This may sound fancy, but in all honesty: storytelling is one of the oldest forms of marketing, trading, building a brand (both personal and company), and everything that goes on between a brand and its target audience. So, if the brand story as a concept is not necessarily new, why are we discussing it in the first place?
Well, there are more than 500,000 brands in the world as of today. If we put on our thinking caps, we will understand that it is not news to us that right at this very moment, while you are reading this sentence, all these brands are working – in some way or the other – towards success. As for success, everyone, and every company has its own definition, path, and performance trackers concerning those paths. However, with the increase in the number of brands and the number of people exploring a wide range of strategies to understand what works best for them, the success of a company is directly proportional to the value provided to its customers.
Power of Storytelling
Alright, stories seem important to build a brand. And for several reasons concerning various aspects of branding and marketing, which we will get to as we move ahead. Be that as it may, to truly extract the benefits of creating an iconic brand story, it is crucial to comprehend why we are doing the same.
Neuroscientifically proven, when we watch or read about actions performed by someone, a certain set of neurons inside our brains are triggered. This is associated with mirror neurons. Eventually, these neurons lead the audience to transport within and identify with the story. Let us look at it in terms of branding:
Apple’s Unseen yet Noticed Storytelling
While working with – and creating – Pixar, Steve Jobs was surrounded by storytellers. As he is known for picking up the best out of every scenario, this was no exception. He realized the essence of branding is storytelling, and it was proven prominently through his first Apple campaign: Think Different.
By aligning the brand to something almost everyone wants: thinking differently, breaking the norms, getting outside of boxes, and quality, Steve Jobs made the brand entirely customer-centric.
Even today, if you browse through Apple advertisements, product launches, websites, and marketing campaigns, you will realize that while these all strategies are paving a path towards the growth of the company, it is not portrayed that way in any manner. Instead, all efforts of Apple are compelling because it shows how the brand and its products are for users by giving them glimpses of how their lives would be when they associate themselves with those products – all by means of storytelling sprouting from a well-constructed brand story.
Legendary Brand Stories to Learn From
While Apple’s brand story is one of the most well-known, and remarkably on the surface, there are other brands that have been excelling at communicating excellent brand stories to their respective audiences.
With several competitors in the eyewear industry, Warby Parker knew that simply selling high-quality eyewear will not be sufficient. Thus, they decided to go above and beyond by inviting their customers to become a part of their brands and feel connected to the same. The company started with the simplest and most effective: storytelling.
The brand spread its intentions via storytelling, making its customers know that it is a socially conscious brand that was established to offer quality eyewear without leaving the pockets empty. Furthermore, the Warby Parker website highlights authentic copywriting not only to sell the products but also to strengthen their brand story by showcasing how they make glasses.
Nike is known for its quality sportswear, footwear, marketing strategies, campaigns, and more. However, the brand has been enjoying fruition, and spreading the same, not only based on its products and marketing strategies but mostly through its convincing stories.
For perspective, the Angry Chicken campaign based a simple story along with a prominent cliffhanger: a man followed by an angry chicken, and how he finally outwits the same. Furthermore, more momentous campaigns such as Equality certainly helped the brand not only to show its customers their importance but also to create a stir in the society – which is an essence of all legendary stories.
Elements of a Brand Story
With an understanding of the power of a story aligned with your brand, you have the essential elements that any business needs to get the desired results from its target market. Nevertheless, many marketing professionals understand the importance of a brand story, but the success factor here is the difference between those who are randomly throwing instances (under the name of stories) to their customers and those who have a well-structured way to create a story which also aligns with several other aspects of brand building.
So just like every story, your brand story needs to have a character. This does sound simple, but this is the step where most of the marketers start going down the graph; the character of your brand story is not you, your brand, your product, its cost, etc. In fact, it is your customers.
