Thriving companies typically have one thing in common: they understand the power of brand storytelling. They know how to weave compelling narratives to build a strong bond with their audiences. In this article, you will learn why stories are so captivating in the first place and how your brand can tap into our love of stories.
Why Are People Wired for Stories?
Storytelling has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. In fact, humans have been telling each other stories since the dawn of time—first orally and later in written form. And even earlier, humans used cave walls as a canvas for their stories.
But what is behind our love for storytelling?
Stories serve different purposes—from ensuring our survival to improving our memory. Let’s explore some of the reasons why we find stories so compelling:
1. Stories Give Us a Shared Goal
Our ability to collaborate in large teams sets us apart from all other animal species. And stories play a role in this. They can strengthen our team spirit by directing us towards common goals.
Take religions, for example. Their stories have motivated large groups to build temples, perform ceremonies and even fight wars together.
2. Stories Help Us Bond
When we tell stories, we create a shared experience. Sharing our memories, feelings, and knowledge connects the storyteller with the audience.
Stories don’t necessarily need to be profound to achieve this. Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar found that 65% of all public conversations revolve around social topics, mostly gossip. Dunbar believes this gossip helps us form relationships and share information, even in large social networks.
3. Stories Motivate, Persuade and Inspire Action
When we hear a story, we become emotionally invested in the journey and challenges faced by its characters. Stories thus enable us to see the world from different perspectives, foster empathy and motivate us to overcome our own challenges or take action.
For instance, a study revealed that individuals who heard a story about a girl in Africa donated, on average, twice as much as those who were only presented with facts.
3. Stories Give Us Meaning
Stories give us a sense of control and help us find order and meaning amidst chaos.
For example, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankl talks about his experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. He observed that people’s stories helped them cope with hardship and trauma. Frankl believed their stories gave them a sense of purpose even in the darkest of circumstances.
5. Stories Help Us Survive as a Species
Throughout history, people have used stories to warn each other of potential dangers. Whether in the form of cave paintings, myths or personal experiences, storytelling allows us to learn from the experiences of others in dealing with difficult situations.
Did you know? Research has shown our brains process fictional stories similar to real-life events. This suggests we can learn from stories the way we learn from real-life experiences.
6. Stories Improve Our Memory
Our brains remember information better when packaged into a story. The use of characters and plotlines gives us context and structure. Stories also activate different brain regions to pair information with emotions.
As stated by Jennifer Aaker, a behavioural scientist and professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, stories are up to 22% more memorable than facts alone.
7. Stories Pass On Knowledge and Culture
Stories are also a means of passing on knowledge, values, traditions and beliefs from one generation to the next. They, therefore, help to preserve the identity of communities like the Māori.
8. Stories Entertain Us
Many stories simply exist to give us joy and a break from our normal lives. Did you know that stories can even make us feel better? They can trigger the release of dopamine, the happy chemical in our brains.
What is Brand Storytelling?
Brand storytelling is a strategy that uses narratives to communicate a brand’s values, personality, and uniqueness to its audience.
Instead of simply promoting products or services, brand storytelling engages the audience through compelling and authentic narratives that evoke emotions and address their needs. By presenting the brand as more than just a company, brand storytelling humanises the company and helps build trust and loyalty with customers.
Brand storytelling can take various forms, including ads, social media posts, website content, videos, and even customer testimonials.
The aim is to shape a coherent image that is consistent with the brand’s values, leaves a lasting impression, strengthens brand awareness and makes people loyal fans.
According to the Harvard Business Review, these fans are more likely to buy more, pay more and stay loyal to the brand. They may even act as brand ambassadors by referring the brand to others.
7 Common Themes in Brand Storytelling
Brand storytelling can cover a range of topics, but some common themes come up repeatedly, such as:
1. Origin Story
In your origin story, you can describe how your company was established, including the key moments that shaped the brand’s identity.
- Why was the company started?
- Who founded it?
- What successes have you had?
- What obstacles did you face?
- How did you overcome them?
An illustrative example of a brand sharing its origin story is Converse. The company was founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse and has since grown into a leading footwear brand. Converse’s origin story highlights the company’s journey from a rubber shoe manufacturer to a well-known sports and leisure brand.
2. Mission and Values Story
Just as your origin story sheds light on your beginnings, stories about your mission and values show why your brand exists and what it stands for.
- How can your brand change the world?
- Which core values guide your brand’s decisions?
- How does your brand demonstrate its commitment to these values?
An example of a company that communicates its mission and values through storytelling is Patagonia. The company uses business to inspire solutions to the climate crisis. Patagonia’s stories highlight its commitment and activism to sustainability and responsible sourcing and manufacturing practices.
3. Customer Experience Story
This type of story discusses how customers experience using your products or services
How do our customers interact with and experience our products or services?
- What roles do your products play in the lives of your customers?
- How do they fit into their daily routines?
- Have customers faced challenges using your offerings? How did they overcome them?
- What emotions, feedback, or opinions do customers voice about their interactions with your brand?
Warby Parker, for example, tells a customer experience story with its “Try at Home” programme. Customers can try up to five frames at home before buying. The company not only uses this program to showcase its wide range of frames but to tell the story of how convenient it is for a customer to find the perfect pair of glasses with Warby Parker.
4. Employee Story
An employee story focuses on the personal experience of employees, be it their experience working for your company or their contribution to its success.
- What do employees bring to your company’s success?
- How do employees experience working for your company?
