Every story has some type of narration. It doesn't matter whether the story is within a novel, magazine, advertisements, or branded content, the creator has to make a choice regarding what they want to show the audience and how they want to show it. They do this by choosing a narrative style.
In the marketing world, a popular narration form is third-person narration. While you might have an idea of what this is from a storybook perspective, lets dive into how it can affect your marketing strategy.
But first things first, what is third-person narration?
To give you a hint, what I'm doing right now, talking with you like this, this is me not being a third-person narrator.
A third-person narrator is a narrator that is detached from the plot line. They are telling the story as an unbiased observer. It’s a narrator that uses third-person pronouns like “he”, “she”, or ‘they”, as opposed to second or first-person pronouns like “you” or “me”.
Sometimes they are omniscient, meaning they know everything that is going on, including character thoughts and feelings. Using a third-person omniscient allows the audience to have a wider view of the story.
In marketing however, we more often see third-person limited narration being used, this means that it tells the story of one character from an outside perspective.
“What can a third-person narrator do for my brand story?” you ask?
Well I’ll tell ya.
Here on the Cortex blog we talk a lot about how companies develop their brand story. This starts by viewing your brand persona as the main character in your overarching story. While there are many benefits to this, such as being able to increase engagement and customer relations, there is one drawback; protagonists are biased.
So how can you get all the benefits of having a strong brand character yet keep unwanted bias out of your content?
You guessed it. Using a third-person narrator.
Third-person narrators are usually considered the most “trustworthy” narrators because they aren't influenced by character POV. Its best to use it when presenting factual information where you want to distance your personal opinion from what you are talking about.
The ideal time to use third-person narration is when you are presenting an idea you would like to be accepted as a fact and not an opinion. Things like newsletters, press releases, or customer testimonials should pretty much always be written in third person.
When it comes to telling your brand’s story, the facts are just as important as the character. Brand stories are unique because they are living and evolving as time progresses. Because of their complex nature, it allows the brand to pull from different genres of storytelling to tell the most 3-dimensional story. You want your brand story to compare to both novels and informational books.
When used in marketing specifically, third-person narration lets your product do the talking. You aren't speaking as the brand, you are showing what your brand can do from an “outside” perspective.
A great example of a brand who does this well is Google. Take a look at some of their marketing campaigns and notice how they use this third-person point of view to emphasize their product. Google is one of the brands who chose to use a third-person narrative voice as part of their marketing strategy.
The trade off to using third-person narration is that it makes it harder to sympathize with the characters of the story. The term narrative distance refers to the distance between the reader and the narrator. When using a first person narrator the reader is right inside the characters head so it’s easier to feel compassion and emotions for the character. When you use third-person, the distance is much further so it’s more difficult to have thoughts and emotions for the character. When it comes to a brand story, your brand is the character, and you want to use third-person voice appropriately.
This starts with knowing where to use it, and when. Sometimes you want your brand personality to show through more than others. This is usually in places where you are interacting with your audience to share your opinions like on blog posts or social media.
With the Google example, their overarching narrative voice is in third-person centered around their products. This means that the vast majority of their content uses third-person narrative. Despite this, for posts on social media where they want to demonstrate values, emotions, or some other aspect of brand personality, they shift to first or second person in the caption.
In this example the content of the post is still in third-person and centered around their product, keeping a consistent narrative voice. They use the caption however to add in an aspect of personality and humanity.