Not only should your brand story consider customers as (s)heroes, but also want them to know that they are what matters the most. In order to get this right, you can start with demographic and buyer persona research. Through these approaches, you can understand who your characters are, what they do when they are not your customers, things they prefer, communities they follow, and so on. It may seem like an extra or even unnecessary mile to take, but only by understanding the current situation, you can create a story with transformation and resolution (more on that later).
The What, Why, and How
Most entrepreneurs know that their businesses need to provide value – more precisely, solve a problem. But here is the catch: not every brand can solve the first world – or rather obvious – problems. Your brand could be a cosmetic brand, a paper company, or a toy store, you need to be solving a problem all the same.
In order to do so, you need to make your target customers realize that they have a problem to begin with, which may or may not have been noticed by them earlier. For instance, if you own a toy store, you cannot simply go with the “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” approach. Instead, you shall make the parents understand the need for toys in a child’s life.
All in all, regardless of the problem your business solves, you need to portray it in a way that resonates with your customers a.k.a. character. Think of it as what you bring to the table, why your customers need it, and how you meet their needs.
Before you ask, no, a conflict is not the same as your customers’ problems. Rather, a conflict is a set of challenges that a brand faces while they are trying to solve the focal problem.
Consider the following story:
A boy wanted to become an illustrator after pursuing a career in pharmacy. He was a bit scared to let his parents know, but his parents supported him and provided all the resources he needed. He took several courses, talked to various experts, picked up design and animation books whenever he got a chance and became an illustrator eventually. The end.
I believe most of you wouldn’t have even read it entirely. One of the reasons is that the entire story is simply off-putting. However, the story has a character, a plot, supporting characters, and an ending. In fact, it all goes well; but that is what’s off-putting: we do not live in a perfect world, so it is not possible to relate with a story that has no conflicts.
Therefore, while you as a marketing professional would not want to reveal the challenges, failures, and mistakes that occurred to or by your brand, true branding is quite the opposite. To connect with your audience, and hold the same for the long run, your brand story must be relatable, authentic, interesting, and transforming; this is unattainable without walking the customers through the entire journey of your brand, including conflicts.
As we discussed above, a transformation is something that people resonate with. With the “what, why, and how” element of brand storytelling, your brand provides resources to its customers to change the story of their lives while resonating with the story of your brand. Be that as it may, resources are not enough.
Even in the most cliche stories, a princess is advised by an old woman, and a boxer is trained by a coach, and so on. I could go on and on with examples where the main character needs a lot more than resources, they need a guide and an action plan.
In terms of a brand story, the action plan is suggesting to your target market how to leverage most of the products and services provided by your brand. Also, it is important to understand that these actions need to be as minimum and effortless as possible. Putting up unnecessary actions will simply create hurdles on a path on which your customer walks towards your brand.
As the term suggests, this is where it is all win-win… or not.
To simplify: if your brand story does not end as a “success story” or a “happy ending” at this moment, know that it does not have to be that way throughout the time. Instead, you can exhibit how avoiding failures is also a form of success.
We all understand that failure is a part of our lives. Be that as it may, if you help your target market learn from your failures, which will lead to preventing them from going through failures themselves, it will create an unbreakable bridge amongst you all. Not only will your customers relate to you, but they will appreciate the fact that you are sharing the brand story authentically without directly squeezing the profits out of the same.
Drop it Like it’s Hot, or… at least Lukewarm.
Being authentic, relatable, interesting, all while showing transformation, conflicts, and providing solutions is an incomparable way of telling a brand story. Nonetheless, creating and telling a brand story are two slightly different aspects: you tell a story as it is, but you create a story with an angle to understand how it will be perceived.
Thus, being authentic does not mean you share confidential information, being interesting does not mean you over-share or lie, and resolution does not mean commercial success. All in all, remember: this is not a rigid formula, but all these are clues that you can pick up to lead towards creating compelling storytelling.
Business Development Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the Media and Digital marketing sector, Passionate about innovation and bringing the future into new business solutions.