As businesses of every shape and size battle to establish themselves in an oversaturated market, the ability to tell a great story has become essential. With how much brand-related content consumers encounter in a single sitting, building an immediate emotional connection is the only shot most businesses have at earning their consideration.
Strong brand storytelling is what sets your business apart. Your target audience’s attention is limited, so the ability to excel at branded storytelling through avenues such as content and design is imperative to success.
Below, we'll dive into all you need to know about brand storytelling and what it can do for your business now and in the future.
Compelling brand storytelling is all about using a narrative that connects with your consumer through shared values. Jeep ads feature the Wrangler tearing through mud, sand and forest regeneration areas because Jeep buyers are seen to be adventurous. When Jeep films a stunt driver doing donuts in the desert, a light goes on for select consumers: “That could be me.”
The most effective brand stories are told through media like videos, motion graphics, blog posts, and images. It’s best to tell the same (or similar) stories across different platforms to maximize brand awareness.
The narrative of your brand is your story and the elements within. The story can be about the business or someone adjacent to the business, but it should succinctly tell potential customers why the business exists.
In such a competitive marketplace, the greatest brands are often those with the greatest stories. The key pieces of a story are characters, a setting, conflict, rising action, climax, and a resolution. Here’s what that can look like in brand storytelling: A seemingly regular person (character) living in a humble or relatable location (setting) encounters a problem for which there is no product/service solution (conflict). Spurred on by the lack of solutions, they search for someone who can help them (rising action), find the perfect product/service for their needs (climax), and solve the problem once and for all (resolution).
You can tinker with the formula based on the connection you want viewers to make, or to appease your inner contrarian. So long as what you make conveys a coherent and compelling story to your target market, you can’t go too far wrong.
Like human values, brand values are the character traits of your company. They’re also how consumers can expect your company and employees to behave.
Values often don’t speak to the product/service you sell, or about making money. They’re the driving principles behind your company, and they should differentiate you from the competition. Some examples are environmental stewardship, employee recognition, diversity or a combination of many.
Converting an audience means succeeding at brand recall and recognition, staying consistent, and helping your audience distinguish you from the competition. Your audience has a lot of information thrown at them daily, and they need you to do the work of distinguishing yourself if they’re going to give you more than a moment’s thought.
Your storytelling power lies in grabbing consumer attention and running with it. Your target demographic wants to connect with you and build a relationship based on more than the exchange of money for goods.
How can you put your strategy in motion? It can be overwhelming to have a fantastic brand story to share, but stumble trying to get it across. Here are seven steps to brand storytelling that'll help you get started.
While these steps can help you get the ball rolling, there’s nothing as effective as having a pro marketing and design team in your corner to make your message loud and clear.
While you probably know why your brand sparks passion in you, you've got to find a way to turn it into a story others can make sense of. Take the time to establish which pieces of your journey will work in a narrative format, and ask yourself the following questions:
Every story begins with a hero. The customer is usually your hero in brand storytelling, but you can't express their “potential customer” status outright—audiences don’t like feeling marketed to so overtly. Instead, create an actual character with motivations, challenges and needs. You don’t need to write a novel, but you do need to think of ways you can quickly make them relatable and their needs apparent.
Your hero should always mirror your target customer’s traits.
Every hero needs a mission. What does your character want? If you make running shoes that guarantee comfort, your hero's journey likely starts with sore feet and ends with your sneakers. This story might not seem like a page-turner, but it can turn into one when you add a little energy and strike the right tone.
Every brand story has a big “why”, and it’s always tied to personal happiness in some way. Think of how your prospective customer may experience struggle prior to your business, and what happiness looks like to them after it.
Your main character's goal is the foundation of your story, consistently running through the content to keep that goal at the forefront of consumers' minds. Keep your audience wondering how the hero’s going to solve their problem.
Conflict is what makes stories exciting. In the example above, consider some challenges consumers might face if they don't have a high-quality running shoe. They might be some of the challenges you faced before developing the product. Frame real-life problems into your story narrative that shows your hero making their way, fighting through challenges to accomplish their goal.
Look at everything from an emotional lens: What do sore feet mean to someone who runs every day? Maybe they’ve tried several brands before landing on yours. They’ve run hundreds of miles in uncomfortable shoes. Something that’s meant to be rewarding is instead punishing.
The central conflict is only the beginning of the drama. You'll want to add elements that make your story exciting for the reader. You can embellish here, but never lie, as transparency in marketing is essential.
