Tag Archives: storytelling

The Real Story behind Brand Storytelling (Part 3: HEARTFELT Elements)

Few would debate the success that stories have on legendary brands. According to Seth Godin: Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” 

From Disney to Apple, Coca Cola and Chipotle, we have seen the power of storytelling in providing emotional connections that supersede the best of any product facts and figures.  But how can entrepreneurs adopt stories that have real traction?

From Part 1, we found that storytelling lives up to its hype as a competitive advantage in the growing clutter of content overload. It creates a lasting emotional bond with fans by permitting a brand’s personality to shine through the eyes of the audience. And by connecting emotionally, stories are more easily remembered and shared than value propositions. Much of this is the result of a new consumer seeking ways to connect to “what brands stand for.”

Part 2 pointed out the effective ways brands have developed stories that truly strike an emotional chord. 

In this latest part, we explore the elements of storytelling that entrepreneurs should consider in designing their own content strategies.

Design H-E-A-R-T-F-E-L-T Stories

Common to stories cited in the brand and content marketing field is a narrative that inspires audiences to consider a change in their behaviors.  And although the emotions elicited by the best of brand stories vary widely, the elements of HEARTFELT storytelling are fairly consistent. 

brand story

Heroes, Villains, Mentors and Moral

Common to the effective brand stories shared in Part 2 are the story characters that permit a dramatic narrative. For a story to be relatable, it should feature your customers as heroes cast against villains standing in their way of living a better life.

Chipotle’s campaigns casts a scarecrow as a superhero that represents socially responsible and healthy eaters. The hero is up against greedy farmers seeking to exploit hormone injected cows. In their fight against these villains, Buck Marshall of the Industrial Food Image Bureau, invites us on his crusade against harmful farming practices.


Chipotle’s Hero Struggles Against Greedy Farmers

As the protagonist in Farmed and Dangerous, Buck exposes the criminality of farming with scenes of exploding cows. But like most great stories, he serves as a mentor guiding us through a “hero journey” toward “cultivating a better world.” Without these roles, the story follower has little involvement in a promising outcome. This is why brand stories are better left with audiences driving their own conclusions than brands “telling” them what to do.

Episodes of Themed Micro-Content

Weaving stories into content is much like casting a TV series over a season of episodes. Most TV narratives have an overarching theme played out in part by each episode. But much like each series episode, you can’t convey an entire story in each piece of content you post.

Great stories adopt themes that are consistently applied to each episode. In Geico’s caveman series, a theme of “easiness” was played out in the form of “disrespected cretins.” Each episode featured one more bout of disrespect. The same episodic style should apply to any micro-content (e.g., blogs, ebooks, etc.) covered under the banner of a brand story. Each episode should stand on its own merits while supporting an overarching moral to or changed life experience from the entire story.


Geico’s Episodes Carried a Common Theme

Affirmative Value for an Audience’s Life Choices

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton attributes our love for stories to their affirmative value. He claims that an effective story is one where the audience sees the storylines and characters as similar to their own. This connection not only creates a bond of shared values, it validates the reader’s own life choices. 


More than just a checklist of buying criteria, stories we like should have real meaning to the point that it actually shapes an audience’s perception of value.  In effect, the story connects to an audience’s own narrative. It is at this point that the storyteller has an opportunity to persuade the audience with its brand ideas.


Relevance to Audience Needs

But to truly understand an audience’s own narrative, the story itself has to be relevant to something the audience needs. Without this, the story merely becomes an episode of entertainment. It’s when a story makes sense to other people’s lives that it gains real traction. This can often be done by relating with your audience how your company overcame a similar challenge facing the audience.

Consider how Apple’s and Virgin’s story of reaching beyond the norm resonates with independent thinkers who thrive on raising the bar. Much of the success in attracting their followers has to do with Steve Job’s and Richard Branson’s penchant for overcoming odds. Similarly, Ree Drummond likely attracted millions of women to her Pioneer Women blog that shared her desire to escape their hectic and complex urban lives.

