Brand Storytelling: How to Craft & Tell Your Brand Story
What is more motivating – reason or emotion? This amazing quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery helps provide an answer.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood or assign them tasks. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Think about it. What is the end result of all your marketing efforts? Action. You want customers to act, whether it’s to sign up for an email newsletter or make a purchase. That means, at its core, marketing exists to motivate.
Persuasive blogs, informational videos, and thought-provoking infographics are all published to convince consumers to become leads, and then paying customers, and then retained customers. But the thread that binds your strategy together is the brand story within your marketing campaigns. This is what actually impels consumers to act. Storytelling is the ‘pixie dust’ of marketers. It is what makes what you do resonate.
Weave storytelling into your marketing and you can connect with your audience on a personal level and pull heart strings. This is where we form the bridge between the consumer and the company and explain on a deeper level why one needs the other.
So, how do you effectively implement and scale brand storytelling into your content strategy? We’re going to show the steps to take to do just that.
- Brand storytelling uses narrative formats to create emotional connections with audiences.
- Using storytelling in your content marketing allows you to build trust with a buyer.
- Following a step-by-step plan can jumpstart your storytelling initiatives.
What Is Brand Storytelling?
There’s a lot of confusion around the idea of brand storytelling. It’s becoming a term that is getting thrown around a lot—like content marketing—but agencies, companies and thought leaders don’t always agree on a definition. So, we want to solve that with our definition.
Brand Storytelling is
Using a narrative to connect your brand to customers, with a focus on linking what you stand for to the values you share with your customers.
Simply put, brand storytelling involves creating a narrative to connect your brand to customers, with a focus on linking what you stand for to the values you share with your customers.
To break it down further, here are some more insights into the philosophy:
- The narrative describes storytelling elements, including characters, setting, plot (with a beginning, middle, and end), theme, conflict with climax, and resolution. When content takes this shape, it engrosses the reader and boosts recall. As far as characters go, your audience is the hero, not your brand.
- The “what you stand for” element is your brand’s heart. It’s not your product or service. It’s your “why.” Why you do what you do, outside of generating revenue.
- Values are the attributes of your brand. These aren’t abstract aspirations but the embodiment of your culture.
With all these elements, you’ll be able to grab the buyer’s attention and create deeper connections. Because everybody loves a great story. Storytelling is a human pastime, something we’ve been doing for thousands of years.
Brand storytelling is gaining momentum in the marketing world, and with good reason. Stories are scientifically proven to get a person’s attention. In fact, stories stimulate brain activity. When we read or hear plot points our neurons start firing—and not just in the part of the brain that controls the language center. With brand storytelling, you can create an emotional connection with your audience.
A story includes characters, setting, conflict, rising action, climax and dénouement. Creating these points allows your audience to easily follow along with a story—and remember it.
Ideally, you can encapsulate what you stand for in just two or three words. Nike stands for athletic excellence—not sneakers or sports equipment. Disney stands for family happiness—not theme parks or movies.
Values are the character traits of your company that define it. A lot of companies randomly say their values are words like integrity, innovation, etc., but they choose these words because they sound nice, not because they truly reflect who they are.
A company’s values are the best behaviors of your best employees on their best days. In other words, if you highly value that salesperson who will bend the rules to land the big deal, then “integrity” is not your value; winning is. If that’s truly what you value, embrace it.
Why Do You Need a Brand Story?
Imagine that you’re on a first date. Okay, we know it can be a little nerve-wracking, but stay with us. Think of everything you do on a first date: There may be some nervous laughter, some playful banter, telling of jokes. But most importantly, it’s you divulging information about yourself. Your date leaning over the table, looking intently at you, trying to determine details about your life before asking, “So, what’s your story?”
It’s straight out of rom-com, but it’s a broad enough question that invites the answerer (you) to take unlimited paths. How do you want to present yourself? What will be the first thing you’ll share? Will you talk about your strengths, your affinity for books, how close you are to your family—or will you start slow with the basics?