Include interactions with others that create intrigue or build suspense. You can be serious with your conflict, or you can add humor. Choose the path that matches the tone of your brand.
In the shoe story, think of what might happen to a runner whose love of running is affected by their uncomfortable shoes. Maybe they don’t run as much, maybe they get hellishly uncomfortable blisters, maybe they run straight into a tree. Ok that last one might be too dramatic.
At this point, your hero is increasingly certain their situation is hopeless. They may be increasingly certain their situation is hopeless, and something has to change.
That’s when you shine the light. Something sparks change either in or around them, and they emerge better than before. Make it compelling, but keep it realistic: The shoes should not save their marriage or destroy the Death Star.
Think about what it means when your relatable character makes the big switch. Comfortable new kicks have them not only enjoying running, but running more than before. With your shoes, they’re happier and possibly more active than ever. Turns out a comfy shoe isn’t a luxury item for them—it’s a necessity.
How did our hero meet their victory? With your brand, of course. This is where you get to convey to consumers where your capabilities align with their needs.
You can get a little sales-y here, but keep your focus on the consumer as an individual. Make your mission statement clear (e.g. “to make comfort a necessity, not a luxury”), and indicate where they can learn more about the product/service.
Besides the outline above, consider the following tips to help you maintain best practices in your brand storytelling.
Brand storytelling works best with true stories. It’s not just honest, but usually true to your brand voice as well: No one can speak about your business’ real world value better than a real world customer. Embellishments can be used sparingly, but sticking to facts will keep you on track. Keep it simple and avoid elaborating too much.
Read your story over a few times to make sure it flows nicely. Going off on tangents that don’t drive the story forward is bad practice, and will likely cause consumers to move on. Focus on saying a lot with a little (i.e. your runner rubbing their swollen feet after an arduous run), and bear in mind how each piece of your story fits with the one to come.
It’s natural for the first draft to be a little rough. Cut down extraneous pieces until you’ve got a draft that tells your story concisely and impactfully.
Video marketing is how many brands are telling their stories today, and for good reason. It’s the clearest way to communicate ideas in the information age, which is why we engage with video content more than any other content. When translating your brand story to the video medium, keep the following as a checklist for a smooth transition:
Use the “logo test” against your completed video to gauge originality. Just picture your main competitor's logo on your video, and ask yourself:
(And for any insight on what we feel are good logos and why they work, check out our unfiltered opinion on some of the world’s most famous logos.)
You’ve got the basics of brand storytelling in your back pocket. Here’s what it looks like when industry leaders apply the same principles to their marketing efforts.
As a company, Airbnb doesn’t have an interesting story to tell. So, they pointed our attention to Airbnb hosts instead. They gave consumers an inside look at their hosts worldwide, helping potential travellers feel connected to those who own the properties they’re staying at. The hosts are shown to be warm, loving people who thrive on the sense of community they provide. Viewers come away with a lightness: They’d be safe in these peoples’ hands.
How did Airbnb get us here? We can guess that they recognized their target audience’s need for safety and security—hard to come by for travelers in a new place—and thought of how their “superhosts” might provide just that.
With 250,000 subscribers on YouTube, superhosts campaign tells a heartwarming story about a relatable need being fulfilled.
Old Spice makes hygiene fun. Viewers already know why it’s necessary, so the company’s made “irreverent fun” their brand voice.
They’ve got eBooks that help mothers understand their pubescent sons. They’ve made their theme a downloadable ringtone. They subvert expectations while remaining true to their voice.
Every successful brand makes storytelling part of their marketing strategy. Two cans of Coke by a campfire, a bag of McDonald’s at a birthday party—every image a story, every story a case study for joy from the little things in life.
The people who tell the best brand stories are those with great and varied experience doing so. Professionals who don’t just have an eye for narrative, but a proven track record building and telling brand stories with the best tools available: graphic design, video marketing, motion design and more. In expert hands, brand stories become moving experiences that drive growth and scale ambitious businesses.
David is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Superside. A former journalist with bylines too numerous to enumerate, he brings his love of storytelling and semantics to the marketing world. Recognizing the sizable gaps in the creative-as-a-service (CaaS) sector, he jumped at the chance to fill the creative void for ambitious brands. In his off hours, he enjoys loud music, making vegan meals and being made fun of for making vegan meals. He’ll gladly talk to you about any of the above on LinkedIn.
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