5 Ways to Use Storytelling to Enhance Brand Marketing
Today’s customer cares about the companies they invest in. Price and quality will always be crucial, but your story matters now more than ever before. Your brand is more than just a product or service, it’s a tribe you want to entice others to join. Perhaps the most effective way of doing this is through storytelling.
In this guide, we’ll give you five ways to use storytelling to enhance your brand marketing. And instead of limiting our advice to mere descriptions of storytelling, which on their own can be a little vague and not very constructive, we’re also going to include a couple of examples used by real brands ‘in the field’.
Your Brand Narrative
The first and most important step is figuring out your brand narrative. This is your essence. It’s your ethos. It’s the feeling that permeates throughout your entire company, the very reason the brand exists.
Without a brand narrative, you don’t have an identity. Nothing for your customer to relate to. No tribe for them to join. You’re just a product. They can take it or leave it. If they find something cheaper, or better, they won’t think twice about ditching you.
Think about identifying your target audience first. What makes them tick? What issues are important to them? And how do you fit in? Build your brand from their needs, not yours. For example:
Abercrombie. Two decades ago, Abercrombie was faltering. Then they reinvented themselves as a ‘lifestyle brand’, targeting the cool kids of high school. Gorgeous models teens aspired to be (or be with!), dark stores that exuded a nightclub vibe, you know the drill. Every video, every ad, every store infused the stories of the cool crowd that formed the backbone of the brand. Sharing stories by a fire on the beach, playing football in the fall, glorious campus setting. The kind of teen every teen wanted to be.
The narrative no longer speaks to today’s audience, however. Will Abercrombie be able to reinvent itself yet again?
When people think of storytelling, they think of a novel or a movie. But stories can be told using a snapshot, a quote, a tagline on a poster or flyer, podcasts, tweets, a short audio clip or interview, and yes, a traditional movie. It’s all of the above, and more.
We highly advise you to use cross-channel marketing to showcase your storytelling. You want maximum impact, and the only way you’re going to achieve that is by getting eyeballs (and ears) to your content.
Innocent Smoothies did this very effectively with their Big Knit campaign. The idea was simple: get customers to knit hats, place hats on drinks, donate 25p (aka 25 British cents) to charity on each hatted drink sold. They put this campaign everywhere, print, posters, television, social media, the whole nine yards.
The result? 7.5M hats, £2.5M donated to charity and a campaign that’s still going strong 15 years later. And this based on a story about a tiny knit hat. Simple yet effective, right?
Make the Customer the Hero
Most brands make the mistake of creating a ‘them and us’ situation between company and customer. But that’s not the way you should be doing it. Remember, you’re in it together. They’re a part of your tribe, not just someone that buys your stuff.
Think about how your customers fit into your world. Make them feel like they’re a part of it. In fact, make them the hero of the story. Making this tiny shift can have an enormous effect. The following brands capture the idea perfectly:
LEGO. In a vintage ad from 1978 (no, this concept is not new!), Lego shows a little girl with a beaming smile, showing off her lego. The tagline: “Look what I built with LEGO!” The company doesn’t say they have the best products. They don’t say they’ve done the hard work. It’s all about what the customer has created. But LEGO still forms an integral part of the journey.
Vanderbilt MBA. Found on a Vanderbilt MBA billboard: “They didn’t brag about how far they could take me. They asked me where I wanted to go.” This direct quote from a former MBA student captures the essence of the program. It’s not about how amazing Vanderbilt is, but about where you want to be (and how Vanderbilt can help you get there!).
Drive Positive Change
People care about how your company helps the world be a better place. Try and include a story of how your company adds a building block (no matter how small!) of a place that looks just a little bit better than yesterday.
For example, instead of donating money to a charity and announcing it on your website, use a video to showcase what you’re doing (and why you’re doing it). Put a little elbow grease into it. Instead of just donating to a tree planting initiative, get a few employees out there and do your thing. These companies do it the right way:
TOMS. “One for one.” For every pair a customer purchases, TOMS sends one to a person in need. It’s a story that resonates, no matter who you are. They consistently use their reason for being, their narrative, as helping others.
Patagonia. Patagonia has an ingenious way of selling their product. They actively tell people not to buy their stuff. If you have a tear in your Patagonia jacket, for example, they will help you fix it. The narrative of keeping the environment at number 1 is a core part of the brand’s ethos.
Authenticity is a key part of a successful story. If you veer away from your core values, people will be able to see it from a mile away. Instead of an inspiring connection, your customers will laugh at your fakeness.
When telling a story, stay real. Be authentic and true to your brand. Simple messages work. You don’t have to hire an up-and-coming Spielberg to tell a super complicated tale about how your printing paper will save the world — we hate to break it to you, it won’t. But it doesn’t have to.
Lumosity gives you an example of how not to do it. In all of their material, they espoused outright lies about brain training. They just didn’t have the science to back up their claims. The result? A fine of $2M. You don’t have to make outlandish claims about your product, just tell the truth.
The basics of storytelling haven’t changed all that much. In fact, today’s world doesn’t make it more confusing but instead gives you a multi-layered opportunity to tell your tale. Stay true to your brand, focus on the customers, and tell a story that embodies your ethos. The rest is just details.