The Power of Narratives and Storytelling in Brand-Building
Once upon a time …
We all grew up hearing and telling stories.
Now companies are increasingly relying on storytelling in brand-building, and making it a main component of their content strategy to target consumers.
Sometimes we see the terms “storytelling” and “narratives” used interchangeably. A narrative is like the hub of a wheel – the principles and inspiration of a brand. The spokes of the wheel are the stories which start at the hub but branch off and are slightly different. Both elements are necessary, but they are just different components of one another.
“If you have a really good narrative, you can tell a thousand stories with it.”
– Deb Lavoy
Storytelling cuts through the clutter of products, price points and cold facts and figures to connect with us in an emotional way.
The reason this is so powerful is that brand narratives transport the audience from their existing reality in a process called narrative transportation theory. When this happens, perceptions, attitudes and intentions are changed to reflect the story.
If it is effective, all preconceived notions of that brand and its attributes should momentarily be forgotten, immersing the individual in the story without the suspicion that a marketing message is being used. More importantly, they entertain us and make us think. We see ourselves in them and attempt to make them uniquely our own.
For these reasons, more marketers should be utilizing narratives and stories in their content strategy.
Simple Steps in Storytelling
Storytelling in brand-building is a great way to capture your consumer’s attention, and imagination. Here are a few steps to help you get started.
- Define your narrative.
A strong understanding of who your company is sets the foundation for your story. Look back at the company’s history. Ask what your company stands for. What role do you play? What are your core principles? Make sure the way your company views itself internally aligns with how outsiders view your company. If there is a gap in this viewpoint, you should re-examine the company’s brand identity, but remember to keep it consistent. A narrative is not about you but about how you help others.
- Dig for inspiration.
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Brand-building is the responsibility of an entire organization. While marketing makes the strategy, everyone plays a role in defining a brand. Stories can be found from a wide variety of employees, from the front line up to the board of directors. Even look at the stories and comments of your consumers. People have the drive to find meaning in their lives and want to be a part of something greater than themselves. Stories give them a glimpse into the future of what could be. Getting employees and audiences to tell their own stories connects them to your brand when they feel a common passion. Everyone brings a different perspective. Use this to your advantage.
- Live the story.
A great story not only entertains people but also gives them the means to make it their own and act upon it. It is about building an emotional connection with your audience by creating something that people care about and want to buy into. This narrative has to be authentic. It cannot be a sales pitch but rather more about engaging with your audience. Great brands don’t tell a story; they are the story. So use whatever medium your business excels at, such as video, print or online media. Just get your story out there.
“Brands need to stop interrupting the consumer and become the story themselves.”
– P.J. Pereira
Enlighten and Entertain
In addition to these steps above, make sure that your stories possess the following characteristics suggested by Baker and Boyle (1).
- They appeal to a broad (universal) audience.
- They tap into our emotions.
- They are relevant in such a way that individuals discover something about themselves.
- They enlighten and entertain.
- Great stories are never completely told. They last for an extended period of time.
“We use brands to tell ourselves stories about who we are.” – Will Novy-Hildesley
This chart shows how a quality brand story or narrative can impact your entire organization.
Remember that the success of a brand narrative does not come from the storyteller but rather from the audience. They relate to the narrative and then interact with the brand by sharing their experiences (1).
“In order to tell better stories, brands must actually be better stories.” – Jonah Sachs
A Quality Brand Story
An example of a company that is a rock star in its brand storytelling is REI.
In their “Every Trail Connects” series, REI highlights the stories of individuals and their connection to the nation’s trails. Note that there is almost no mention of REI in this story. This story builds an emotional connection with those who share REI’s values of the preservation and joy of the outdoors.
REI is engaging in conversation with their customers, which drives an emotional connection and sustained customer loyalty and advocacy to the brand which a sale could never accomplish.