Storytelling in marketing and branding means using a narrative to communicate a message. Humans have always been storytellers. Stories have defined us since the beginning of time. Stories bring people together, form communities and give people a sense of belonging. Stories make us feel like part of something bigger than ourselves. And people buy stories before they buy products or services. Brand awareness have a huge role in purchasing or buying decisions. Stories build brand awareness and hence familiarity.
The familiarity effect also called the mere exposure effect suggests that the more you see, feel or experience something, the more you like it. The more familiar something is, be it a feeling, a person, a place, a product, or a brand — the more you have positive associations with it.
STORIES. They are everywhere. The reason you are here, ready to read this article definitely will have a story to it.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” — Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Our brain thrives on storytelling. We are wired to listen to stories and to tell stories. Whether it’s about individuals or companies, we need to convey stories to the world in order to represent and connect with things that matter. Storytelling creates an emotional connection between the narrator and the listener.
In the realm of branding and marketing, storytelling holds a more or less similar definition.
To define, it can be said that,
Brand Storytelling is the art of using narratives around your brand to connect with your customers in order to weave a common thread of thoughts and values between your brand and your customers.
Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.–Susan Gunelius
Why Does Storytelling Work in Marketing and Branding?
Because science says: people engage with a well-told story. We are biologically and neurologically wired to connect with stories.
To put the theory into perspective, two men Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, set out to demonstrate the value of storytelling by conducting an experiment; Significant Objects Project. The results were astounding. People were more receptive and willing to pay for products that had a story attached to them than those with no stories. It proved that stories directly impact the perceived value of products and people’s willingness to pay more.
The marketplace is all the more crowded today. People and brands are stuck on the bandwagon of content marketing and with an abundance of information and a descending trend of individual attention span, there’s very little room for new information.
In such a case, how do you as a brand make your customers want to listen to you?
The answer is to craft and tell them a story.
Storytelling makes the brand more human. By telling your brand story, you can effectively humanize your brand and communicate who you are, what you do, and how you can help people.
The data, technology, and everything else is good, but if you cannot connect with your customers, offer some sort of benefits or inform/entertain them with something new and compelling, you will be lost in the sea of things- unnoticed.
“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.” – Andreessen-Horowitz
People relate to stories. They see bits of themselves in the protagonist. They reflect on their lives and associate the conflict and the problems with their own lives. They give in to share the happiness when the lead character attains the goal.
What Makes A Story Great?
Basic principle of brand storytelling, the story is never about the brand, nobody cares about your story, they care about their story.
Here are some highlights from Seth’s blog on great stories-
Great stories are consistent and authentic. They make a promise–a legit, bold promise– and stay true to it.
They are not necessarily 100% factual but they are able to connect with and capture the attention of the right audience.
Great stories stimulate emotions and empathy with a singular, strong message where the message is simple and accessible.
They don’t really appeal to your logic but to the senses and emotions.
They are authentic–yours and yours alone.
They lay down the problem and the solution clearly with a satisfying ending (success).
Great stories have the three compelling components of brand storytelling:
Characters + Motivation and + Setting.
How To Tell A Great Brand Story?
Conflict is key to telling compelling stories. So be transparent about the adversity your company has faced, and own it.
- The Backstory. Use the brand’s backstory. There’s always a story about starting a company: What’s the founder’s backstory? Why did your company come into existence?
- Give customers the problems you are solving on a platter. What’s the problem the founder is solving?
- Pick a side: Good vs. Evil. How is your brand playing a good guy in the world? What’s the “villain” your products and services are fighting against?
- Relay the benefits of your brand over the features. What benefits does a customer get from doing things your way?
Focus on why your brand exists: your brand purpose.
Customers want to be a part of the story and so they buy a part of your story. So, with every purchase your customers make, they should feel like they are buying a part of your brand story.
Craft a brand narrative.
Once you have your brand purpose and the story set, it’s time to hone the structure of your brand story that connects and captures attention.
Now, here’s where your English classes come in handy!
Remember the Freytag’s Pyramid? It is a narrative arc that is widely used to craft stories.
Stories with a dramatic plot are favored by people and grab their attention.
Keep your brand story simple.
People can only remember three pieces of information at a time, so don’t pack your brand story full of unnecessary details.
“How can you tell a story that will incite emotion? What problem is your company trying to solve? How did your company solve that problem? What does success look like?”
“Make sure the story serves as a channel of continuation, not an end-point.”
Storytelling in branding is not about you. It’s about your customers.
One thing that most young brands do is that they position themselves as the hero of the story.
The customer should be the hero of your story. Your brand is simply a guide that helps the hero (your customers) attain something.
No one likes to hear you boast about yourself. No one will trust you either. What people are concerned with is how ‘they’ can succeed. And all you can do is craft a story about them and showcase how your brand can help/guide them to achieve that goal.
