How To Tell A Brand Story

We can’t just talk about a product; we have to tell a story. Consumers have an insatiable appetite for content, and a story is content at its most engaging and powerful. Furthermore, storytelling can reinvigorate an older brand and capitalise on its heritage – many companies with a rich history employ brand archivists to do exactly this.

A lot of the current hot topics in marketing are based on storytelling in one form or another: content marketing, native advertising, “brand fiction” and the like.

Moreover, just as data and social are shaking up the old order, so storytelling is entering a new age.

So what can we do to make sure our brand’s story is told well?

Great stories are often created with the involvement of their audiences, enabling them to directly engage with the story. In the digital world, especially, stories are not simply broadcast to their audiences. Instead they are introduced by the brand, but then built and concluded together. Ultimately, stories must connect with the audience on an emotional level and create a bond.

Great stories have four elements: a hero, a challenge, an obstacle that’s overcome and a happy ending. For brand stories, the hero is the customer; the challenge is the need the brand delivers against; and the distinctive way in which the brand does this (in other words, overcomes the obstacle) is the USP or “magic” in its own story.

Great brands are now telling their story of “why” consumers should engage with them (their purpose and values) rather than “what” they do (their functionality and service) or “how” they do it (their features and ingredients). Cadbury’s recent online “Free the joy” video, with James Corden, is a great example of a brand sharing a proposition (freedom) of a higher order to connect with consumers.

The thinking and stories of brands such as Disney and Google are known to all. Building a customer charter that opens the door to conversations with customers at a higher level helps avoid it being a transactional relationship.

A story is the perfect way to rally the troops and share a compelling vision of the future. If we can show what the brand cares about and why, it motivates employees and helps recruit the right talent. After losing focus on its consumers, Crayola famously created a manifesto that became a unifying, rallying cry for a more meaningful purpose, driving a complete internal revitalisation of the business.

Storytelling is a leadership responsibility and should be embraced by the most senior people in the company, ideally led by one master storyteller. For example, Procter & Gamble created brand franchise leaders for each of its major brands, instead of having leaders in each region.

But is all this talk of stories a little trivial? Absolutely not. Millward Brown and Jim Stengel, the former Procter & Gamble global marketing officer, analysed more than 50,000 global brands over a 10-year period and found that the top 50, based on ROI, all had a clear brand ideal or purpose that drove all aspects of their business. Now there’s a happy ending.

CMO Perspective – Kieran Hannon (Belkin)

“Finally, storytelling is back! Hallelujah! That is the power of a brand – how its story resonates and is shared amongst its customers. There’s such a joy in illuminating how technology can help make people’s lives better and more engaging.

When it comes to the art of storytelling, the most important things are authenticity and empathy, especially when it’s necessary to acknowledge a product shortcoming. The proliferation of channels for consumers to learn about brands and products requires a high degree of agility. The best way to evaluate success is when consumers become evangelists themselves in further amplifying the conversation. That’s utopia.

The biggest pitfall to avoid in storytelling is being prescriptive. It’s very important for the team to understand the brand tenets and let that be the guardrails for engagement. The road will be sometimes straight, sometimes windy, but never a dead end. That’s the death knell. Be willing to take risks as that will help in refining the engagement strategy.

The voice of the customer is always front and centre for us. We have an on-site focus group for in-depth customer engagement, and active listening to customers across social media and our customer care teams is huge for us. All this is an absolutely essential piece of product development itself and how my team and I begin to craft the stories we’ll be conveying.

You must have total empathy for your customers, understand their needs and wants and recognize how your brand(s) fit into their worlds. Most importantly, engage with them in multiple ways for a better-rounded experience. Whether in-store, online, or via other research methods, keeping constant tabs on the sentiment is a must.”

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