content marketing, digital marketing, brand story, brand storytelling, how to create a brand story, how to become a good storyteller, storytelling and marketing, creative writing, narrative structure
In last week’s #ContentCatchup post, I noted that brands would need to become ‘good storytellers’ in order to grab attention in 2018. You’ve probably heard this before, but what it really means deserves further exploration.
Humans have been telling stories to one another for thousands of years. Our method of telling them has evolved from the earliest cave paintings to the first novels, to the Hollywood films we consume today. The constants have been our love of great characters, adventures, and journeys, and our ability to connect with one another over them. Jonathan Gottschall sums it up nicely:
The science behind this is fascinating. It turns out, we humans spend about a third of our waking hours daydreaming. Our minds are constantly wondering, looking for distractions, and one of the few times that we’ll stop flitting from daydream to daydream is when we have a good story placed in front of us. Think about when you stare at a list of recipe ingredients or read through an analytics report displaying number after number - the information doesn’t stick with you for an awfully long time. But when we receive information in the form of a story, we tend to find it much easier to retain. Rachel Gillett of FastCompany notes that this is because:
Let’s also not forget that emotion has been repeatedly shown to be one of the most successful ways to engage an audience - and what better way is there to evoke emotion than by telling a great story?
So how can brands use the power of storytelling in their marketing?
The macro level:
In the grand scheme of things, you ought to have an overarching ‘brand story.’ That is, a clear sense of journey from how your brand started to the pursuit of its mission - something that your audience can follow to quickly understand what you’re all about. The Content Marketing Institute writes that “Your story identifies what your passions are and serves as the foundation for all your future content developments.” It should be the narrative from which all your actions and content naturally flow.
Your brand’s story is something that you probably already have a good idea of, but perhaps aren’t sure how to formulate in an engaging way. In this situation, it’s sometimes helpful to take a look at some of history’s classic story structures. There’s Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ for example, a template based on the Greek classics that has been used in a great deal of popular media since. It involves a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed. The CMI even created a content marketing version of this template that might give you an idea of how this journey could apply to a brand:
In this structure, a story ought to have three stages: set-up, confrontation, and resolution with two ‘turning-points’ occurring shortly before each stage to nudge you from one to the other.
For example, maybe your ‘set-up’ is the problem consumers faced without your product, the first ‘turning point’ is the moment you realised a solution to this problem, the ‘confrontation’ is the hurdles you faced in making that solution a reality, and the ‘resolution’ is the current moment, where your product is now available to be of use to others.
These structures can be helpful as rough models to work from but remember that there’s no need to take them as gospel. Everyone’s story ought to be unique, after all, so there’s no need to force yours to fit into one of these paradigms perfectly.
The micro level:
Developing an overall brand narrative isn’t the only way to utilise your storytelling skills. Far from it, brands should be using the power of stories right down to individual pieces of content. This could mean that instead of diving straight into your blog topic of the week, you start your post off with a short tale that illustrates your point. Or, it could mean that instead of making a video where you talk about what your brand’s philosophy is, you tell a story that puts that philosophy to the test.
Red Bull is a great example of a company that does this. Rather than making videos about energy drink, Red Bull makes videos about energy. They know what their consumers are interested in, and they produce entertaining, engaging stories that align with those interests.
You could also consider getting your customers to tell their stories about you and your product, and how it might have impacted their lives. (This is essentially what testimonials are, and the storytelling principles behind them are one reason they’re so effective!)
Thinking creatively about how to incorporate stories into your marketing strategy will undoubtedly take time, but the ROI on that time is impressive. Adweek reports that even just by accompanying products with a story about them, the perceived value of those products by consumers shoots up:
A good story is a powerful thing indeed. So what’s yours?