The differences between a tired, old, has-been of a brand and a fresh, lithe and provocative one can be boiled down to a singular concept: storytelling. The art of telling a story, and telling it well, is integral to grabbing every potential customer’s attention, and a key part of your brand strategy.
An evocative narrative can also help your brand hold that attention. When your brand engages the hopes, dreams, aspirations, empathy, sense of humour and so forth — in short, the emotions of your clients — you stand a much greater chance of retaining those individuals attention, and being remembered by them, because they relate to your message and you have enriched their lives in a small but meaningful way.
Who doesn’t like to be surprised by a strange news story, or to laugh at a clever series of jokes strung together in a pithy YouTube video?
For these reasons and more, content marketing has taken its place at the top of the food chain, with every business feeding this great, omnipotent entity. Entrepreneur.com called 2014 the “Year of the Story” due to the explosive rise of content marketing, and other modern forms of brand storytelling.
The venerable institution of the Harvard Business Review recently published a piece on the power great storytelling has over the human brain. With so much compelling evidence about the absolute importance of storytelling, and its growing prevalence, you might agree that its worth incorporating this dynamic tool into your rebranding strategy.
We Have Always Been Storytellers
Ever since humankind was composed entirely of hunters and gatherers, we have been congregating around campfires to keep warm, to be in good company and to while away the nighttime hours with storytelling.
Before we even learn to speak, we giggle gleefully at the cadence and colour of a good yarn told by our parents or grandparents. As each of us matures, we seek out more and more complex tales. That pursuit is part of what makes us human.
Stories provide shelter from the proverbial cold nights of human existence; they give each of us much needed catharsis. We have used many media to relate powerful, emotionally-charged stories over the millennia of human existence: cave paintings, tablets, parchment, novels, novellas, newspapers and, now, the Internet. What does storytelling look like on the Internet?
The Top 5 Components of a Great Brand Story
The secret to success in the elegant art of storytelling lies in understanding its fundamental components. Though by no means comprehensive, what follows is a breakdown of some major elements that any good story should include. These are in fact some of the key ingredients we incorporate in our Story Selling System™ used when developing our clients’ brand stories:
1. The Call
Also known as the outset or journey, this beginning is integral to the life of a story because it provides the reader/viewer/listener with the seeds of a theme that will grow over the course of the story. Rites of passage, the first pangs of a heady romance or a simple scene of a family at home each will set the stage for what is to come in that particular story. In other words, they provide the essential “why.”
2. Colourful Characters
Every story needs a cast of full-bodied, three-dimensional heroes/heroines, sages/gurus, villain, foils, clowns and so on. Research shows that character-driven stories with strong emotional content result in better understanding of key messages and stronger recall weeks later.
3. Setting the Scene
Next the teller will build upon the beginning by showing what “a day in the life” is like. Establishing the “norm” is critical to a good story, because you need to strike a balance before you can upset it.
The difference between a great story and a simple anecdote is conflict. Conflict leads to struggle and strife, the expression of fears, failures and frustration. Uncertainty and self-doubt, among many other narrative tools, allow the storyteller to build up tension and, thus, excitement with sustained listener attention.
5. The Breakthrough
Also called the climax of a story, this is the part where, in branding terms, you make the conversion. After an enticing beginning, the introduction of a wonderful cast, setting the scene and building up tension through adversity, the climax represents the apex of conflict. Then occurs the breakthrough, that moment when, at last, we achieve resolution. This element is necessary to the successful conclusion of a story because it provides catharsis, which is the big reason we seek to escape through stories in the first place.
The Humanity of Brand Storytelling
A study published by the University of California, Berkeley, found that oxytocin is the neurochemical that makes it possible for human beings to experience empathy and take a voyage of the mind by reading, watching or listening to stories.
Character-driven tales resonate with the human brain on the deepest levels. To effectively translate this information to aid your rebranding initiatives, first know that oxytocin is also responsible for the human impulses of cooperation and charity. That makes sense, because these drives naturally derive from our ability to empathize.
This empathy is not limited to real-world (i.e. nonfictional) people, either. Our brains’ production of oxytocin ensures that we emulate the feelings the characters on the screen or on the page are feeling. In a tragedy, we are right there with the hero, grieving for the loss of his mother. An action-packed adventure liberates us from the mundane and makes us feel like we really are Indiana Jones, swooping in to steal an ancient artifact.
The most important, and often unspoken, rule of storytelling is that you must tell human-scale stories, because doing so humanizes your brand. You will have found a winning rebranding strategy if you can manage to instill your brand’s core values, mission, vision, promise, experience and personality into believable human characters.
