The Ultimate Guide to Brand Storytelling

The Ultimate Guide to Brand Storytelling

Christine Oneto
1 October 2014
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The reason storytelling works in PR and marketing is that it allows us to paint a picture, draw our customer-readers in, and take them on a journey into discovering what our brand is all about. It does this through feelings, sentiments and ideas which the particular story conjures up, and after relating it in a positive way, aligning those feelings and ideas with the company’s marketing goals and brand messaging.

So, how do we create these stories? Do you find yourself sometimes in a storytelling rut? If, like me, you have experienced this form of writer’s block, there are a few storytelling basics, from a general writer’s perspective that you can always go back to and incorporate.

Identify your target audience in order to establish a viewpoint

If you don’t know who you’re trying to engage, it’s a lot harder to tell the right story. Create buyer persona’s to overcome this.

Use Basic Storytelling Structure

Your story needs 3 things:

1. Plot
2. A Hero or heroine
3. A Satisfying ending

Once you have established these key elements, you can start to enhance your story with descriptive copy and visually rich content.  As a general rule, the more you can make use of graphics and multimedia, the more your reader will remain engaged. Context, structure, meaning and inspiration are other features that readers – whether they know it or not – look for in a story.

No matter what the story, make sure that its attitudes, feelings and ideas of the characters in the story are in alignment with your company’s overall brand.

Three things to Consider before Using Storytelling in Your Content

@EllaMinty thinks that applicability, authenticity, and emotion are all key aspects that should be reflected on before telling a story through content. However, B2B brands should aim to educate rather than influence emotion.

@Loulou_Uberkirk agreed with Ella on authenticity whilst adding that tone of voice and marketing objectives should also be considered.

@dmclive and @osx_ail suggested that KPIs should be decided upon before writing a piece of content. We can use a media monitoring platform to measure social media KPIs and mentions of our brand or blog title to inform our storytelling strategy.

Emotion is the Key to Good Storytelling

An interesting definition of storytelling comes from screenwriter, Pilar Alessandra: “Storytelling is action plus emotion. It’s a series of interesting choices strung together, incited by emotion or resulting in emotional consequences.” In short: “Concept = idea. Plot = the events that express that idea. Story = concept + plot + emotion.”

In marketing we focus on our products and services, however, sometimes we forget to add in the emotion part of the equation. This part is important because it often will give the reader a greater reason to care, as opposed to simply concepts and plots.  Inserting emotions, quotes and person-to-person or person-to-brand examples help give your story that relatable element, which in turn helps your reader connect in a meaningful way.

To take it even deeper, that emotion usually involves a main character or anchor in your story. “Essentially, storytelling, (and that includes PR), is having a point of view or theme focusing on one person or thing — the hero– and taking your audience on that hero’s journey through trials and tribulations to arrive at some new point, but now changed,” says Robbie Vorhaus, PR storytelling expert. So, in PR we are using a type of classic storytelling to lead our reader-clients down a path ending in changing their point of view (often via emotional connection) about a certain topic, specific company, product or service.

Address a Customer’s Pain or Solve Their Problem

A good story can drive people to a CTA better than a data-heavy piece of advertising copy. Another key is that elements of the story or the inspirational message within it can be crafted to address a problem or pain point the customer has which your product or service actually solves.

The key element within that is your people, who can contribute to solving those customer problems. By injecting emotion into your brand storytelling, you can hook your readers and make them brand evangelists or advocates towards that end. How well we can do this in PR will determine how successful we will be.

Examples of Brand Storytelling Done Right

So, what are some examples of those who are doing storytelling right? A study in 2017, found that M&S was the best UK retailer for Storytelling, while Apple was the best overall for Storytelling.

The study asked 2,000 consumers to identify brands against 10 storytelling attributes, including authenticity, having a clear opinion and evoking an emotional response. M&S scores particularly well when it comes to emotion, with 20% of respondents suggesting they have an emotional response to the retailer, the fourth highest after Macmillan, Green & Blacks and the British Heart Foundation.

Ed Woodcock, director of narrative, Aesop Agency, said of the results: “Those that do well have either found a clear, authentic narrative and tell that story in a compelling way, or are platforms for other people’s stories, and naturally score well against storytelling criteria. Good performers are, in essence, the brands we believe in, because ‘make-believe’ has the power to make people believe. Strong narratives are both memorable and emotive, and the survey rewards brands that consistently display story-like qualities.”

Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign is a great example of brand storytelling, as is any of John Lewis’ Xmas adverts.

Personal Impact Goes a Long Way for Brand Storytelling

Another great example of storytelling was the Google ad for its all-encompassing apps platform that depicted a father telling “stories” to his daughter, by starting an email chain to her via a Gmail account started when she was first born: from her first laugh, to first ski trip, first swim lesson, and on it went, incorporating YouTube and other Google apps, too. The Dear Sophie’ campaign was so popular it generated over 10 million views on YouTube. It goes to show that a personal, emotional story is worth its weight in gold. It also proves that giving people a platform to tell their own, emotion-rich stories can increase the brand storytelling experience.

Finally, sharing these campaigns and the result of them on your social media sites is a great way to gain even more exposure, with added eyes on the campaign. Thus, you’re not only using these events or video campaigns, standalone; but also using them as part of an all-encompassing PR or social campaign. This is a strategy that keeps the views and clicks coming, and the fans and customers entertained and engaged. When you tie it all together: a brand’s message, a catchy campaign which gets the customers’ emotions involved, and a social media campaign to spread and amplify it, there is a much greater chance of your campaigns being memorable and impactful.