Remember: Your customer is the hero of your story. Not your brand. Great stories build trust. Simple stories are more trustworthy. As some of the world’s most famous brands have shown, the complexity of the story can erode trust.
Look at how Tata Motors did an excellent job in keeping their customers at the center stage. With the launch of Tata Punch, they released an inspiring, adventurous advertisement with an emotional touch to the problems and possibilities. The advertisement captures the essence of the brand story with its customer in focus.
So, the reason why storytelling works in marketing (when used correctly) is that it places the buyer in the main character’s shoes who faces the same emotional problems as them. They then relate and connect to the story and are more willing to buy into your brand story and the product.
Such documentary-type videos appeal to the millennials the most.
Get others to tell your story
“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.”
Similarly, it takes all the voices in your circle to tell your story. Don’t be the only one who goes around telling the story of your company. Train everyone to tell the corporate story—turn them into storytelling evangelists. There’s no right way to tell your story – it’s yours to tell, so share it in the way that works best for you. You might be happiest doing it sitting down with your best friend, your mum or dad, or a relative you look up to. Maybe you’d prefer to put it in writing and share it online, or to record it on a podcast.
Design your brand story to be sharable.
For your brand to be lovable, your story needs to be shareable.
- To make people think, feel, or smile: Does it provide a fuzzy or warm thought that makes people rethink what they know about your brand or enhance their love for you?
- To define ourselves to others – what we put out on social represents our own personal brand and we share what will make others view us the way we want?
- Positive validation: Does your brand empower your customers to tell a story they already want to tell?
“Come up with a brand and story your customers will love, so they can relate to you, and empower your brand,” suggests Ricketts. Once you’ve created a brand your customers love they will look forward to what you will do next.
3 examples of excellent brand storytelling
For New Year’s 2015, the company told its story through an animated video, announcing that approximately 550,000 travelers had spent New Year’s Eve in one of their many rentals across 20,000 cities – a jump from just 2,000 guests 5 years previous.
Highlighting the most popular choices for AirBnB guests to ring in the New Year, New York topped the list with 47,000 travellers.
Just one example of how the brand uses data to tell engaging stories, AirBnB’s stories consistently resonate with its audience by bringing to life the things they care about – travelling and new experiences.
Speaking of brand storytelling, Singtel capitalised on its CNY 2020 video investment titled His Grandfather’s Road in 2021, with My Grandmother’s House. The poignant 2021 short film featured the same kiasu characters as the 2020 one, in an ode to celebrating CNY in a uniquely Singaporean way. The film sees two families race to their grandmother’s home for lunch, driven by the eight-person social distancing limit.
In doing so, Singtel drove its presence as a driver for keeping people “connected to what matters”. The film also has a cheeky nod to 5G connections, which help save the day for Grandma who gets reconnected with a long-lost friend. What came of it for Singtel? A brand storytelling campaign that articulated its values of family, community, inclusivity, and quality 5G! And for consumers, a genuine piece of entertainment.
The Land of Land Rovers : In this ad, Land Rover brilliantly tells the story of its vehicle’s reliability by showing it in action. The brand doesn’t have to say “our vehicles are reliable in the most trying conditions”; they show it through powerful visual storytelling.
Storytelling in Marketing
Donald Miller, the author of the best-selling book ‘Building a Story Brand’ gives out a framework for storytelling in Marketing.
The framework follows a 7-step approach:
- A character
- With a problem
- Meets a guide
- Who gives them a plan
- And calls them to action
- That sends in success
- That helps them avoid failure
This is how some of the best brands tell their stories–Simple, yet powerful!
Examples of great storytelling in marketing
This advertisement by Samsung was the most-watched ad in 2017. The brand’s focus was on conveying the dedication it has towards resolving and helping its customers. And the brand used a powerful, emotional narrative to communicate the same. They did not sell the features or the product or the service. They sold a message in the form of a story, the impact it made, and happiness shared to which people could connect.
Where is brand storytelling headed to?
Brands have increasingly become aware of the importance of storytelling in branding and marketing.
The digital outlook has kicked in the need to gain customers’ attention and to connect with them on a personal level. Stories have been a medium to do that and brands have been clinging on to this effective method for a long time now.
Listen to what some of the experts have got to say about the future of brand storytelling.
The power of storytelling
The world’s most valuable companies are built on stories.
Stories are here to stay for a long time. After all, people were thrilled to have 1,000 songs in their pockets rather than a gigabyte of memory in their iPods.
You can read about the power of storytelling in branding and marketing here with our case study of iD fresh food.
People want to build connections with brands and the things they buy. As a brand, make your story simple, authentic, and something that blends in with your customers. The moment your brand story reflects the customer’s moments of life, they start building a connection with your brand–leading to loyalty.
How to build a brand story?
Master these 3 skills:
– Interviewing customers
A great brand is built around your ideal customers.
Get to know them and build an identity that attracts them.
WHAT IS THE BRAND STORY YOU ARE TELLING???