A perfect example of this is Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” ad campaign. This ad perfectly targets the aspirations of real, everyday people, and thus the brand is powerfully related to our common struggles, making us much more likely to pay attention and, eventually, buy the product.
Unifying Branding and Storytelling
Video content marketing: 2012-2013 video was one of the fastest growing segments. Everyone now has a device that you can access good, high quality video from just about anywhere. Videos don’t need to be that expensive either. Sure, you need high end video, but telling a strong story through a video series is very powerful. Viral video does not equal content marketing, but a tool thereof. What you really want is to be shared, which requires an integrated approach. Consistently tell a story that enables customers to do something. Some stories are most effectively told through video, and more and more will fall under this category in the future.
Here is a great, short video by Joe Pulizzi to explain further.
The Personal Touch
A wonderful, multipart video ad campaign is Progressive Insurance’s “Small Business Tips,” which answers questions that any small business owner might have. Part one focuses on where to naturally find your ideal hires, showcasing short clips of a restaurant followed by the tip itself: “fish where the fish are.”
In just 39 seconds, this video tells a micro story which sets up the “why,” establishes conflict (finding those hires) and ultimately resolves the problem with the tip, the lesson learned.
Another type of cutting-edge and clever marketing is the interactive video. An advertisement for the Subaru Forester, entitled “The Big Night,” takes viewers on a visual journey during which they have to make choices. These may be technically simple, as the style boils down to “yes or no” or multiple choice. However, by putting the prospect into the role of a detective of sorts, he or she clicks through the mini-adventure out of curiosity.
Image via www.subaru-global.com
By the time the advert is over, the prospective customer has learned a lot about the Forester’s features but the experience was so seamless that he or she doesn’t even know that that information has been woven into his or her mind.
A Picture is Worth… You Know the Rest
In line with the video brand storytelling, a powerful way to evoke the emotions of your audience is to share your message in the form of eye-catching brand collateral or graphics and pictures. Whether inspiring, thought-provoking, comical, anything in between or any combination thereof, visual content marketing is on the rise.
We all know the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but there is a reason it’s considered a cliché: the sentiment is indisputably true. A great example of this would be the Panera Bread’s Pinterest page, which the company keeps constantly updated with not only hi-definition pictures of its products but also self-care and crafting tips, among other topics, all of which reflect the brands story and values while continuing to resonate with is constantly growing list of followers — now at over 40,000.
No matter what angle you go for when creating and publishing your brand story through a visual content marketing campaign, just be sure that your approach is share-worthy yet human, personal and specific, yet primed for mass consumption.
The best part of telling a brand story well is that relating to your customer on a personal level is precisely what gives it the potential for universal appeal. We all, fundamentally, are endowed with the same capacity to love, fear, to be joyful or melancholy. Storytelling, in essence, unites us with the rest of humankind.
Storytelling Can Serve any Brand
Whether your brand is big or small, new to the market or an established behemoth, storytelling for the purposes of branding or rebranding is a really powerful tool that is easily accessible to you.
Instagram is free to use; a recurring blog with regular, fresh content can be put in place choosing from a plethora of hosting sites; and video blogs or mini-series can be put up on YouTube, Vimeo or your own website. The most important thing though is to ensure you are consistent across all your chosen brand platforms, channels and touchpoints.
Your brand story and how it expresses itself be must congruent and authentic in how it reflects your brand personality, values, vision, mission, promise and experience offered.
With so many apps and avenues to choose from, the hardest part might be choosing the one most suited to your brand strategy and primary target audience. The trick to successfully implementing brand storytelling to invigorate or reinvigorate your brand is to uncover what makes your brand truly unique and amplifying the elements that bring that special brand DNA to life through your brand storytelling.
In other words, what is your story? How can it be related to the struggles of everyday people (i.e. your customers)? How does your brand solve their problems and meet their needs?
Would you be better served by posting a series of captivating storytelling images, a customer testimonial backed by invigorating music or a short personable message from one of the leaders in your company, adding that invaluable human touch?
Brand storytelling helps businesses grow, increases brand awareness and most importantly helps increase profitability so what’s stopping you from telling your own brand story and bringing it to life in a way that really captures the imagination of your primary customer?
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So what do you think?
• How does your rebranding strategy incorporate storytelling?
• What ad campaign do you remember well because it incorporated brand storytelling so successfully?
• Does your branding strategy incorporate the top 5 components of great storytelling?
• Could your brand’s adverts use more empathetic storytelling?
• Are your adverts strongly tied to your brand identity?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.