To Improve Brand Storytelling, Remember That Telling Your Brand’s Story To Avid Audiences Is Like Making Connections Between Kindred Spirits.
It’s a tested axion in the online world, that the more people like you, the more they are likely to do business with you. In Knowledge Commerce you are the brand – because it’s your knowledge you’re selling as ebooks or courses or memberships or consulting services. The more likable you make your brand, the more business you reap.
One of the marketing tools online brands must use artfully is “brand storytelling”. What’s this? People love stories. Stories hook them emotionally and they get engrossed in its details. Using storytelling techniques, you tell people the back story of your brand. What got you changed from where you were into forming your business and brand, what challenges you encountered and overcame along the way, and how you are now succeeding. You encourage customers to tell their stories too – instead of cloaking these as boring case studies.
Why is it more powerful when you tell people stories, instead of just being businesslike? As Clifford Chi writes, “Just like your favorite books and movies’ characters, if you can craft a compelling brand story, your audience will remember who you are, develop empathy for you, and, ultimately, care about you.”
At Solohacks Academy, we have discovered several nuances about brand storytelling as a masterful marketing tool. We can show you how to finesse your stories, how to build stories with all the emotional ingredients, how to make the customers the heroes, and a lot more. Read on.
1. How Brand Storytelling Works When It Does Works Brilliantly – And When It Just Doesn’t Work
Like all good things in marketing, brand storytelling is one of those tools that can work spectacularly if used well – and it can nosedive noiselessly like a wet bomb if it’s wrongly done. There is scientific evidence that if done right, it can change the neuro-wiring of customers. So, learn how to do it correctly, and for all the right reasons.
a. Scientific Proof That Brand Storytelling Really Works On Customers
Brand storytelling isn’t just an appealing way to write content about your brand. It has its logic grounded in scientific research too. Read this …
Scientists have found that when people listen to a story, certain parts of their brains light up, showing they are engaged.
There are two particular areas of the brain that get activated when listening to stories. They are the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. In contrast, traditional staid content does not enliven such brain activity.
The result of such brain awakening means the following things happen:
- The listener’s brain patterns align with and start mirroring those of the speaker.
- There is a 5X increase in the neural activity of the listener’s brain when listening to a story.
- There is neural coupling, which means the listener’s brain revives the listener’s own similar life experiences.
- Storytelling lights up the sensory cortex in the brain, allowing the listener to feel, hear, taste, or even smell the story.
- Dopamine (also known as the pleasure drug) gets secreted in the listener’s brain, enabling retention of the emotions of the story.
- Stories are found to be 22 times more memorable than mere facts and figures alone.
Besides all this, here is some more revealing research on consumers and their relationships with brands, after brand storytelling:
- According to Edelman’s 2014 Brandshare study, 87% of customers want to develop more meaningful relationships with brands. But 66% of respondents in that study felt their relationship with brands was one-way. This shows a consumer hunger to hear stories from brands, to get the full appreciation of brand journeys.
- According to another study by Jeremy Hsu, personal stories (aka “light gossip”) on average make up 65% of our conversations. They show a real human need to connect emotionally with others in the world.
- Further, according to an infographic published by OneSpot, 92% of consumers want brands to create content that feels like a story when consumed.
Do we need any more proof that brand storytelling works on consumers far better than average content can?
b. Two Huge Reasons To Become Great At Brand Storytelling
As a brand, don’t just approach the idea of storytelling as a quick marketing tactic. The idea is not to hook the customers momentarily to read one of your content pieces. The big idea should be to boost your brand by using storytelling as part of a larger marketing strategy. Two strategic goals you can set are these …
Use brand storytelling to differentiate your brand
In a crowded and fiercely competitive market, you can be very differentiated even in your brand storytelling style. See how your brand will stand differentiated overall, and find a storytelling style that aligns with that overall differentiation.
A car brand that is sporty, for instance, needs to tell stories of action and energy, if that is its primary differentiation. A skincare brand whose differentiation is “looks that beget looks” may need to tell stories of love at first glance.