Trusted Source

A fundamental tenet of any great brand story relates to its influence on audiences to trust the story teller. Creative brand strategist, Mark Di Somma, perhaps said it best:  

“…The story has to come from a credible source – buyers need to know the storyteller can be trusted. Your story needs to be consistent with the receiver’s understanding of you because the person telling the story is in a position of trust. They have control of the narrative. To me, this is the make or break of storytelling. If we don’t believe the storyteller, we’ll never believe the story. Southwest Airlines have been telling a wacky story about loving to fly for decades. They absolutely walk the talk…”

-          Mark Di Somma

brand storytelling

Familiar Story Arc and Brand Connection

At the heart of every great story is a narrative arc that includes a beginning, a middle and an end. Normally obstacles are placed in the path of the hero so as to advance the story across episodes of adversity. Where brands can especially capitalize on this story arc format is in their Origin Story. Part 2 demonstrated a number of stories where entrepreneurs overcome adversity in their early stages of growth or during a turnaround.

brand stories

Origin, Product and Customer Stories

The same portrayal of struggles can be harvested in customer stories that highlight the worries facing customers. In the case of product stories, this adversity presents an opportunity for the brand storyteller to bleed the pain of their audience. 

Key to any effective brand story is its tie to the brand message. Duracell’s video of NFL player Derrick Coleman’s struggle with hearing  tied very well to the battery company’s “Trust Your Power” theme. 


Duracell’s Trust Your Power Story Ties Well With Brand Intentions

Finally, great stories require a meaningful purpose often translated into a “moral of the story.” Chipotle unfolded a story of greed and animal abuse in the context of farming for cheaper food. But in the end, audiences are easily convinced that organic farming and sustainability pays off.

Emotional Content to Inspire Action

What separates a business story from the facts and figures associated with brand’s product promises is its ability to tap into an audience’s beliefs, passions, sympathies or sentiments. And evidence shows that this type of connection has greater impact on both brand awareness and loyalty.

Brand Stories

Great Stories Inspire Action

“…When you tell a great story, people connect with you emotionally and want to get to know you. You become likeable…”

-          Dave Kerpan

But the key to making this emotional connection is first recognizing that audiences want to connect with something important or of a higher purpose.  If a brand’s story can accomplish this, audiences can be “inspired to act” as opposed to “convincing them to act” from product or service claims.

Language of the Audience’s Story

“…To make a connection with customers and prospects online we need to tell stories that build empathy, create curiosity, evoke emotions and establish a sense of community…”

-          John Gregory Olson

The right story has to be the audience’s story. Common to the narratives highlighted in Part 2 of this series is a storyline that speaks the language of the audience. In effect, the story empathizes with the audience’s situation to a point where audiences see themselves in the story. A great example of this is the Story of Kate offered by Sprint Small Business Solutions.

Transform Audiences into Wiser People

Like any story, an objective of a brand story is to shape audience decisions and change their behaviors through a series of episodes. An effective story arc essentially sets the stage for meeting an unmet desire of the audience with a product that transforms their lives.

And to do this effectively, the hero must face numerous setbacks as their journey plays out. Story arcs typically advance the hero from a low point to the removal of obstacles in their path. If handled effectively, the hero gets transformed into a wiser creature as they triumphantly face adversity.

 “…The end of a narrative arc is the denouement. It shows what happens as a result of all the conflict that the characters have gone through…”

-          Author Jenna Blum, The Author at Work, 2013

 Brand storytelling

So what other elements of a brand story do you find effective in your content strategies?












The Real Story Behind Brand Storytelling (Part 1: HEARTFELT Impacts)

“…For years, she fashioned herself as a fast tracking, glamorous woman from Los Angeles. After 25 years of city life, the stage was set for a cosmopolitan lawyer to hob-knob in the country club settings of corporate America…”


Do you believe the hype surrounding brand storytelling? It is highlighted in dozens of 2014 social media predictions as the key to standing out in a noisy world of content. The following first of a three part series explains why brand storytelling can build an emotional connection with your content audiences.


“…One day when paying a visit to her childhood hometown in the American Midwest, Marlboro Man captured her glance. Soon after, she found herself in the arms of a cowboy who would be the father of her four children. Her black heels turned to tractor wheels as she rode into the sunset with a slow-talking, easy-going cattle rancher.”

Pioneer Women Story

Ladd Drummond & Lee Drummond, The Pioneer Woman

“Once Upon a Time” Content Marketing Explosion

This prairie-tale romance led to Ree Drummond’s story as The Pioneer Woman, an award-winning American blogger and a No. 1 New York bestselling author. Now the wife of cowboy, Ladd Drummond, her story attracted 1.4 million Facebook Likes and a blog reaching over 30 million page views a month while earning millions of dollars annually from display advertising.

What fascinates Ree’s readers are her stories of ranch life and home schooling that feature real country-life characters. Her home page persona essentially implies that those dreaming of being lassoed by a cowboy should follow her story of city girl turned country gal. 

