Storytelling is a powerful business tool and the key to strong brand marketing. Throughout human history, stories have existed as a way to establish shared values and bring people together. Homer’s epic poetry has survived for thousands of years because the stories reveal truths we can all relate to, regardless of the century or time period. In short, stories draw on empathy, making them both engaging and enduring, but what part do they have to play in your brand marketing plan?
Emotional vs. Logical in branded storytelling
Many brands take a logical approach when marketing a product. They will tell the consumer, “You need this laptop because it’s the best on the market and it will outperform your old PC.” However, to try to sell a product this way is to deny a universal truth: that every human decision is motivated by emotion.
Therefore, some of the most powerful ads are those that show products being used by people to fulfill an emotional need.
For example, rather than being sold to a generalized audience as the “latest notebook computer that’s easy to carry and has twice the storage space,” a laptop brand might tell the story of one of their target customers through a video commercial. That customer might be a stay at home mother who uses their laptop to run an online business, whether she’s in a coffee shop, at home, or at the park.
A good story speaks to us in ways that numbers and data can’t.
If the target audience for the aforementioned laptop brand is women between the ages of 25 and 35, telling a highly personalized story like the one above allows the audience to picture this product in their own homes. It shows us how we could all use the product to improve our own lives.
The lesson here is that stories reduce complex or abstract ideas to familiar narratives – so familiar that we can picture ourselves at the heart of them. In other words, a good story speaks to us in ways that numbers and data simply can’t.
Why are brand stories important?
A brand story is important because it positions your vision, purpose, and values. Rather than advertising a product or service, your business is promoting an ideology or a better way of life.
According to Celinne Da Costa, a brand story coach:
“People would rather invest in a human than a company, and in fact, some of the most admired and financially successful companies are known for delivering financial returns and building people and society. It is both an ethical and strategic move for businesses to do the best they can to humanize themselves through their messaging and mean it.”
What makes a good brand story?
The Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” commercial is a prime example of great brand storytelling. In this advert, Coca-Cola took a simple idea that involved mass production and presented it as mass personalization by adding names to soda bottles. The commercial is phenomenally successful, with customer posting photos of personalized bottles on social media and feeling deeply connected to the brand.
Another example is a recent Fitbit campaign, which the company shared through their YouTube channel. The video features a young girl narrating her mother’s fitness journey to “strange lands.” The advert tells an inspirational story, and filtering the video through the daughter’s lens adds an emotional touch. If Fitbit had advertised the same message using statistics to show how the technology makes people healthier, the ad would have been far less engaging.
If you want to tell a great brand story, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a person whose life could be improved by your product.
The elements of a good brand story
A good story has a beginning, middle, and an end, but crafting an engaging narrative goes further than this. All three of these narrative stages are critical to a compelling story because they permit the audience to draw a trajectory from the beginning, where something is lacking, to the end, where that need is fulfilled.
Without the beginning, the protagonist would not have a goal, and a means of achieving it. Without the end, there is no equilibrium and no call to action. A story needs a “before” and the “after” to provide a motivational contrast. The need for a strong story arc is best explained by marketing professors Keith Quesenbury and Michaell Coolsen:
“A good story expresses the protagonist’s ascent from a sub-optimal present toward a brighter future.”
Throughout their study of branded storytelling, Quesenberry and Coolsen found that the closer an ad conformed to the conventional dramatic arc of most stories, the more successful it was. Less successful ads were unable to captivate the imagination of their audience because they lacked the sense of movement created by a fully developed arc.
An example of this technique in action is the Aesop Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. This story emphasizes the values of patience, persistence and hard work while condemning arrogance and haste. At the beginning of the story, there is a sense of lack that is satisfied by the end, but there are also obstacles for the protagonist to overcome in realizing their vision.
Writing your brand’s story
Your story needs to tap into people’s emotions and encourage them to believe in your business, but how do you achieve this? Above all else, storytelling in marketing can include the “what” and the “who,” but it should always focus on the “why.” That’s the whole point – you shouldn’t just give people the facts, you also need to give them something to invest in.
In short, the success of any story relies on movement. Your brand’s narrative needs forward momentum, like the story of the girl’s mother embarking on her fitness journey, or the tortoise in the classic fable. Your story (whether it’s the story of your particular brand, told through the arc of your founders, or the narrative of one of your customers) has to move towards an equilibrium, where the “lack” you presented in the beginning is fulfilled.
This sense of movement captured in a story is the best way to engage an audience in a way that results in action.
Businesses should not be afraid to tell the full story of their struggles, conflicts, setbacks, and successes, nor should they be afraid to craft fictional narratives to send a universal message. Whether you’re telling your brand’s story through a video, a blog article, or a social media post, storytelling is the secret to building a successful brand and business.