One other thing. Don’t try to be different just for difference’s sake, but create your difference with a strategic marketing goal in mind to achieve.
Do you want to make your brand more memorable? How will you measure that memorability to see how effective the storytelling was? Or, do you want to propel readers to take some action after they read your content? Are they taking the desired action after storytelling?
Make sure you check if the storytelling worked hard for you in ways that you planned.
Use brand storytelling to build your tribe
Think of stories, and you naturally think of people in a huddle around a bonfire on a chilly night, all getting warmed up by a storyteller weaving tales of valor and chivalry, hurdles and challenges, and ultimate endings of heady triumph or haunting tragedy. Suddenly it’s as if the group members around the bonfire all feel the same emotions, and feel bonded together as one.
As one professional storyteller once told me, he would feel he’d done a good job when heard a “collective sigh” after his act.
Now, that is the way storytelling can bring a tribe together. Vicariously, every member of the tribe feels as if he has participated as one of the characters in the story. A brand that can bring people together like this, around its “tales of success”, is one that has success written all over it.
If your storytelling is just perfect, you can create that tribe that vibes beautifully with your brand. Your brand stories then become part of your brand experience that your tribe can consume – along with your products.
c. How Not To Tell Grand Fibs In The Name Of Brand Storytelling
While we are on the subject of storytelling, we can’t forget some of those really big brands that got caught “spinning yarns”. Some of the “tall tales” they told their consumers cost them dearly in lawsuits and payouts. Just so you never make the mistake of telling fibs instead of authentic stories, here are two of those corporate disasters as a reminder …
How Pepsico’s Naked Juice stripped them of big money
Naked Juice, a Pepsico brand, apparently made claims about the “natural and non-GMO” quality of its juices, which were largely believed. The company made a long tale of the care it took to locate and deliver fresh its rare or pure ingredients. It all turned out to be unscrupulous storytelling. Their Pomegranate Blueberry juice, for example, inaccurately advertised that it is a no sugar added drink. But a single 15.2 oz. container (the smallest option) was found to contain 61 grams of sugar.
Naked Juices also apparently tricked customers into believing that their Kale Blazer juice was packed with super nutrients, like kale (for which they used packaging that emphasized leafy green imagery). In actuality, the dominant ingredients were mostly just a mix of orange and apple juice.
PepsiCo’s Naked Juice thus became the villain of a story gone all wrong – and, it is believed, they ended up agreeing to a settlement by which they paid out $75 to Naked Juice to all customers who could provide proof of purchase, and $45 to all those that couldn’t.
A sorry tale, indeed.
How Volkswagen’s brand acquired the moniker of “Diesel Dupe”
Around 2015, Volkswagen was caught cheating on emission tests for its diesel cars. The company’s stories were again about the care and concern they had for the “green economy”. When the story unraveled, it appeared that the car company had been falsely storytelling for nearly 7 years. They had been showing how their cars were manufactured to be very clean and environment-friendly.
In truth, they had cannily put in a “defeat device” (a software) that could tell when the cars were being emission tested – and the test results were manipulated at the exact moment by the software to look great.
Talking of how brands build tribes around their storytelling, Volkwagen had sold millions of such cars to “happy eco-conscious owners” who were all aghast that the story they had believed in took such an evil twist. More than the billions of dollars the company had to pay to recall all the cars sold under false pretenses, was the broken consumer trust.
Can any brand calculate the cost of that?
2. Where Brands Can Look For Inspirations To Make Their Storytelling Different
Once you’ve decided that brand storytelling must be part of your strategy, then comes the problem of where to get your story inspirations. First, you have to know how to construct your stories for maximum impact. Then, you have to know which parts of your business lend themselves best to storytelling. And finally, there are two idea sources you can simply “go back to” … see what these are.
a. The Ingredients Of A Great Story … Always Include These 8 Points
There are stories that make us excited and exhilarated. And then there are stories that do nothing to us.
