“…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…”
WAIT. I FORGOT SOMETHING.
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.
BACK TO THE STORY
“…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.”
“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, 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.”
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.
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.
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:
- TSB: The Story
- Glenlivet’s Brand Story
- Chipotle’s Back to the Start and The Scarecrow
- Nikon Brand Story “THE DAY”
- WestJet’s Christmas Miracle
- Jose Cuervo
- Dove Real Beauty Sketches
- Google Chrome: Dear Sophie
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.
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.
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.”
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)”