What details you share and how you frame them is your story. Sharing parts of who we are is an intimate act, and it’s one that helps us grow closer to one another. And if your business shares its story with your audience, they will feel more connected to your business.
So again, why do you need a story for your brand?
Stories Inspire Action
One of the oldest forms of art, stories have been around for centuries. We’ve shared them to pass along our history, make each other laugh, and attempt to relate to one another. Our natural curiosity makes us more inclined to listen. Stories tug at our heartstrings and make us cry. They can make us feel happy. They can inspire us to make a change or make an action. But for any of this to happen, there has to be a “why.”
Simon Sinek is a motivational speaker and organizational consultant. In his popular Ted Talk, “How great leaders inspire action”, Sinek talks about what he calls the “golden circle.” It explores, the what, how, and why of storytelling.
- What do you do?
- How will you do it?
- Why do you do it?
The “what” and “how” are easy enough: You know what products or services you offer, and you probably know how you do it (Sinek gives “differentiated value proposition” as an example). But the why is more difficult for the majority of businesses. The “why,” Sinek says, is not “to make a profit.” Because isn’t that the point of any business pursuit? Instead, your “why” is your purpose.
Patagonia sells clothing (everyday wear and outdoor attire) and accessories and outdoor gear (like sleeping bags and water bottles). When you look at Patagonia’s mission statement (their “why”, or reason for being in business), you won’t read:
We make exceptional clothing and gear so you can be ready for all your outdoor adventures. It’s not terribly inspiring, is it?
It hardly scratches the surface of the “why”; instead, it tells us “what” they do with some excess language. But fortunately for Patagonia, their real mission statement gets to the heart of the “why”:
We’re in business to save our home and planet… At Patagonia, we appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We aim to use the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice, and our imaginations—to do something about it.
For individuals who love the outdoors, hearing that a company—especially one that sells sporting gear—is active in protecting the environment makes you want to support them in turn. Because, Sinek enlightens us during the middle of his talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.” Patagonia got it right by sharing their love for the earth and their desire to protect it—because their consumers feel the same way.
No matter how many companies sell wedding dresses, cooking utensils, or school supplies, and regardless of how many plumbers, electricians, or carpet cleaners you can find, none of them will have the same “why”. Like people, each company has a different story. And it’s important that you craft this story and share it with the world so you can attract like-minded consumers.
Storytelling Is Central to Content Marketing
Employing storytelling can be very potent. It’s actually part science, as human brains react to narratives in a more complex way than just reading a list of statistics. Check out the video below on a host of neurological findings around storytelling in a TEDx talk by presentation expert David JP Phillips.
Beyond the science aspect, there are many advantages of storytelling.
It attracts the “right” customers: Remember, your audience is the hero of the story. For those that identify with this, it equates to finding more engaged customers. They are likely to stay loyal and become advocates.
It makes retention less challenging: After someone becomes a customer, the journey isn’t over. If the foundation of your relationship is emotional, they are less likely to defect to a competitor.
It promotes authenticity: Customers are all in for brands to be genuine and transparent. A study found that 90% of buyers believe authenticity is important. However, only 51 percent believe brands are accomplishing this, which means there’s more work and opportunity ahead.
A Story Connects You to Your Customers
The marketplace is more crowded than ever—and competing for attention is more difficult than it was even a decade ago. Combine that with a buyer’s journey where the customer is in control of the path to purchase; buying is now social, self-directed, trust-based and transparent.
The best way to reach a customer who’s deciding what and when she’ll buy is to stop pushing your products so hard and focus more on why your business exists at all. When you tell this story and explain your values you’ll engage the customers who share your values.
When you find the people who share your values, there’s a much better chance they’ll stay loyal to you (though we know that even brand loyalty has changed).
Your story then becomes your company strategy, which propels your brand forward. It’s an idea well-known venture capitalist Ben Horowitz introduced.