For example, “I came, I saw, I conquered” is also a short story, right? What does it do to you? Nothing. On the other hand, from ages gone by there is a formula for storytelling that has always – but always – been a resounding success with generations of listeners. If you want your brand story to be truly compelling, you have to get as close to this formula as you can. It never fails.
What is that formula, you ask? Here it is …
In every story-telling tradition, across centuries and continents and civilizations, the eight-stage story structure that captures human fancy has never changed.
- Whether you take the mythological trek of a hero after many travails succeeding towards a grand redeeming discovery …
- Or the rags to riches tale of a never-say-die young entrepreneur who makes millions eventually …
- Or the romantic story of a young couple having to battle all societal and financial odds to become one, and to become role models for lovers everywhere …
- Or the detective story where a mystifying murder has to be solved after many setbacks by a great reasoning brain …
All stories have the same eight stages.
There is a sequence of Context, Conflict, Comparison, Compulsion, Courage, Climax, Comfort, Closure and Conclusion.
Let’s see how this works …
- Context: There is a hero (or heroine, the main character) who has a goal or dilemma … that sets the context.
- Conflict: The hero faces a conflict in the shape of the goal or dilemma. How can he solve it, he wonders ..?
- Comparison: There are many confusing paths to take before the hero. He is perplexed – and so are we, who hear the story.
- Compulsion: Now comes a bigger hurdle. There is an unshakeable something that prevents the hero from taking the decision he’d like to.
- Courage: With the soft options closed, the hero has to steel himself to take the harder and only option before him.
- Climax: This is where the story hits a climax. The hero has to perform some incredible heroics to get by this stage.
- Comfort: Almost as he loses this struggle, a fortunate helping hand appears – an angel, an idea, a spark of genius …
- Closure: With the help of this sudden intervention, the hero finally surmounts his challenge and gets his final closure.
- Conclusion: For us listeners there’s a moral to be learned, or maybe an insight that makes us finally sigh with relief.
Think of any story from childhood – or the latest thriller or piece of fiction you have read. You’ll always find this formula underlying the theme, whoever the characters are, and whatever the story is about. Jog your mind and you’ll see what I mean. When your brand tells a story, about its own self or its case studies, never forget this formula that’s worked for aeons.
b. What Can You Convert Into Your Brand Story? Techniques That Always Work
Most entrepreneurs don’t have to look very far to find great stories in their daily work-life balance, motivations and experiences, mistakes and recoveries, joys and thrills. Look hard at your business and your days of ups and downs, and make many small stories out of these.
Within your business, you can look for potential stories in all these areas …
- Who you are: How did your company come to exist? What are your company’s vision, mission, values, and culture? What kind of day do you typically have? What drives you to start each day? What gives the most satisfaction?
- What do you do: What is the product or service that you provide? What kind of interactions with customers (or the general public) does providing that product or service create? How has that led to lessons learned? Do you have anecdotes to tell?
- Who you do it for: Who do you help? Case studies and customer success stories, with varied challenges and solutions, make for very powerful brand storytelling content, provided you ditch the staid old format and weave stories instead.
- Why do you do what you do: What is your larger goal? What led to your company to offer the products and services it does? What are the benefits to your customer? What caused you to rethink your life and enter this business? How do you see your future story?
- How you do what you do: How is the product or service created and delivered? Put your quality-conscious process on full display for your audience so they understand the care and craftsmanship that go into your production process. Show the mistakes that sometimes happen and how you then learn something from it all.
- What is next for you: Is your product going to evolve and change? Will you be broadening the type of customers that you help? Is your company philosophy or vision going through a change? Which among today’s emerging technologies excites you the most and what do you think you can do with it?
There’s a story around every corner of anyone business day in the life of every entrepreneur if only you’d care to look around and spot it. Put it out for your customers, because they like dealing with you more if they know what kind of person you are and what you enjoy doing well.
