Thriving companies understand the power of brand storytelling. They know how to establish more meaningful connections with their target audience through captivating stories. Here’s how you can do the same.
In this article, we will look at how brands can leverage stories. But first, let’s explore why people are naturally drawn to stories and what makes stories so powerful.
Why are people wired for stories?
Humans have been telling each other stories for millennia—first orally, later in writing. Even before that, mankind told stories in the form of cave paintings.
But what is behind our love for storytelling?
Scientists believe storytelling is a bonding tool, fostering a sense of connection and purpose. Stories may even have played a role in our survival as a species.
Here are six explanations for why we tell stories:
- Stories provide a shared goal
- Stories help us bond
- Stories persuade
- Stories bring meaning
- Stories help us survive as a species
- Stories improve memory
1. Stories provide a shared goal
Our extraordinary ability to work together in large teams sets us apart from all other species.
Stories strengthen our team spirit by aligning people towards common goals. This is also why religions have had such a lasting influence throughout history.
2. Stories help us bond
Not all stories have to be as significant as those in the Bible.
Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar has 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 more extensive social networks.
3. Stories persuade
Stories are persuasive because they tap into our emotions and create a connection between the audience and the characters in the story.
One study found that stories can even help acquire donations. Those who read a story about a girl from Africa donated on average twice as much as those who read pure statistics.
4. Stories bring meaning
Stories give us a sense of control. They help us find order and meaning in the midst of chaos.
They may even hold the key to discovering meaning in life.
In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankl writes about his experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. He reports that the surviving prisoners told each other stories that helped them cope with the hardship and trauma. Frankl believed these stories gave them a sense of purpose even in the bleakest of circumstances.
5. Stories help us survive as a species
Throughout the centuries, people have used stories to warn each other of potential dangers.
Whether in the form of myths or personal accounts, storytelling gives us the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others in dealing with challenging situations.
6. Stories improve memory
By activating several brain regions at the same time and linking information with emotions, stories significantly improve our memory.
Jennifer Aaker, a behavioural scientist and professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, confirms this:
So, how does all of this relate to branding? Let’s find out.
What is brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling is an opportunity to communicate the identity and essence of a company through a narrative. A unique brand story helps companies emotionally connect with their audience and clearly differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Brand storytelling also increases brand recognition. Brand stories leave a lasting impression and thus encourage people to become 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 there are some common themes that come up repeatedly, such as:
- Mission and values
- Customer experience
- Employee story
- Community involvement
- Industry leadership
1. Origin story
In their origin story, companies tell how they were established, including the key moments that shaped the brand’s identity.
A good example of a brand telling 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
In stories about their mission and values, companies show why their brand exists and what it stands for.
An example of a company that communicates its mission and values through storytelling is Patagonia.
The company uses its business model to inspire and implement solutions to the climate crisis. In its narratives, Patagonia underlines its commitment to sustainability, activism and responsible supply and manufacturing practices.
3. Customer experience
This type of story refers to the customers’ experience of using a company’s products or services.
Patagonia also taps into customer experiences in its storytelling.
The company highlights on its website stories of how its customers use the products in real-life situations.
4. Employee stories
An employee story focuses on the personal experience of employees, be it their experience working for the company or their contribution to its success.
Google, for example, tells employee stories.
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 stories
Product stories focus on how the brand’s offerings have changed peoples’ lives.
Warby Parker, for example, tells a product story with its “Try at Home” programme. Customers can try up to five frames at home before buying.
The company uses this programme not only to showcase its wide range of frames but more importantly to tell the story of how convenient it is for a customer to find the perfect pair of glasses with them.
6. Community involvement
These stories are typically highlighting the company’s philanthropic and sustainable efforts.
An example is Toms. The footwear brand used to follow the principle of “One for One”. For every pair of shoes bought, it donated another pair to a child in need. However, the company has since shifted its focus to supporting people needing mental health treatment.
7. Industry leadership
Other companies talk about their pioneering role in the industry and how they drive innovation.
One example of a company that tells a story about its pioneering role is Tesla.
One way, the company demonstrates its innovation is by focusing on technological advances, such as its electric powertrains and autonomous driving features.
How to craft compelling band stories
As you can see, brand storytelling is an effective way to connect with your target audience and build a strong brand identity. By the way, a brand rarely tells just one story. Often there are several stories that add up to convey the bigger picture.
When crafting your brand stories, think carefully about what differentiates your brand from others in the industry. Are there discrepancies between how your brand is perceived by the public and how it sees itself? Can storytelling help bridge these gaps?
To develop your brand storytelling, you can ask the following questions:
- What is the goal: Why tell the story in the first place?
- How to grab attention: why would the audience want to listen?
- How to Engage: why would the audience care?
- How to enable action: why would the audience want to share the story?
Donald Miller’s 7 essential elements of a good story
According to Donald Miller, author of “Building a StoryBrand,” every brand story should have seven essential elements:
- A Character (your customer)
- Has a Problem (they need to solve)
- And Meets a Guide (your business)
- Who Gives Them a Plan (your solutions)
- And Calls Them to Action (to start the buying process)
- That Ends in Success
- And Helps Them Avoid Failure (what would happen if they do not buy)
You can download Donald Miller’s worksheet, here.
Telling your Brand stories through different media and channels
The best stories can be told in several ways. Once you have developed some compelling brand stories, tell them again and again.
Use different media for your brand storytelling. Photography, words, video, and even real-life events can tell the same story in different ways.
Share your brand stories through different channels, such as advertisements, blog posts, customer interactions or on social media. Each of these “micro-stories” will shape the perception of your brand as a whole.
In conclusion, brand storytelling is an effective way for companies to build a closer relationship with their target audience.
Humans are naturally drawn to stories as they give us meaning and connect us to others. By telling their unique stories, brands can stand out from their competitors and attract more loyal customers.
Brand storytelling will leave a lasting impression and may even inspire customers to become loyal fans.
 R. I. M. Dunbar. Gossip in Evolutionary Perspective https://allegatifac.unipv.it/ziorufus/Dunbar%20gossip.pdf
 Jennifer Aaker. Lean In. How to Use Stories to Win Over Others https://leanin.org/education/harnessing-the-power-of-stories#!
 Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl-ebook/dp/B009U9S6FI
 Harvard Business Review. The New Science of Customer Emotions https://hbr.org/2015/11/the-new-science-of-customer-emotions
The Atlantic. The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling
Reporter. The Evolution of Storytelling https://reporter.rit.edu/tech/evolution-storytelling
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