- Can you share a specific employee success story?
- How does your company support employee growth and well-being?
Google is an example. In its “Life at Google” section, the tech giant highlights the experiences and achievements of its employees from diverse backgrounds, departments, and locations.
5. Product Story
Product stories focus on how your brand’s offerings have changed peoples’ lives.
- What unique features or qualities set your products apart?
- How do your products improve people’s lives?
- Have customers faced challenges that your products helped them overcome?
Patagonia also taps into product storytelling. For example, the company highlights how its customers use the products in real-life situations.
6. Community Involvement Story
Community involvement stories highlight your company’s philanthropic and sustainable efforts.
- How does your company contribute to its community?
- What initiatives or projects have you launched?
- Can you share examples of your brand’s involvement in charitable causes or community support?
An example is Toms. For every pair of shoes purchased, the brand used to donate another pair to a child in need. But Toms has now shifted its focus to supporting people in need of mental health treatment.
7. Industry Leadership Story
In an industry leadership story, your brand highlights its pioneering position and its role in driving innovation within the sector.
- How does your brand lead in the industry and drive innovation?
- What groundbreaking initiatives or technologies have you introduced?
- Can you share real examples of your brand’s leadership?
Take Tesla, for example. The company demonstrates its innovation by focusing on technological advances, such as its electric powertrains and autonomous driving features.
A Guide to Crafting Compelling Brand Stories
Authentic, relatable, and emotionally engaging stories can create a lasting connection between your brand and its audience. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting your brand story:
1. Understand Your Audience
The foundation of effective brand storytelling is a clear understanding of your target audience. Research their demographics, interests, and aspirations. By understanding their needs and pain points, you can tailor your stories to resonate with them and address their concerns.
Why would the audience want to listen? Why would they care about and share your story?
2. Understand your competition
When crafting your brand stories, define what truly differentiates your brand from others in the industry. How can storytelling underline your uniqueness?
3. Define Your Brand
Clearly define your brand’s values, mission and personality. This work will serve as the foundation for your brand storytelling, ensuring the stories align with your brand’s essence and purpose.
Are there discrepancies between how your brand is perceived and how it sees itself? Can storytelling help bridge these gaps?
4. Identify Core Messages
Decide on the key messages you want to convey through your stories. Is it your commitment to sustainability, quirkiness or outstanding product quality?
5. Choose Your Storytelling Themes
Consider the common themes in brand storytelling mentioned earlier. Select the themes that fit your brand. By the way, brands rarely just tell one story. Often multiple stories add up to convey the bigger picture.
6. Develop a Story Arc
Every great story follows a structure: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Apply this narrative arc to your brand stories. Introduce characters, challenges, and resolutions that mirror your brand’s journey or the impact it creates.
7. Incorporate Emotion
Emotion is the heart of storytelling. Infuse your narratives with emotions that your audience can connect to. Whether it’s joy, empathy, inspiration, or nostalgia, evoking an emotional response makes your stories more memorable.
8. Humanise Your Brand
Showcase the people behind the brand, from its employees to its customers. Personal experiences create relatable connections that foster trust and loyalty.
9. Be Authentic
Authenticity is key. Avoid exaggerations or false claims, today’s consumers are smart enough to see through them. Instead, focus on real stories and genuine experiences.
10. Use Visuals and Other Media
Who said storytelling has to be words? Visual elements can breathe life into your narratives, making them more shareable and memorable.
Use different media. Photography, words, video, graphics and even real-life events can tell the same story in different ways.
11. Be Consistent
Consistency in your brand storytelling builds recognition and reinforces your brand identity. Maintain a consistent tone, style, and message across all storytelling efforts.
In fact, the best stories can be told in several ways. Once you have developed some compelling brand stories, tell them again and again.
Share your brand stories through different channels, such as ads, blog posts, customer interactions or on social media. Each of these “micro-stories” will shape the perception of your brand as a whole.
Donald Miller’s 7 essential elements of a good story
There are many frameworks you can use to put your final story together, such as The Hero’s Journey or “StoryBrand.”
Donald Miller, author of “Building a StoryBrand,” outlines seven fundamental elements every brand story should have:
- A Character (your customer)
- Has a Problem (they need to solve)
- And Meets a Guide (your business)
- Who Gives Them a Plan (your offer)
- And Calls Them to Action (to start the buying process)
- That Ends in Success (a purchase)
- And Helps Them Avoid Failure (what happened if they did not buy)
You can download Donald Miller’s worksheet, here.
In wrapping up, our innate love for stories makes brand storytelling perfect for building stronger relationships with your audience.
As you craft your brand’s narrative, remember to anchor it in your overarching strategy and align it with your brand identity, intended audience, and values.
We identified seven common themes for brand storytelling:
- Origin Story
- Mission and Values Story
- Customer Experience Story
- Employee Story
- Product Story
- Community Involvement Story
- Industry Leadership Story
Whatever themes you talk about, compelling stories appeal to our emotions. Thus, they can captivate people and turn them into loyal fans. Remember to tell the same stories over and over again in a variety of ways, media and channels.
Frameworks like Donald Miller’s “StoryBrand” can help you structure your brand storytelling.
By embracing your brand’s stories, you can create a lasting impact and foster connections that go beyond transactions.
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out 4 Must-Reads That Go Beyond the Typical Branding Books, where I introduce two books that shaped my thinking about storytelling.
If you need help telling your brand’s story, feel free to get in touch.