Two more very vital tips: your stories must have characters – and forget your rags-to-riches story
Firstly, no one wants a blah story about a “business”. They want people in it. They want feelings and emotions in it. They want to see some action and results. And finally, they want some insights. Don’t let them wonder: “Where’s the hero? Where’s the villain? Where’s the drama? What happened first, second and third? How did the characters fare?”
Stories without people in them really suck. Instead of telling them “How Solohacks Academy was born” tell them the story of “How I was reborn and how that helped me put Solohacks together”.
Secondly, you’re dying to tell the grand story of your own rags-to-riches, right? Its the biggest story of your life. But unfortunately, it’s such a cliche now, that people are fed up of hearing this type of story. Every entrepreneur has a version of: “I lost my job, I struggled for a while, an idea for business dawned, I struggled some more, and now here I am ready to teach you things.”
This larger story always gets the yawns. Instead, you can make stories out of the tidbits of learning you got in your early days in business and how these readied you for success. Show people your little scars that then became your stars.
c. Two Timeless Storytelling Formats To Be Inspired By: Comics And Folklore
A lot of my own clients and my peers from the brand strategy world often ask me where I would look for totally refreshing and mesmeric brand storytelling and execution ideas. I have two sources that I’ve discovered that I’d like to share with you. One is comic books. The other is the ancient storytelling traditions from across the world, notably my own country, India.
Have you ever grown tired of comics, even after you were well past childhood? No one ever outgrows them.
Telling stories in a sequence of pictures with textual callouts has been the staple fare of comics for decades – and I haven’t seen anyone tire of them even today (with all the sophistication of communication available). No matter what their age or intellectual maturity, there is something about comic strips that keeps readers’ attention riveted.
Image courtesy: Garfield
Ken Buraker, who leads Ketchum’s Digital team writes about comics:
I work in the creative world thanks to Fantastic Four #203 and Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #248, which my parents bought for me in 1979. Mesmerized, the roller coaster of dynamic visuals and stories had me hooked. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had just experienced my first brand engagement. The storytelling experiences were immersive, compact and portable. I wanted more.
Now with more than 10,000 in my collection, comic books have served me as both escapist entertainment and inspirational studies in storytelling. Admittedly, they’ve rewired my brain on how stories should work through sequential art. Visuals have to communicate on their own while the transition and pacing between panels becomes equally important. The architecture of comic books translates extremely well to visual storytelling in the brand world.”
Ancient storytelling traditions have a motherlode of ideas for modern entrepreneurs
The second source of inspiration I get ideas from are the hoary traditions of storytelling that exist in almost every country as a timeless art form. Being an Indian, I am particularly fascinated by the storytelling techniques of the ancient Kaavad tradition from Rajasthan, India.
Here traveling storytellers would carry their own portable stages, and with a series of pictures, they would tell stories using their own voices to provide the audio accompaniment to the pictures. Now and then they would break into songs and ballads, and then resume the voiceovers, complete with voice modulation to suit the different characters in the stories.
And the best part is that even if you thought you already knew the story from having heard it once before, the story’s audio effects would change slightly with every telling. And one other aspect of this tradition of storytelling I’ve been fascinated by is that the storyteller would often let the listener complete the story.
Image courtesy: D’Source
The Kavvad storytelling tradition from India gives ideas for social media innovation. I have seen pictorial brand stories being told via a sequence of stills in Pinterest or Instagram … but I haven’t yet ever seen a brand story told by showing a sequence of still pictures with an added audio narrative that can be different with every viewing of the picture-story. Neither have I seen a brand story on the social media that lets me, the viewer, complete the story, thus interacting with my own creativity on top of the brand’s narrative.