He said: “You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts the company into motion. If you don’t have a great story it’s hard to get people motivated to join you, to work on the product, and to get people to invest in the product.”
Figuring out why your company exists, and then telling that story to your prospective customers through marketing messages from social media posts, to your blog, to advertisements and videos, is the goal of brand storytelling.
Having a brand story and what you stand for at the core of your company strategy does more than just help guide marketing activities and create consistent messages that connect with your audience. It gets your team on the same page It energizes them so that they know where they’re going and why they’re going there.
Stories Mold Consumer Behavior
The power of the story to move and mold society is nothing new. In fact, it is as ingrained in our psyches as anything can be, with the original storytellers being the main influencers and leaders of tribal society. Thousands of years ago, it was the shamans’ stories that preserved – and shaped – the beliefs, values, and shared history of a culture.
Today, it may be more important than ever for marketers, as using advertising to send a message to consumers is becoming increasingly challenging. Scott Donaton, chief content officer with Digitas Studios, points to two factors that are both weakening ads and empowering good storytelling at the same time.
- The increasing ability to skip ads. It’s not just the remote control anymore. It is ad blockers and video streaming services, TiVo and the iPod. Consumers are becoming unreachable.
- Your audience is becoming more sophisticated. They expect, want, and demand more from brands. The list is long, from personalization to value-driven, informative content, but it all boils down to wanting to connect.
To answer both of these shifts, a greater focus on storytelling has become the welcome solution in marketing. Tell a good story, no one can resist it. Tell a good story, and you bring us all together. Consumers may be tired of ads, but human beings have loved storytelling for millennia.
Donaton points to director and producer Ridley Scott as an example. He gave us Alien and The Martian, and the famous Apple commercial, 1984. If all commercials were like Scott’s, I’m willing to bet no one would be looking away.
Advertising would essentially undergo a paradigm shift. From a foundation of selling through dishing out information, to one of connecting, through engaging with information, creating a participatory experience between company and consumer.
One great example of brand storytelling comes from Chipotle:
With all the advantages of storytelling, now it’s time to put the strategy in motion.
How to Craft Your Brand Story
You know you need to tell your story. You know you have a story. But how do you pull it from the mind, mold it, and make it consumable for your audience? Sometimes you’ll have a story right away; sometimes, it isn’t as obvious at first and may require some more work. Here are steps you can follow to craft a story that works for your brand.
1. Think about your company’s beginning.
Where did it all begin? Was your company’s conception based on the spark of an idea at a coffee shop? Was it an accident? A coming together of the minds? That’s your story. Tell it like it happened. It’s raw, honest, and most importantly, it’s the truth. You’ll find customers who have been in the same situation or experienced the same feelings—and that similarity is what is going to connect you.
Don’t have an inspirational story? Don’t worry. You still have a “why,” but it takes some more brainstorming. If your company is new, think about what issues you hope your product or service will resolve. Think about the impact it can have on peoples’ lives, whether individually or on a large scale.
If your company is seasoned (and you’re thinking about your brand story due to a re-brand or other strategic move), think about what you’ve done and the feedback you’ve gotten from customers. How has your company evolved from what it was at the beginning, a year ago, or five years ago compared to today? By sifting through this information, you should be able to find your “why”.
2. Write your story.
Grab your tablet, your laptop, your notebook, or your phone. It’s time to let words flow. Now that you know your story, what you’re about, and why you do what you do, you can begin to craft your story. The key to writing your story is being honest.
That’s easier said than done when your story is based on an actual event. (“I was working on a research paper when I read that Styrofoam takes 500 years to ‘forever’ to decompose. I knew there had to be an option that was better for consumers and the environment.”)
But what if nothing really “sparked” your company’s creation? Or, if something did, but the “true” story is dull and not engaging? You can take some liberties, but the truth must still shine through. But how do you do that?
Let’s say you came up with an idea for a product, but you didn’t really have a reason for coming up with the product. It sort of just happened. In a case like this one, think about your product (or service) and its potential. What do you envision it could do?
