Tell us a story! Aristotle claimed there are just two– simple and complex. Christopher Book proposed that there are only seven in his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots. Other experts claim that there are up to nine story archetypes. The number doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there are a limited number of story types AND the audience already knows the plots. So why do we like stories if we already know that the protagonist will escape his past, the poor man will become rich, or the adventurers will complete the quest? Even though we recognize the plots, what holds our interest is HOW the story is told.
This article looks at the basics of storytelling and the compelling benefits that a marketing strategy based in storytelling can deliver.
Hardwired for Stories
Research in neurology and psychology prove that stories allow people to connect, share experiences, and build empathy. In other words, we are biologically drawn to stories. When telling or hearing a story, certain areas of our brains see an increase in blood flow and oxygen. Equally important for marketers is that the audience will connect the dots and create stories. This is one of the reasons that “fake news” has been so successful. We seek stories / reasons to explain things that we don’t understand.
Brand stories open audiences to connect with the brand. Like traditional storytelling, brand stories need characters (for a brand, characters aren’t just people), a setting, a plot, and conflict. If you can add in a moral or “message” (little guys can win is always a great brand “message”), telling your brand story gets that much easier.
Telling Your Story
Brand storytelling is the core of content marketing and it starts with being authentic. In fact, that is the first of the three essential elements for a good brand story.
- Be Authentic – when you tell your story you need to explain why the brand exists, how you got here (the back story), and why you’re different. The answers to these questions provide the foundation for the story. The key – answer these questions truthfully. Remember, the audience wants to connect, they want to believe you, and they want a brand they understand. Conflict and setbacks make the brand more relatable. A side benefit of an authentic brand story is that it will make finding and building a social audience easier.
- Know Your Audience – Beer in a can. Beer in a bottle. Draft beer. All three are beer, and they may all be the same drink. Most distributors sell all three… to different audiences. To persuade and connect authentically with your audience, you need to tell your brand story in language that meets your audience’s expectations. Digital has made the importance, and in some cases even the comprehension of, language and vocabulary even greater. Who is your ideal buyer? Do they fall into a specific demographic, socio-economic group, or a definable persona? As importantly, how does your brand connect with them? Is your brand a symbol of prestige or does it reflect the audience’s ambition? How does the brand solve problems for the audience? Remember the “I’m Mac” ads? Apple’s ability to know its audience and tailor its storytelling to that audience is one of its greatest successes.
- Connect – Creating ways for the audience to have a sense of connection with the brand and make them part of the story is essential for digital storytelling. Whether you use social media and user generated content, traditional feedback loops, or even “hello caller, you’re on the air” traditional media, the audience is part of the story. One of the main reasons RMDS says every company is in the media business is that the connection between the audience and the brand through the story is over media. The more you understand the power of storytelling and the need to use your story to connect with your audience, the sooner you’ll have your audience telling your story, and helping you build the brand.
The ROI of a Good Story
Several years ago, I was the digital lead for a tourist destination that had a relationship with the mouse ears. Nothing ever left the shop without a fully developed backstory. Not only was storytelling a part of the culture, but they also knew that storytelling had great ROI.
One of the “holy grails” of marketing ROI is repeatable success and the brand story is the foundation for building it. Success is built on following the three essential keys for creating a brand story. And then reinforcing, expanding, and building on that story. The story is rooted in your authentic brand truth and guides your language, creative decisions, and even communication channels. The story helps determine what is “right” for the brand, improves efficiency, reduces costs, and guides future efforts.
More importantly, the story connects the brand and the audience. This gives the audience the opportunity to feel special, unique, an insider on the story. They know the language and the voice of the brand. This knowledge creates the perception of a real, emotional connection with the brand that can reduce decision-making time, increase product trial, and create a barrier to competition. From beer to boots, soda to sedans, many of our “rational” business decisions are made for purely irrational reasons, driven by a great story.
A Final Word
People love stories. The anticipation of what is going to happen next and the sense of a shared experience fuels the connection. They get passionate about them and share them with others. In marketing, that leads to the key metric – engagement! In the end it is simple, a great story based on your authentic truth helps people engage with your brand. The end.
If the idea of creating a strategy based on storytelling seems overwhelming, know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services