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We want to tell you a story. This story begins with a brand. This brand began with one man, who travelled to a distant land… Do we have your attention yet? Encapsulating your brand message in a story format can draw consumers toward your business and keep them coming back. Is there a reason we love stories as much as we do? Probably. And we’re sure the reason has scientific backing (such as a psychologist saying we’re twenty-two times more likely to remember information given to us in a story) and a long history (such as human beings using storytelling as a means of oral history for thousands of years). However, we’re more interested in how storytelling can help you reach your marketing goals. If you’re interested too, keep reading!
(And when you’re done with this article, be sure to check out our last post about using QR codes to market your business!)
What is a narrative?
“Narrative” is just a fancy way of saying story. A story can be a book, a television show, a film, or a ten-minute explanation about why you were late to work. My car battery died. There was an accident on the highway. Then, a giant lizard came out of nowhere. How well you’re able to tell a story can be the difference between a light warning and a pink slip. It can also be the difference between a consumer remembering your brand and forgetting. Stories can inspire consumers to take action, spend money, and even tell their friends about a product or service. Therefore, it’s important to understand the key mechanisms of any story. There’s more to a narrative than beginning, middle, and end, right?
Every great story needs a compelling main character. A main character can be your brand, an individual who played a large role in the creation of your business, or even a talking gecko (read: Geico). The main character serves to humanize your brand and give people a reference point to associate your brand with. The character should be well-defined, with clear goals, traits, beliefs, and fears.
When Disney ran a marketing campaign for their Disneyland Paris location, they chose a young duckling as their main character. The duckling finds a Donald Duck comic book and becomes obsessed with the Disney character. An unfortunate series of events causes the duckling to lose the comic book. After a night spent enduring turbulent weather, the duckling arrives at Disneyland Paris with his family and is welcomed by none other than Donald Duck himself.
Even with this short description, you’ve gone through an emotional journey. That said, a character doesn’t have to be a person or an animal. An example of a brand doubling as a character would be TOMS. TOMS uses the brand message, “one for one.” This slogan means for every pair of shoes a customer buys, another pair of shoes are given to someone who needs them. A customer buys a pair of shoes. TOMS sends shoes to the customer and someone in need. Stories don’t need to be long, but they need to center around a central figure. In this case, the central figure is TOMS.
If you’ve ever had to write an essay about literature, you know themes play a major role in storytelling, though they can be hard to pin down. A theme is an overarching message encased in your brand storytelling. Usually, the theme of your branding should align with the values of your company as a whole. Do you value consistency above anything else? Or are you known for your quality? Does your company prioritize charitability? Is the happiness of your workers something you take pride in? Make sure to emphasize what’s important to you throughout your brand messaging.
The themes prevalent in the fairytale, Cinderella, are good versus evil and luck can change your life. Your theme might be more specific or more vague—that’s perfectly fine. Now, take a company like State Farm for example. Their motto is, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” This messaging sets up a character—a good neighbor—and emphasizes the themes of trust and reliability. Their commercials, while entertaining, always remain consistent in their message: You can count on State Farm to be there when you need them.
After a while, themes become what consumers subliminally associate with your brand. Thus, after years of consistent message, consumers associate positive sentiments (i.e. trust, safety, community) with State Farm.
We’ve already seen a few examples of how brands use dialogue to story tell in this article. TOMS’ “one for one.” State Farm’s “like a good neighbor.” A few more examples would be Geico’s “fifteen minutes could save you 15%” or Disney’s “the most magical place on earth.” Dialogue is a concise, potent aspect of storytelling. It’s used to further the theme and most often delivered by the main character. Dialogue is the message in brand messaging.
You can use customer testimonials as your dialogue. Or, you can use written text. A local Charleston business, Baker Roofing Company, bought out several billboards along the highway. They read: Billboard 1, “We shall do good work.” Billboard 2, “At a profit if we can.” Billboard 3, “At a loss if we must.” Billboard 4, “But always good work.” This slogan is adapted from a quote by Collis Potter Huntington. Thus, this dialogue began as a spoken phrase and has the cadence of natural speech.
The key components of good dialogue are authenticity and personality. Your brand message should be unique. This helps people remember your brand and differentiates you from the competition. Before coming up with dialogue, you should have a pretty good understanding of your brand voice. This is the tone inherent in everything your company publishes, from newsletter to social media to website content. Understanding your brand voice will help you keep dialogue consistent and authentic.
Know Your Audience
Just as authors pen novels in different genres, brands must tailor their stories to their consumer base. A middle-grade author would not employ the same narrative strategies as an adult thriller author, would they? Similarly, you need to understand what will hook your consumer base’s attention. If your target audience struggles to understand what your company does and why they should invest in your services, then the main goal of your storytelling should be articulating why your company exists. What purpose do you serve? How can you help them? Similarly, if your target audience wants to be entertained and appreciates a bit of humor, your brand storytelling should crack a joke (just not at your brand’s expense). Consumers want to be seen, heard, and understood. By telling the right story, you can accomplish all of those things.
If you’re checking out at a grocery store or withdrawing money from your bank, more than likely you’re not interested in hearing a story. And, if someone approached you to tell you a long-winded story, you might even feel accosted. The same is true of consumers. They have lots of things to do and places to be, which is why you should be respectful of their time and try to tell your brand’s story in as few words as possible. As well, position your story in an area where they’ll be more receptive to listening. For example, your brand’s storytelling shouldn’t take over your entire website to the point that potential customers cannot easily navigate to purchase products.
How do you know you have a good story?
A brand’s storytelling will not draw in every consumer. But, done well, the story should bring in those who are in need of your service or product. Good stories have the elements we discussed above. They are well-thought, well-executed, and (eventually) well-received. They should be easy to understand and useful. As well, they should prompt an emotional response (and preferably not anger).
To begin crafting your brand’s story, start with the original purpose behind the brand. This is what you’ll highlight within the story. From there, flesh out the necessary details. Character. Theme. Dialogue. When you’ve finished painting the broad strokes, test the story out on someone unfamiliar with your brand. Incorporate feedback. Try again. Large corporations have entire teams and test groups, but you don’t need all of that. Anyone can tell a story. That’s the beautiful thing about stories.
For more marketing and branding expertise, the Creative Consulting blog has you covered! Feel free to give us a call and set up a consultation. We are dedicated to helping you determine which marketing strategies will work best for your business or brand! Be sure to return for our