Your story doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the impetus of your company’s start. Instead, it can focus on why you’re continuing to run the company. Sure, because you believe in the product, but there’s some underlying reasoning there (that isn’t money). But you may need to go into the deep end to find it.
Follow these steps while writing your brand story:
- Stay true to your brand’s voice.
- Keep it simple; being overly elaborate can impact recall.
- Maintain a good pace to the story; don’t go off on tangents.
- Introduce emotion whenever possible.
- Remain authentic and genuine.
3. Share your story with everyone, everywhere.
Repetition and recognition are super-important. People need to associate your brand with your story and your story with your brand immediately upon hearing one or the other. That’s because your story is your brand, and your brand elements are how you’re going to convey it to the world.
When it comes to sharing your story, keep these items in mind:
- Be consistent: The only way to build your brand and strengthen your story is by telling it the same way each time.
- Honesty is key: We said it earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Your customers want to do business with companies that they identify as trustworthy. Your story can help establish this trust by being truthful.
- Reiterate your offering: You always want your customers to know why you’re in business. Do they have a problem that you can solve? Tell them. Is your product or service better than competitors, not just because of its quality but because of your company as a whole? Prove it.
Now comes the challenge of staying honest and true to your company’s story (the “About Us,” the “Why We’re in Business,” the “Our Story”). You’ll have to use your brand to share this story with your audience because it’s one of the best wants to connect with them.
Of course, the actual crafting of the story that fits your brand isn’t an easy task because it’s one of the most important elements of your company. A consumer will visit your site and view your products or services. And then curiosity will strike, and they’ll want to know more about you. They’ll search for the link to the page that answers a burning question: “So, what’s your story?”
The Hero’s Journey
Every story needs a hero. Your brand story does, too. A hero’s journey takes a story’s central character on a journey replete with a wise guide (think Yoda!), a set of trials, conquering the ultimate challenge, and coming back home changed forever.
The steps to telling great stories take their cues from the Hero’s Journey. It’s the template for storytelling made famous by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The Hero’s Journey is a formula, but it’s not one you must adhere to precisely. There’s always room for adjustment and creativity, and the stories you’re writing aren’t science fiction novels. Instead, what’s most important is getting these seven steps right.
Step One: What Can You Turn into a Story?
Writing great stories for your brand starts with determining what you can turn into a story. What will work in a narrative format? Here are some tips for ideation:
- Are there particular challenges or situations your customers are facing that would make a good story?
- Case studies and customer stories are some of the easiest content formats to turn into stories. However, many brands don’t add much personality or story elements to these, so it’s something to consider.
- Gathering insights directly from customers through surveys, feedback, or what you hear from sales or customer service can be good fodder for stories.
Step Two: Define Your Hero
Every story begins with the hero. You already know that your customer is the hero, but you need to flesh that out to an actual character with motivations, feelings, challenges, and needs. In developing the hero, it should mirror the traits of your buyer personas.
You’re setting up who this person is and what makes them tick. If you do this well, customers will see themselves in the story. When someone identifies with a character in a story, it becomes an even more powerful device.
Step Three: Develop the Hero’s Goal or Journey
Every hero needs a goal or journey. The first question is, “What does your character want?” The answer can be simple or complex. It depends on the context.
For example, if you’re a company that sells software for big data analysis, then your hero’s journey is to understand their data and be able to do something with it. Now, this probably doesn’t sound like a page-turner, but it could be with the right tone and energy.
The goal will run through the story and be its foundation. It sets up the plot with its beginning. How will the hero solve their problem?
Step Four: Inject Conflict
Stories always have conflict; it’s what makes them exciting. Taking the example above, the hero faces many conflicts to achieving the goals:
There’s too much data.
I don’t have a huge budget.
I can’t get buy-in from leadership.
Other solutions are too complex.
Those are all real-life conflicts you can frame in your narrative, showing the hero roaming through their path, incurring so many challenges to accomplish their crucial goals.