Ree Drummond Persona

Ree Drummond’s Persona Epitomizes the Sensibilities of Country Living

Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, represents a style of storytelling where alter egos long for the freedom to escape their hectic lifestyle roots into a more sensible and care free world. Much like the “la dolce vita” persona of Vespa owners or the rebellious demeanor of Harley Hogs, she appeals to an audience longing to let loose of their complex and regimental lifestyles.

But what about B2B content? Is there really any place for storytelling? Consider the way hundreds of business schools and thousands of operations managers learned about the Theory of Constraints. This popular management philosophy was introduced by storyteller, Eliyahu Goldratt in his 1984 book titled “The Goal.”

Eliyahu Goldratt Story

Eliyahu Goldratt’s “The Goal” Used a Story to Sell 3+ Million Copies

Can you ever imagine a college textbook that you could not put down?

Eli’s sale of over 3 million copies and a movie is testimony to the power of story when solving production problems. Written as a suspenseful piece of fiction, Eli hooks his reader into an episodic work of adventure juxtaposed with his marital life. The main character, Alex, has a mentor, Jonah, who helps him solve the company problems and his marital challenges. 

What’s Behind the Brand Storytelling Hype?

Hardly a social media prediction went by this past year that did not mention brand storytelling as among the top trends to watch in 2014. Brands are jumping on this bandwagon as a way to connect with their audiences on an emotional level – and for good reason. We are being bombarded with so much content that many brands see the emotional route as perhaps the only way to standout.

Building an Emotional Connection

So why storytelling? Let’s start with the concepts most often used to create an emotional connection with our content. For content to provoke an emotional response, it helps to have entertaining value. Our own study of the top 15 ways to creating entertaining content found commercials involving astonishment, heartfelt moments, sentimental humor, put-downs and performing arts to score extremely well on engagement.

entertaining content

Six of Fifteen Entertaining Concepts Tap Into Emotions

Besides entertainment, humanizing and personalizing content also creates an emotional attachment as audiences credit our empathy as being oriented to their personal needs. Having an authentic voice, in a context that involves our audiences, is a great start towards connecting at an emotional level.  

And by creating content in a visual format, audiences can quickly see a connection to our brand’s message hopefully in the context of their own experiences. In essence, we are telling rather than selling so that audiences grasp ideas over product pitches.

Adding Compelling Narratives for Brand Recall, Involvement and Inspiration

But storytelling not only combines personalization, involvement and entertainment, it provides an opportunity for brands to inspire audiences. By offering a persuasive narrative, equipped with a hero, a conflict and eventual resolution of the conflict, audiences can become part of the storyline.

brand story

Stories inspire audiences to live vicariously through your brand’s story

If done right, the story could hook audiences into an anticipation for upcoming episodes while creating a growing connection with the stories protagonist. Over time, the brand is seen as providing something meaningful to the audiences’ own challenges.

And this can be done without pitching product features or directing your audience on what to do. It’s done by allowing the audience to live vicariously through your brand’s story; which, according to Dave Kerpan, is the secret to making a brand likeable

Without a compelling narrative to capture your brand’s vision and personality, personalized messaging and entertainment merely offer moments of attention and engagement. To be remembered, however, audiences need repeated doses of emotional lift often brought about from ongoing episodes and a story-line that resonates with their own life challenges.

Stories Abound in the Age of Information Overload

So how far have we come in adopting brand stories?  In our study of the Top 15 Ways to Create Entertaining Content, over 50 high performing videos (> 50,000 views) released in the past few years were found to involve some form of brand storytelling. This included 30-60 second slice-of-life narratives as well as plotted story-lines.

Since then, we have seen numerous releases of the 2-5 minute brand story captured in animated storylines and mini-films, many of which garnered millions of views.  This longer-form release captures the true essence of storytelling. Some great examples include:

  1. TSB: The Story
  2. Glenlivet’s Brand Story
  3. Chipotle’s Back to the Start and The Scarecrow 
  4. Nikon Brand Story “THE DAY”
  5. WestJet’s Christmas Miracle
  6. Jose Cuervo
  7. Dove Real Beauty Sketches
  8. Google Chrome: Dear Sophie
brand stories

Growing Popularity of Long-Form Brand Stories

Storied Content Sponsored by Brands

But this year, we have seen the adoption of brand stories in multi-episode web productions like Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous, Chanel ‘s Reincarnation, Sony Cracker’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee shown during the Super Bowl, and the Brotherhood Pilot presented by Esquire TV and Chivas. The high performance success of these native advertisements shows early signs that branded entertainment may be a powerful vehicle to create brand stories.

web brand stories

Emergence of Brand Stories in Multi-Episode Web Productions

Common to this long-form storyline is a musical journey into the brand’s roots often leading to obstacles, a perseverance to overcome and a moral to the story (e.g., Chipotle’s call to cultivate a better world).

