Once Upon a Time

Posted: July 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

Drive Brand Engagement Through the Power of Story

Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee, Screenwriter

“Tell me a story.”
“What’s your story?”
“That reminds me of a great story!”

The overwhelming familiarity of these phrases reminds us that we are all truly hardwired for stories. They are how we learn about our world as small children and how we come to define our social and cultural values as we grow older. Listening to others’ stories is how we decide whom to invite into our social circles. If the story someone tells us contains values that align with ours, a connection is made. And perhaps best of all, stories are universal. There have been societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories – true story.

Story has always been a compelling way to communicate a message, but what special relevance does storytelling have to communicating in today’s media-saturated, digital landscape?

Consider this: we live in the age of information overload. Never has more data or factual information been available – to the point of annoyance when you’re looking for something specific. It seems we are constantly trudging through a surplus of email and meaningless spam ads every time we are trying to digitally connect. Therefore, one of the great challenges of our time is to synthesize that data, discover the insight from the facts and ultimately find a way to convey those insights in a meaningful way. This is precisely where story can help solve this unique modern problem.

Story doesn’t just tell you the facts. Story shows you how the facts have impacted a human life. And story allows you to see yourself in that central character’s shoes and imagine how your life would be different were you in that position yourself. Herein lies one of the most powerful qualities of story: empathy. Story is in fact, the quickest way to building an emotional connection. And those emotional connections are absolutely necessary in the new experience economy where emotional brand loyalty comes from the side of the brain that makes intuitive decisions.

Brand as Story

First came products, then came trademarks, then came brands. Brands transcend product features and design. These material things can and are being imitated and for a lot lower cost by international competition. The time to compete based on physical characteristics and rational pricing arguments alone is over. We’ve entered an era where consumers are buying based on the values a brand portrays and whether or not those values align with their ideal of a meaningful life. So how can brands better showcase their core values to allow consumers and employees to make an emotional connection more readily?

Through story.

A powerful brand builds on clearly stated values while a strong story communicates those values in a captivating manner, easily understood by all. Think of the stories of your childhood. Most were a lot of fun to experience and they also had a moral to them. And that moral is also usually a social value – a value which could easily be one of a brand’s core values. Therefore, our task is to find and tell the stories which contain our company’s core brand values as their inherent theme or moral. How do we do this?

If your company has customers, then you have customer stories. In many cases, the sales force knows them best. Every interaction between customers and your brand or service has story potential. The task is to identify the stories that most clearly and powerfully bring your brand values to life.

The first thing we must do to find an ideal brand story is to identify a protagonist. Our protagonist must represent our target audience – in this example, your customers. This protagonist must have faced a challenge and through the help of your service our product, overcome that challenge to find a new level of success.

Once you’ve identified a powerful story, how do you determine the best way to tell it?

There are as many different ways to tell a story as there are different kinds of stories to tell. This is where storytelling becomes a powerful skill in today’s marketing landscape. As you begin to partner with professional storytellers and media producers to bring your brand stories to life, here are a few general storytelling tips to keep in mind:

Know Your Audience: Target your audience before you target your story. The demographic of your audience will inform the type of story you tell and how you go about telling it.
Conflict & Resolution: Every story must have a central character that overcomes a challenge (in this case with the help of your product or service).
Raise Questions: This is what gives a story momentum. Your audience should be asking, “What happens next?”
Make it Visual: Strong imagery makes for more memorable stories. Web video is a great way to tell a memorable, visual story with high viral potential. Web videos are also simple to integrate into social media and mobile channels.
Moment of Reflection: Every story must give the viewer a chance to connect the dots and make the final judgement of what the core values or the morals of the story are for themselves. The theme or values should not be overt, preachy or salesy. Business writer Annette Simmons put it best when she said, “Story doesn’t tell people what to do, but it can powerfully influence what they think about as they make their own choices.”
Find the right content-producing partners and keep these story tips top of mind, and you’ll be on your way to strengthening your brand by telling some value-defining, wow-inspiring stories.

Happy storytelling.

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