Step Five: Add Some Drama
The conflict is the beginning of the drama. Now is the time to add elements that make it exciting and entertaining for the reader. You could include interactions with others that are causing the conflict and create suspense and intrigue. You can take this more seriously or lighten it up with humor.
Step Six: Let Your Hero Experience Change
In any great book, the hero goes through things that bring about an evolution. Your hero should do the same thing. Maybe they feel backed into a corner with the problem. They have frustrations or anger.
The hero should change in the story as they get closer to their goal. Their change, along with other characters, is key to making it compelling. The transformation of characters indicates they learned new things along the way, which makes their mission attainable.
Step Seven: Give It an Ending
Your hero has made it through the journey. They faced challenges, conflict, and drama. However, they finally found what they desired. They did so with the help of your brand. This isn’t the time to turn the story into a commercial. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight how your “why” aligns with what they need to succeed. It’s about how your brand makes the hero’s goal achievable.
How to Tell a Powerful Brand Story
So, as a marketer, someone who already wears many hats ranging from data analyst to strategic planner, can you excel as a storyteller as well? Can you weave the story of your brand, clearly and cohesively through social media campaigns, web content, and video?
Here are the techniques that will help you intrigue, inspire, motivate, and compel your audience to take the next step down your sales funnel.
Start with the Customer, Not You
“Wait a minute!” you say. “Shouldn’t my brand story be about my company?”
One of my team members is a lifelong introvert. You’d never guess that talking to her. Here’s her secret: When she meets someone new, she always asks them thoughtful questions about themselves instead of listing off her likes, dislikes, and accomplishments.
People think she’s a great conversationalist. That’s because she puts whomever she’s talking to at the center of the conversation. Brand conversations should do likewise.
Branded content marketing, therefore, should start with the customer. Their interests. Their ambitions. Their needs. Those pesky thoughts that keep them up at night.
Think about the iconic brands that have captured the loyalty of their customers down through the generations. Coca-Cola. Nike. McDonald’s. So many more.
All have one thing in common. Their brand stories revolve around their customers and their needs:
- Quenching their thirst
- Jumping higher
- Satisfying their cravings
They’ve done customer-centric content so well that the moment we see even their logo, our mouths start watering, or our hearts beat faster. The customer becomes part of the brand. She – or he – becomes part of the brand story.
Tug at Their Heartstrings with Your Mission
At first glance, you might think that Coca-Cola, Nike, and McDonald’s don’t have a mission. You’d be wrong. Buried just beneath the surface in their messaging are subtle hints that reach beyond your five senses into the depths of your heart.
- For Coca-Cola, it’s about bringing people together over an ice-cold Coke.
- For Nike, it’s about empowering athletes to be the best so they can inspire others to achieve.
- For McDonald’s, it’s about helping people save time and money when they’re just too busy to cook.
Other iconic brands bring their mission to the forefront of their messaging. Patagonia, the go-to equipment and clothing brand for outdoorspeople, makes its mission the central message.
Instead of featuring its products, it focuses on its commitment to make the earth a cleaner, greener place to explore. In doing so, it zeroes in on one of its target customers’ major pain points: worrying about a world in which there are no wildernesses left to explore.
Use Tried-and-True Story Elements and a Flowing Narrative
Content marketers could learn a lot from gifted fiction writers as they craft their brand story. Stories, as research shows, stimulate their readers’ (or hearers’) brain activity.
The minute you start hearing information in story form, your neurons power up to warp speed. Whether it’s Progressive’s Flo and crew or My Pillow’s tales of insomnia-ridden couples encountering its founder in their midnight stumbles through their house, there’s a reason why these ads connect – they follow the tried-and-true formulas that have enthralled people from ancient times on.
First of all, they follow the standard narrative form: characters, setting, conflict, action that rises to a climax, the climax itself, and the dénouement – where the storyteller pulls the whole story together, tying up the loose ends with an explanation – a resolution.