Brand Stories Adoption will Accelerate

But the growing trend towards brand stories does not just include mini-series productions and slice-of-life narratives recast on YouTube. The concept of using storytelling is now be applied to web design, podcasts, imagery and even data.

What’s fueling the rapid adoption of brand storytelling is incredible content overload hitting social channels. We are now producing enough content to explain why 90% of the world’s data ever produced was created in the last two years 

Brand stories offer an option to distinguish yourself from the noise. By provoking feelings and emotions, stories stand a greater chance of reaching prospects at the awareness stage of their buying cycle. And by allowing audience’s to easily visualize a brand’s vision, stories have a better shot at conveying meaning to an audience’s own pain points. Add to that the more lasting impact that visual storytelling has than factual-based messages; and you can see why stories resonate more in an age of information overload.


Information Overload Demanding Stories with Heartfelt Connections

Brands are also recognizing in a bigger way how their unique personality can distinguish their content from that of their competition. Ample evidence shows that audiences seek connection with an authentic brand voice whose values resonate with their own. This emotional connection overrides even the most powerful of value propositions especially at a time where trust in messages is at an all-time low.

Finally, brands are seeing how they can strike an emotional chord with their target personas from the vast amount of big data characterizing their audiences. Today’s marketer has sufficient profile and behavioral data to craft a brand story that truly resonates with their followers.

So be prepared for the incessant “Once Upon a Time” approaches to content strategies as brands seek to distinguish themselves with a lasting emotionally connection. Boardroom meetings may even occur around a campfire previewing their latest “Tale of Two Budgets.”

Part II Storytelling

So do you buy into this trend towards storytelling as a mainstream content strategy? Or do you think it will only create a new wave of content saturation?

Stay tuned for “The Real Story Behind Brand Storytelling (Part II: HEARTFELT Emotions)”


Creating Meaningful Personas for Storytelling Audience Development


With the ever growing attention on brand storytelling, we may want to take a deep breath in tackling step one: defining your audience personas. Experienced practitioners and academics know this step will make or break your entire brand story. But the process is not as simple as framing clients with monikers like ”Debbie Downer” and “Soccer Mom.” 

Start with Spending Motivations

The type of storytelling that  truly distinguishes your content with an emotional connection requires a deeper insight into the psycho-graphic dimensions of your targeted audiences.  If you are not convinced, ask yourself if these football audiences below have the same spending motivations for attending a football game. 


Super Bowl Spending Motivations

Now consider whether the ‘bonding’ segment (upper right) should be treated as a single persona. Would a sports fanatic have the same needs as a ballparker? If not, your brand storytelling is likely to get lost.

Refine with Psycho-graphic Dimensions

By delving deeper into the psycho-graphic personas that make-up each spending motivation, you will also get a better idea of where your audiences like to hang out. For example, the cosmetic dentistry arguably targets four spending motivations: 

  1. Those attempting to Attract the Best
  2. Those attempting to Feel Their Best
  3. Those attempting to Look Their Professional Best
  4. Those attempting to Remember the Best

But notice from the four distinct “Attract the Best” personas shown below how the needs and targeted communities differ widely across each persona. Only by recognizing the deeper sense of values, attitudes and lifestyles shared by persona subsets of a spending motivation segment will you understand the relevant elements of a story. Moreover, this richer understanding will determine where you encounter these folks as well. 


Cosmetic Dentist Personas within the “Attract the Best” Audience

Combine Motivation and Personality

When you combine both spending motivation and psycho-graphic personality sets into the same audience persona analysis, you benefit from a more pinpointed brand story that encounters your target audience in the right community and with the right value.

Our FREE complimentary eBook on this subject shows how this was done for four small business markets. The custom tailoring business, for example, led us to recognize 14 different personas. Although this seems like an overkill, your scan of the personas below should convince you that these guys don’t hang-out in the same circles; nor do they expect the same image from their custom tailored suits.


14 Custom Tailors Personas Derived from Spending Motivation & Psycho-graphics

So what is your take on this process? Do you find you connect better by slicing your markets by spending motivation AND personality? Or do you take a different approach towards identifying your audiences?

Enjoy the eBook.