3. How To Make Your Customers The Heroes Of Your Brand Storytelling
Many brands tend to tell their own stories, but some love to involve and engage their target audiences in telling their stories. By far, I love these kinds of user-inspired or user-generated stories the most – and I always thank the brands that expose me to these. Here are some unforgettable ones …
a. Turning Terrific Brand Storytelling Towards A Great Cause
The Content Marketing Institute wanted to tell its audiences that the right words and visuals when combined together beautifully can work wonders for content marketing. They could have just said this. But they demonstrated it with a video story that I can never tire of watching. See this …
This little video is called The Power Of Words. There is a blind man, getting barely a few pennies as alms, as passers-by hardly react to his signboard that says: “I’m blind. Please help.”. But the story fills out – and so does his alms booty – when a woman decides to rewrite the words on his signboard with: “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”
If you are in Knowledge Commerce, see what a beautiful way this is to teach your students the little important nuances of your trade. Just show them how to use an approach with a difference, with a little illustrative story.
b. Two Big Examples of Iconic Brand Storytelling Via Customers
I didn’t have a hard time picking the content for my big two examples of the best brand storytelling I have ever come across. I saw these videos years ago and can’t still forget them. The beauty is that these are stories about brands’ customers, and not the brands themselves.
The African Sanlam Bank’s One Rand Man
This video was an attempt by the bank to get more people to keep track of their money and to save – by being aware of where every rand they earned went. They created a character called the One Rand Man who asked for his salary to be paid in One Rand coins so he could track every one of them. It’s not just one video. The one you see above is just the beginning of the idea, and subsequent videos show us how he spends his one-rands and what he learns from every experience. Amazing!
The Land Of The Land Rovers
Up in the highest altitudes of the mightly Indian Himalayan ranges, bordering Nepal, is a small town called Maneybhanjang where everybody – but everybody – owns a Land Rover. It’s about the only vehicle they say that can get up the steepest slopes in the world, on the bumpiest and most challenging roads, and take the treacherous curves on the mountainsides. The nearest next village must be miles away in every direction, and life without a Land Rover is unimaginable.
In fact, the village is often talked of as the “Land Of The Landrovers”. What a masterly stroke of storytelling this has allowed Land Rover to produce, using the words of its die-hard customers of Maneybhanjang. Quite apart from the story itself that’s powerful, look how you, the viewer, are almost drawn into the landscape to know what it feels like to be living there, and how much you will need transport that can you can bet your life on. Amazing again!
c. Three Smaller Social Examples Of Innovative Brand Storytelling
Small stories are no less exciting than big ones. This is proved by a few businesses who made their brands the storytellers of many small “story moments” on social media that would thrill their customers …
Starbucks’ storytelling on how their cafes became meeting places for Postcrossers
Postcrossers are people who love getting and sending postcards and sharing their collections with others. Starbucks made itself the trysting-place for Postcrosser meetings, and made a pictorial story of it on Facebook …
Kellogg’s narrates the story of its packaging over decades
We love Kellogg’s today as much as our grandparents and their parents loved it years ago. That’s why there are decades of stories behind every one of their old and new cartons of breakfast cereals … which they posted on Pinterest.
Red Bull Racing tells the behind-the-scenes story on Race Day
Motorsports is frenetic, racy-pacy and full of the noise and bustle of brand teams, and their revving cars, and celebrity drivers all suited up to get going. But Red Bull knew that people would die to know what their drivers do just before the races. They told us the story of “Zen And The Art Of Driver Maintenance” on Instagram – and showed how their drivers actually meditate in a quiet corner before a stormy encounter with other drivers on the track …
In Summary …
- Telling your brand’s story to avid audiences is like making connections between kindred spirits.
- The more likable you make your brand, the more business you reap. And brand storytelling makes you eminently likable.
- Brand storytelling involves hooking customers by telling them stories of your brand’s origins, or anecdotes from customers.
- Learn how to find the ingredients and inspirations for great brand storytelling. Learn from great examples too.
- Learn how there’s a great chasm between genuine stories and “spinning yarns’ and how some brands have got caught for fibbing.
- Read the scientific proof that proves that brand storytelling is 22 times more powerful than regular content.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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