In many ways, we connect with brands in a similar way to how we connect with people. We interact with them, form relationships, and feel loyalty to certain brands. Why? Because of who they are rather, then just what they do.
This identity of who they are is made up by the stories that surround them. Consumers have their own personal stories that have to do with brands that are in many ways outside the company’s control. For some, that soda isn't just a soda, it’s a memory of time spent with their favorite family member. That shoe company doesn't just sell shoes, they sell the first thing a consumer ever bought with their own money. The stories that come along with brands are super powerful in forming emotional connections with people that turn them into lasting customers.
But not every consumer will have a personal story that will make them feel connected to a brand, and that’s where brand stories come take stride.
Your brand story is about more than what you do. It's framing your brand as a well-rounded person that customers and employees alike can connect with. What was the intention behind the founding of your brand? How did you get to where you are? What are you passionate about now? and most importantly, what shared purpose do you have with your audience? A compelling story should create an emotional connection between you and your target audience thus forming a brand relationship.
Your brand story explains why, when we have millions of identical choices of services, products and employers to choose from, we should choose you.
Brand Persona and Message Architecture
Every great story needs a strong protagonist that the audience can connect to. In your brand story you are that protagonist. It is important to take some time to create a brand character. Your brand character should be a natural authentic fit. Your brand personality is a set of emotions, characteristics, or traits, that relate to your brand. If your brand were a person would it be inviting? Serious? Sophisticated? If you want your audience to view your brand as a someone they can form a relationship with, identifying your character is important.
Once you decide your general brand personality, you need to turn it into a message technique so that your messages match up with the kind of “person” you are. Message architecture is a content marketing technique used to build a framework for creating your content. It tells you the type of information you want to reveal via the written portion of your content. This differs from your general brand persona because it is specific to communication and something you can implement. For example, a “considerate” brand personality might have a message architecture of thoughtful word choice and transparent brand messaging.
Message architecture has to do with what information you say. This also differs from your voice and tone guidelines, which should be developed after your message architecture so that your different pieces of content all sound like they are coming from the same brand voice. This ensures that your user persona across different social medias is consistent.
Types of Stories That Can Be Told
When forming a relationship, we tend to care about these types of stories, ones on how someone became who they are, ones that demonstrate the values they hold, and ones that reveal mutual interests we share. By addressing these three topics in an engaging way we can frame a brand as something capable of having a human connection.
Overarching Brand Narrative: A Shared Purpose
A brand narrative is an overarching statement that sums up your company’s shared purpose with the audience. Every post, individual story, and marketing campaign should back up your brand narrative, so it’s important that you choose one that is congruent with your history and core values. Some well-known brand narrative examples are IBM’s “building a smarter planet” or Starbuck’s “serving people not coffee”.
A good story is congruent with your overarching brand narrative.
Historic Story: How They Came to Be
When telling the story of your company’s history it can get boring real fast if you aren’t careful. With so much other content to choose from, stories need to be told in an engaging way if they are going to be successful in developing the overall brand story.
Plot is a significant part of a historic story, even more so than in the other types of stories we are going to talk about. The reason being that one of the main reasons we use stories in our culture is for “causation”. We decode our world though narrative. If we want to know why something is the way it is, we look for the sequence of events that make up the narrative preceding it.
For this reason, historic stories play really well with masterplots. Masterplots are a technique for forming an engaging plot line. The most useful master plots for brand storytelling are rivalry, the underdog, adventure, and the hero’s journey. You can learn more about masterplots and their use in marketing in our previous article.
Signature Story: Company Values
Signature stories are stories that demonstrate your character as a brand. A signature story is important because of human’s tendency to need stories for normalization. As a culture, our need for narrative is so strong that sometimes we don't believe something until a narrative is told about it. Sure, you may have your core values listed on your website, but unless you have a signature story that demonstrates them in action they are less likely to be taken to heart.
The Ritz Carlton is great at utilizing signature stories to demonstrate their company values. Their website features an entire page dedicated to sharing guest stories that show the Ritz’s dedication to creating a memorable moment for its guests.
One of their signature stories is about a man who was an underwater photographer. On one of his dive’s he dropped his camera and it sunk out of his grasp. Two of the Ritz’s workers who happened to be free divers spent over an hour looking for his lost camera at the bottom of the bay. Finally, they found it and saved the memories stored on it for their guest.
Someone might tell you that “the Ritz has dedication to exceptional guest service”, but for someone who hasn't experienced it first-hand these signature stories make that statement believable.
These three types of stories that surround your brand character and are written with intentional message architecture, work together to create your brand story. The next important step in brand storytelling is sharing it with people in the right way.
The art of storytelling is precisely what it sounds like, an art. It’s part of human nature but can also be improved with proper guidance.
Historically, when telling stories, you were telling them in one very specific medium (orally, a book, a movie etc.) to one very specific audience. The age of the internet changed all this. Now marketers are confronted with multiple mediums and channels to connect with a vast and diverse audience. How do we adapt our storytelling techniques to this changing environment?
Transmedia storytelling is a vital aspect of digital storytelling. It’s the concept of weaving aspects of your brand story across multiple media platforms in order to tell a more complete story. Since each social media platform has its own strengths in terms of the media best suited to it and has varying audiences, different aspects of your story should be shared to different places.
This proposes that your content strategy for telling a story should be catered to each social media channel.
Using Social Media
Social media may be the pinnacle for telling stories as a part of digital marketing. With transmedia storytelling in mind, the goal is to identify the strengths of each social media account you have and then use them to your advantage in order to best convey the stories we talked about above. The typical strengths of social media channels are:
Facebook: cross format
Twitter: microblog and user-generated content
Pinterest: photos and redirecting to company affiliated website
Snapchat: photos, casual videos
YouTube/ Vimeo: video
Another big part of storytelling marketing is having your target audience in mind. Just knowing that the content choices you make are important isn't enough, you need to make creative choices that engage your audience. Content marketers are now using data-driven decision making to analyze their audiences and figure out exactly what creative choices they can make to drive traffic and increase user engagement.
Finally, a huge aspect of storytelling on social media is the visual side. The majority of these social sites have some type of visual element. Your creative choices can go a long way in telling your story or supporting it. We covered visual brand storytelling on social media last week, so feel free to read up on that if you are interested.
Brand Storytelling Examples:
To wrap this up let’s look at a few storytelling examples that do a good job of tapping into the emotions of potential customers.
Blue Apron: Brand Narrative and Signature Stories
Blue Apron was founded on the basis of delivering a great cooking experience to at home cooks. Their brand narrative is one that seems to say “we’re cooking up more than food, we’re creating excitement, inspiration and human connections. They build off of this idea through the use of signature stories in their “What Cooking Can Do” campaign, which uses customer stories to encompass how blue apron creates a meaningful experience out of cooking dinner.
The stories were documented via video and posted on YouTube then shared across their other social media accounts.
Twirly Girl: Brand Narrative and Historic Story
The story behind the founding of Twirly Girl was of a woman who had her childhood stolen from her by abuse. Years later when she had daughters of her own, she began to realize just how much she had missed by having to grow up too fast. What started as a quest to create a gift for her daughters turned into a healing process to overcome her own childhood trauma. As her daughters wore their fun and playful dresses other mothers noticed and her brand Twirly Girl eventually grew into a large brand. This story of the brand history works perfectly with the brand narrative “capturing and celebrating a period of life that is far too short”.
Their social media sites back up this narrative and the brand principles outlined in the historic story by posting, as expected, a lot of photos of happy kids being kids.