“No, it's not a very good story - its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside” - Stephen King
The above quote by Steven King cautions us against what storytelling (and brand storytelling) should not be like. Stories cannot simply be made up. Brands need to dig deep and expose their value systems, their morals and their company's significance in order to both find and grow their own stories.
In fact, storytelling in general goes way back to Adam and Eve. It’s a crucial part of our everyday lives, whether we’re recalling an event to a friend, writing a note to our lover or reading a novel – we’re engrossed in stories every minute of the day. Storytelling is thus pertinent to our lives and also in the commercial sphere where it is proven that brands that tell a story are a step above the rest. Brands that tell stories take their cue from a set of deeply entrenched values and meanings and are, as a result, able to engage with their fans on a much more profound level. These are brands that are generally more creative in terms of their brand strategy.
Brands that tell stories know that people use the internet and social media to talk about their experiences and to create/contribute to discussions. However, the majority of the time spent online by customers is not even spent talking about specific brands. This is why storytelling is so fundamental – it enables us to engage with our audience, entertain our fans and potential customers and go so much deeper than simply trying to make a sale.
Furthermore, stories make our brand trustworthy; they evoke emotion, draw on certain values and make our words so much more concrete and meaningful. They help our customers better understand our intentions and what we stand for. Brand storytelling can therefore be exceptionally compelling through use of images, text and video. Brand stories can inspire and they can be powerful, being shared again and again by others.
Here are some pointers for those new to brand storytelling:
1. Understand the Elements of a Story
As with all online marketing strategies, it is crucial to have a structure to guide you in terms of your brand story. This structure should permeate your online marketing plan and it should be conveyed through all forms of communication with your customers (but also internally between employees – the real test of your brand story).
Those familiar with your company will know the concepts employed by your brand, the themes and messages conveyed, the types of images that make your story concrete, as well as the language utilized by copywriters – only some of the elements that make a great brand story.
If you’re only beginning to use storytelling within your brand, you will need to know and understand the structure of a story, how to introduce your story’s setting and characters, similar to those elements found in a normal story.
Consider the following aspects of a story and how these aspects can help you map out your own brand story:
• Exposition – the exposition of the story is the fundamental part of a story that sets the scene for further events. It considers your brand’s conception and how it came into existence. Publish this for everyone to see somewhere on your website (i.e. on an ‘about us’ page). This information is useful since it often focuses on what makes your brand unique and the gap in the market it strives to fulfil.
• Characters and their function (i.e. symbols, icons etc.) – what characterises your brand? Is it the quirky character that keeps popping up on all your advertisements? Or is it a certain symbol that permeates all communication? Consider how these icons support and further your brand message. How often do they appear on all communication that gets sent out?
• Plot – social media status updates can be carefully constructed to outline a plot structure. You may be limited to the number of characters that you can write but craft these in such a way that you tell a story; a story that is essentially is grounded in your brand values.
• Climax – consider how you can build up your message and make it exciting for the reader. What words or images can you use that further your brand values but at the same time evoke emotion within the viewer?
• Themes – what is your message as a brand? What morals or values does your brand stand for and how are these being conveyed? The themes of your brand story should be clearly discernible to the reader and available directly or indirectly through interaction with your brand.
• Language – language is a huge driving force of stories. How is your brand story being conveyed using language? Are there certain words or phrases that comprise your brand story?
• Imagery – words, phrases, patterns that describe experiences are a crucial part of the brand storytelling process. Consider each of these carefully in your strategy.
• Resolution – Just like a story is resolved after certain conflict, know and understand how your products help solve the problems of people. Keep this in mind when you generate all marketing material.
With the above said, remember not to make a brand story too complicated. The idea is that you can create a clear and consistent message that is simultaneously compelling.
2. Find Your Values
Stories have morals and values that are carefully conveyed within them. Know your brand values in order to communicate your story. Let these permeate everything you do as brand. Find your substance as a brand and know your core. Write out your mission and vision statements if you’re unsure. Delve deep in order to better communicate.
Take WildJunket for example. Run by Nellie Huang, WildJunket is an online magazine/blog that aims to inspire others to become more adventurous in their travels as life simply is, far too short. The Facebook page comprises inspirational posts that clearly demonstrate this value. Below is one such example taken off the WildJunket Facebook page:
3. Find Your Uniqueness
Each and every brand has something unique to offer. Find your uniqueness. This uniqueness may be in the form of a quirky design, interesting staff members who all happen to be bald, or a product or concept the world has never seen before. There has to be something that sets you apart from the rest, even if it is a very small thing. It is in these small things that you will find your brand personality. This is what defines who you are.