Progressive and My Pillow, as well as most popular brand messages, certainly have memorable characters. Though frankly a little goofy, Flo and her crew stumble through awkward marketing campaigns and team meetings, only to have the brand’s deep discount itself save the day.
My Pillow, on the other hand, allows its founder’s well-known eccentricity to become part of the story, jumping out of bathroom mirrors, pillows in hand, to show sleepless couples why their current pillows just don’t cut it. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, turns everyday consumers into heroes, as it did in its iconic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” or its 2018 Ramadan ad, where an empathetic woman buys a Coke for an observant stranger just as the sun sets.
Make Sure Your Brand Story Is Authentic
We’ve all heard about brand horror stories. The “environmentally friendly” company that some ace reporter discovered was polluting the stream that ran behind its factory. The “Made in the USA” company whose product components came from a sweatshop in a Third World country. The “humanely raised” chickens that turn out to be anything but.
Just don’t let it be your brand. It takes years to build a reputation, but only a few minutes to wreck it.
Instead, do the research and the groundwork to ensure that your message paints a true picture of what your brand stands for. As you grow, keep a close eye on cost-cutting strategies that can cut into your authenticity. Then, let your content marketing strategy reflect who you really are as a brand.
In other words, you might want to raise prices a bit instead of outsourcing your manufacturing to a sweatshop. You might want to pay that free-range farmer a bit more for her authentic free-range eggs than to risk the loss of reputation that comes from someone discovering that your definition of “free-range” is a 3’ x 3’ cage.
Tell the truth – and you’ll never lose a good night’s sleep. Even if that My Pillow guy crawls into your bathroom mirror. We guarantee it.
If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality brand stories published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service. Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today – and generate more traffic and leads for your business.
Convey Your Brand Purpose
Today’s consumers aren’t just passively buying from brands. They view their purchases as extensions of their identity and values. What this means for marketers is that effective marketing can’t just be about promoting a product for its sole use or benefits anymore. Successful marketing needs to be able to create a purpose, a community and a culture that consumers can share and be a part of.
“Purpose” is about values – values about who you are, what you stand for, what you do for others, the causes you serve. A compelling purpose gives consumers a way to connect with your brand and values, and to get to know how your products or services add real value to people’s lives beyond just selling things for profits. Brands who can successfully target consumers based on these shared values are ones who will ultimately win their attention and dollars.
That’s why big brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Adidas are turning to purpose to better connect and engage their consumers. So what makes some companies so successful while others fail?
The difference lies in storytelling. You can’t activate and reinforce purpose without storytelling. As a marketer, you need to be able to connect your own personal values and drives to your brand’s purpose and articulate that story to your audience. This type of narrative is what’s needed for consumers to listen to you and be inspired to join in on your brand’s purpose. Here’s one example from Yeti:
And how do you this? Marshall Ganz, who teaches storytelling courses at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recommends following this simple 3-step framework to develop compelling, purpose-driven narratives for your brand:
The first step to creating an effective narrative for your brand is to start with “self.” This focuses on explaining how certain events in your life established specific personal values that will later link to your company’s values.
An excellent example is Steve Jobs’ famous Commencement address at Stanford University in 2015. Jobs shared three stories that were largely a personal reflection of his life – his humble working-class upbringing and dropping out of college, founding and later getting fired by Apple, and his cancer diagnosis.
Jobs spoke about how his passion for calligraphy would later guide his design work at Apple, and how his cancer diagnosis encouraged him to live more passionately and authentically as if every day were his last.
What’s so compelling about Jobs’ speech is how real and raw his stories seemed. Each story gave the audience a glimpse into who Jobs was and his values, motivations and passions.
A great story of self has to be authentic and genuine. Finding that story may require a deep reflection on your past and your values, and sharing these personal experiences and moments with your audience.
The second step is what Ganz calls the “us,” which involves connecting your values with broader values shared by your audience. By weaving your personal stories into the experiences, values and passions of others, you create a common narrative for your audience.
A great example of this is the story of Burt’s Bees founder, Burt Shavitz, featured on their company’s website. The journey takes us from the time Burt met his partner Roxanne and how the two started the business, to how their story became the “story of us” – of the company, their consumers and products, and the values they shared.
A good “us” story aims to build a community and a set of collective values, and share how these values came about.
The final step is a call to action for your audience who wishes to join in on the purpose of your brand.
Take a look at the way the public-benefit corporation Kickstarter asks potential candidates to join their team. Their narrative begins with the founder Perry Chen sharing his inspiration behind the launch of Kickstarter (the “self”).
The next section of the site includes photos and short bits of info about each employee on the Kickstarter team (the “us”).
The narrative ends with a call to action on their careers page, asking potential candidates: “Love Kickstarter? You’ll fit right in.” People can click to view all current open positions and apply.
Great brand stories are authentic and real, and collectively work together to build common narratives and values your consumers can relate to, and excite them to join in on your purpose and community.
Use Characters and a Plot
One of the most effective ways to create an emotional connection is through the use of characters. This can be done in a number of ways.
- Brand mascots like the Geico Gecko, Mr. Clean, and the Pillsbury Doughboy
- Through the point-of-view of a buyer persona
- Through an employee’s point-of-view
- Not always possible, but in some cases you can storytell with the product’s point-of-view
Another important concept to keep in mind is plot. (Feel like you are back in your freshman year creative writing course at college? Good, those are the lessons you should be recalling right now!)
- Start with a strong beginning that places your character in a setting
- Follow the character through the middle as they face their conflict
- Come to a final resolution at the end
With a good plot – it doesn’t have to be complex, in fact simple is better in most marketing campaigns – your audience will stay interested whether you are publishing a promotional video on one of your social media channels or are following a character through a series of posts.
Be Digitally Creative
This is where it can be really fun to be a marketing professional today. In the world of content marketing, there are so many mediums and channels you can use, from downloadable apps for your brand to live streaming, and email newsletters. You can go as simple as a video series on Facebook to help drive brand awareness, to being more dynamic, getting the audience involved in your character’s journey through social media interaction.
Connecting with Customers Through Stories
Sure, telling a good story is about using your imagination and being creative with the content and your format, but it’s also about being tuned into your audience. Keep your main buyer personas in mind as you work on your brand storytelling. What would they think of your messaging?
The question many companies and organizations continue to struggle with is: how do we use stories to create and nurture customer relationships?
It comes down to listening, learning and engaging with your customers. Take out assumptions and lead your audience along a journey without selling or pushing them. Staying genuine and authentic will increase brand awareness, return higher engagement rates and, ultimately, convert more qualified leads.
Keeping your content honest equates to authentic storytelling. Strive to provide customers with an opportunity to feel like they are part of a larger group.
Research from psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary best describes this need in their “belongingness hypothesis”: “People have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior.”
Find a way to connect with your customers on a deeper, more emotional level. Do you give them peace of mind? Do you make life easier? Use these triggers to strengthen your relationship and foster loyalty. Enhanced loyalty might be the most impactful outcome of well-done storytelling, leading to more engagement with your brand.
Take, for example, a client of a client who focuses in the biopharma market, specifically the rare disease space. Rather than promote one-off campaigns they have designed and executed on behalf of pharma and biotech companies, or differentiate on the novel treatments they helped commercialize, for the past several years they’ve used Rare Disease Day to elevate their story.
This places the larger focus more holistically on rare disease, making it personal by showcasing the patients and care givers who make up this unique community.
Through podcasts, documentary movies, earned, owned and shared media, they have taken their audience down a path via a well-thought out and executed content strategy, one that engages the audience, solicits emotion and, in effect, connects them more closely to the brand.
Given that Rare Disease Day typically falls in February, they use this milestone as a jumping-off point to set the tone of their content marketing, PR and communications strategy for the remainder of the year.
Visual Storytelling for Brands
According to research from Nielsen, there are 27 million pieces of content shared each day.
We check our phones 150 times per day and our email 30 times an hour.
And with the amount of information in the world doubling every 18 months, visual stories are becoming more important to brands and individuals alike.
It’s no surprise that the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” was coined by one of the leading editors of the 20th century.
Here in the 21st century, there is a battle for customer attention and the pressure to deliver meaning and business impact quickly is compounded by our always-on digital, social and mobile world.
Images play an increasingly important role in today’s content marketing approach. They help to capture your audience’s attention, reach deep into their hearts and minds, and they can accomplish all this (literally) at the speed of light.
Some years ago, when I was working for NewsCred, we announced an interactive microsite called The Power of Visual Storytelling along with an accompanying white paper and Slideshare deck that we created in partnership with Getty Images.
It focuses on the impact of compelling imagery, and defines four principles of visual content. The idea is to bring our audience an engaging digital experience (that is also very visual), while providing tactical take-aways to brand marketers.
When I first saw the microsite, I was blown away. And so I interviewed the person who drove the effort, Erika Velazquez, NewsCred’s Brand and Communications Manager. Check out how the project came about, the process to create it, and our expectations for the content.
How did you come up with the idea to do the piece?
We’ve had a long standing relationship with Getty Images. They’ve been a content partner for years and they spoke at our summit. After being embedded in each others companies for so long – the idea developed pretty organically. We wanted to create something beautiful that conveyed the power of visual content, but also provide tactical take-aways for marketers to thoughtfully select visuals.
What was the process like?
Overall, it was an extremely collaborative process between our marketing team (including our stellar designer) and the Getty Images team. We worked very closely with Getty Images to develop the storyline – interviewing key players on their teams, such as Pam Grossman and Micha Schwing. We had frequent check-ins, and I believe participation across teams drove a ton of creativity along the way. Additionally, we built the entire microsite on Ceros, which was fun because it became an opportunity to learn a new platform.
What did you learn about creating something like this?
My biggest take-away would be that thoughtfulness is absolutely essential when it comes to design. Our designer was included in the very first meetings. In doing so, it gave him the space to both think through the look and feel, while also contributing ideas that ultimately influenced the content.
Any “funny” or “personal” stories from the project that you can share?
Of course! It was probably one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on. Having an excuse to comb through the Getty Images library was an absolute dream. It sparked really interesting discussions on the evolution of stock photography. But of course, in talking so much about stock photography, we also become obsessed with finding terrible stock images (not from Getty Images, of course). Just to give you a sense of what we were talking about, check out this Buzzfeed gem we found: 50 Stock Images You’ll Never Use.
What is your expectation for the piece?
Aside from hoping it goes completely viral, my expectation is that visitors have a really fun experience and understand the value of impactful visuals, and the value of design.
Creating Brand Advocates Through Stories
Speaking of building better relationships, look no further than the earned-shared-owned ecosystem to understand how they magnify each other to support an advocacy program that can take your storytelling to the next level.
At the end of the day, a big part of your content marketing effort is storytelling, not exclusively how you tell your story, but how those who engage with your brand, products and services tell it.
Building brand advocates takes time and resources. It also takes a dedicated approach to nurturing customers’ experiences, so they become loyal and willing to testify to your company’s vision.
Just as brands build advocates in the B2C space, so too can brands in the B2B arena. Why? Because it all comes down to a few core tenets: trust, reference and reviews. If you hit on all of these critical elements, you’re on the path to building brand loyalists.
The winning combination of word-of-mouth marketing, trustworthy recommendations and online “reviews” move a brand toward higher rates of consideration; therefore, the peer testimonial holds the same weight as it does for consumer brands. The challenge is guiding their passion and honing their experience to funnel into high-quality referrals and, ultimately, drive sales.
What do you think? Have you used a similar approach to tell your brand’s story? I’d love to know if it’s working (or not working) for you. Please share your ideas below!
Are you interested in engaging and converting new customer for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help!