “we.” GoPro does the same thing. That allows people to share their world so others can experience that same point of view. We will see more of this – especially as VR and AR matures in storytelling and commercially viable applications.
  4. Co-create products and services with users. Dell does this with features and so does P&G (Proctor and Gamble). What percent of innovations, products, or service ideas come from your customer communities?
  5. Allow customers to tell their stories of your brand and use that as your content. Let go a bit, and trust your best employees and customers. Your best customers want you to succeed. Let them help you.
  6. Build a community where your ideal users advise and give feedback as well as help other users. Spiceworks does a great job here as does Intuit’s Quickbook’s community.

Final Thoughts

The big thing is to let your best users into your world. Let them help you be better. Starting with small things – video “behind the scenes” tours and Q&A sessions can help, as can asking your users to create content or co-create it with you. Start small if it’s new. Start somewhere.

Your brand doesn’t talk at users; rather, it’s owned by them. They decide what your brand is. It’s time marketing acted like it.

How will you take the company wall down? I would love to hear from you in the comments.


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By | 2017-10-31T14:16:30+00:00 January 17, 2017|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. […] I’ve written extensively about this concept of breaking the 4th wall and I believe it is not an option any longer when it comes to great brand and business storytelling. How are you creating with your audience? And if you haven’t enjoyed it, do check out Harold Lloyd!! This was a fun keynote I did recently – and I got to re-enact those scenes! It’s what my 9 yro brain has never forgotten. We’re all storytellers and we’re not destined to grow out of it. […]

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