13 January 2015

Brand storytelling: why stories matter

Tags:Strategy, Design, Digital

Storytelling is one of today's hottest marketing trends and brand stories have been growing in popularity, especially on the Internet. Brand storytelling is not a new marketing technique – it has long been utilised in advertising. However, there are many brands out there that miss the mark and make poor use of stories. So how do you get storytelling right? In the following post we will nut out the elements of a good story and offer you some pointers on how you can use the technique to attract more customers.

Why use stories?

Lets, face it, people love stories. Think of all the books we read, TV shows we watch and films we see. Since our ancestors were first able to scrape pictures in the dirt and jump up and down, wildly waving their arms, imitating the beast that just tried to eat them, we have been sharing stories with each other. It's in our DNA. Thus stories are appealing to people and are even more likely to be remembered over facts and figures. For these reasons storytelling can be a valuable marketing tool that encourages interaction with your brand.

What makes a good story?

There is a bit of science to telling a good story that is both appealing and engaging. Good stories are not only well constructed and entertaining, but also speak to the target audience. When creating your own, consider what sort of story your customers would find interesting and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who are your customers, what do they care about, what is important to them, what do they find entertaining?
  2. What language tone will they understand best and be likely to engage with?
  3. What stories are your customers already telling?
  4. What is the narrative behind everything your brand/business does?
  5. What medium will your story be told in? Will it be in writing, via a podcast, using images, or through video?

Once you have answered these questions it is time to start drafting your own story. All stories should be comprised of three main parts: a beginning, middle, and end. It is also important to consider the basics of the medium you use to tell your story. For example if you were using a website to tell a story you would look at layout, design, pictures used and language, but if you were creating a video of your story you would also look at characters, dialog, timing, visual elements, music etc.

Overall most good stories contain some common features. These include:

  • An element of conflict, adversity or struggle.
  • Answers to questions raised as well as solutions to conflict, adversity or struggle.
  • One or more interesting characters that customers can relate to (your business can also be a character).
  • A basis in truth – hyperbole is ok, but your story needs to be believable as well as entertaining.
  • An emotional element – stories that elicit an emotional response, particularly a positive one, are more likely to influence buying behaviour.
  • Humour – if it fits with your brand's image or the story you are trying to tell.
  • Something unexpected – surprise your audience (see the examples below).
  • A call to action – this is unique to business stories and can be subtle or strong.

What should your story be about?

There are many options here. Your story can range from the tale of your business's founding, a challenge you overcame, how you helped create a solution to a customer's problem, or it could feature one of your products. No matter what your story, it should be genuine, appealing and on brand. Here are two examples of great brand storytelling using video:

The first is from Internet provider EE. This ad uses familiar cinematic tropes, atmospheric music and high-end production to drop you right into the middle of a thrilling situation. This ad is an example of excellent storytelling, mostly due to its use of cinematic devices that are successfully compressed into a short format. Elements from the pacing to the camera work have the audience thinking they know what is going on, right up until the unexpected happens.

The second ad, Moments of Warmth, is from Duracell Canada. This ad worked because it played into people's weariness of winter (it was an exceptionally cold and harsh winter). Duracell not only brought a little warmth into people's lives while they were at the bus stop, but also sent out the larger message: "we all need each other". It says that even when things are tough, people can make it through, together. By promoting the human connection the ad focuses on the people (customers) and how Duracell can help (by being there when they are needed). It's a softer sell, but it is still effective!

Ultimately your story needs to be real, relevant and relatable. If these elements are overlooked your story is unlikely to engage your audience. So, regardless of what story you chose to tell, keep it interesting, surprise your audience and don't be afraid to get creative!

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