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