4. Get Personal
Brand stories mean that you need to give a little of yourself in order to engage. WildJunket’s Facebook page is also a great example of this. Nellie posts pictures of herself and her husband travelling. This personal information gives readers a greater understanding of the brand, its values and what they’re ultimately about. People trust brands that expose themselves in this manner and this will also encourage conversations a little bit more.
5. Engage with Your Community
The most important part of storytelling is to engage and create conversations with your fans. Ask customers about their experiences. Chat to random people about topics your brand is interested in. It can be as simple or as in-depth as you like. If you’re unsure of your story, use your community to help you find it. It is through these discussions that you will unravel your voice and what it means to be your brand. Find out what interests people and turn this into a unique way to interact with them. Remember that emotions evoke discussion and interest.
6. Convey Your Story
Think about how you can convey your product in a way that arouses emotions. Free People is a brand that does this particularly well. Free People’s weekly mailers are intriguing and particularly exciting. Each and every week I am keen to see what they have come up with and I can’t wait to receive their email in my inbox. Each and every mailer tells a unique story around a certain theme. Take for example this beautifully designed mailer that I received in my inbox recently. Entitled ‘Black Magic Woman’, this mailer beautifully illustrates a range of clothing that can be described as mysterious, feminine and sensual. The text, “Cast a spell in luxe statement coats, sumptuous velvet, & dramatic jewelry”, is moving and filled with adjectives that create emotions within the reader. This writing, together with the captivating and mysterious image of the woman (and the butterflies, feathers, plants and flowers), evokes a strong yearning in the reader to see what items are on offer, hence compelling her to click ‘Shop Now’. There is a definite naturalness and femininity which is rooted within this free-spirited brand.
Upon clicking, ‘Shop Now’, you will be led to this page, whereby all items conform to the ‘Black Magic Woman’ theme. These are items that are elaborate, detailed and original; items that attract the woman who considers herself somewhat mysterious, carefree and secretive in character.
7. Aim for Consistency
Ensure that you stick to certain storytelling themes or ideas about your brand. Make a list of the main themes or concepts you want to convey in all communication. These concepts or themes should be the fundamental essence of your brand story. This is why it is important for each and every member of the team to know the story, to know the values conveyed by it and to live the story in every aspect of their work.
Mini Cooper South Africa is a brand that does a wonderful job of being consistent in terms of their brand story. They know that their Facebook fans live, eat and sleep Mini. Take one look at their Facebook page and you’ll see the many interesting stories posted. Everything they post has to do with their brand or with their range of sporty little cars. And they sure know their target market - Mini’s posts most definitely appeal to the South Africa yuppie.
It was recently DJ Fresh’s birthday (a famous radio DJ in South Africa) and the brand made this cake below especially for him, calling him their biggest maniac or MINI-ac!
Furthermore, Mini Cooper South Africa turns every status into something Mini-related. Even an ordinary party (see below) is turned into a celebratory occasion to uphold the Mini brand (please excuse the pun!).
8. Authenticity is Key
No one likes a copycat so capitalise on your team’s creative efforts to produce something truly unique.
Jungle Jim is a literary magazine that aims to do just that. The magazine’s Facebook page is literally oozing with unique, engaging and colourful images that make one want to read more. The images posted definitely reveal the magazine’s goal of publishing “African stories of the uncanny and unexpected”.
9. Draw Up Your Brand Story Goals
Don’t forget to draw up your goals as far as your brand story is concerned. Consider where can you implement your brand story (either directly or indirectly) - be it as part of:
- Blog posts
- Social media updates (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, G+ etc.)
- Email signatures
- Print communication i.e. brochures, business cards
Brand stories, when employed properly, can ultimately inspire others and compel them to engage with your brand at a much deeper level. Your product or service should be an end-result of the brand story, not a starting point. Essentially, creating a brand story ensures a holistic approach of your business’ values, both internally and externally. Stories encapsulate emotions, stir emotions and compel your followers to act and react with words. Let your brand be built upon positive storytelling practices.
Watch this video about what it takes to create a brand story: Creating a Loved Brand by Telling a Story: Interview with Stanley Hainsworth – one of the best designers in the world.
Examples of Great Brand Storytelling
More brand storytelling blog posts to inspire you: