Most organizations make an effort to influence the perception of their brand through social media, various marketing efforts, and customer service. However, not everyone fully appreciates how quickly brands are made and remade in the public eye.
Thanks to a combination of social media and the ubiquity of Yelp-style reviews on all services and products, information asymmetry has taken a nosedive over the last few years. On the other side of that coin, many companies aren’t initiating — or even participating in — the majority of the conversations about themselves.
With outsiders likely driving conversations about your company, it’s more important than ever to build strong brand messaging that permeates your marketing materials, user experience, internal communications, and more.
That’s where a brand story comes in.
Brand stories are an extension of your company’s core messaging. Beyond values and mission statement, they include your history, challenges, and triumphs. In short, they put your messaging into a linear narrative format.
Good storytelling doesn’t only hold your attention. It affects you physically and chemically. There’s evidence that hearing a well-told story releases oxytocin, a hormone responsible for feelings of human connection. It also activates mirror neurons, which tell your brain that you and another person have performed similar actions.
In simpler terms, storytelling literally creates empathy.
For companies with a well-defined brand story that permeates their communications, customers who interact with those communications will feel a sense of being part of the story. They’re not just customers or users; they’re a part of something larger than themselves.
Of course, defining your brand story and understanding where to apply it is no easy task. Good storytelling is a talent many people toil their entire lives to perfect. Luckily, all the best brand stories — and stories in general — include a handful of common elements. When you learn to recognize and include these, you’ll be well on your way.
Here are the four elements of a powerful brand story.
1. The hero’s journey
The hero’s journey is a concept as old as writing itself. Classically, it involves a central hero embarking on some journey, facing a number of ordeals, winning a decisive crisis, and finally returning home forever changed.
There are many variations, but the vast majority of great stories throughout history involve the hero’s journey in one way or another.
In your brand story, you can think of the brand itself and your team as the collective hero. Your brand’s inception was the call to adventure, and helping the world to access and benefit from the services you offer is the challenge the hero confronts.
An important difference between this hero’s journey and the classical one is that you shouldn’t think of your brand journey as complete. You want to situate yourself in the middle of the action (in medias res, to use the literary term) so that your audience feels the excitement of your story unfolding.
The point of developing your core messaging as a story is to create empathy among users and make them feel they are a part of the adventure.
To facilitate this, it’s important to weave them into the fabric of your narrative. Your users can be either heroes or allies to the hero, as long as they are active participants in the action. This should be present throughout your UX and marketing copy.
The image above provides a great example. Regardless of the specific space theme, notice how the company shows the users as taking an adventure and working together to execute their mission.
If the challenge of the hero’s journey is helping the world to gain the benefits of your service, center the copy around users realizing those benefits and helping others to as well. Talk about them in the second person and celebrate the small steps they take in their journey. For example, if you sell project management software, assigning and completing tasks are small steps in accomplishing your mission. Celebrate users who do that as part of your story.
3.Well defined values
Details are what makes a story great. Even when the plot isn’t entirely original, a story with three-dimensional characters and detailed scenes will stick in readers’ collective memory.
The details through which your brand distinguishes itself are your brand values. Even companies that do very similar things are distinct because of the values they emphasize. Companies that don’t clearly understand and communicate their values fail to stand out.
How you define your values affects the central challenges of the hero’s journey, as well as what user actions you emphasize in your story.
What value does your product or service provide? What problems are you proudest to solve for your customers? How would the world look with everyone using your tool? These questions lead you to the values you need to communicate.
What good is defining your brand story if you don’t know how to present it in a way that people will read and remember?
As we mentioned earlier, pieces of your story should be present throughout your marketing materials, UX copy, and internal communications. In addition, the story lives in its complete, contiguous form somewhere accessible.
If a coworker asks you where to find the brand story, you should be able to tell them.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone will actually read that story — or any of the communications that make use of it. There is evidence that the average human attention span has shrunk to less than that of a goldfish. Beyond the other elements of good storytelling mentioned here, any piece of content needs to be linear, visually impressive, and snackable if it's to be read and remembered.
We know that very well at Foleon, and it’s why we provide a platform for businesses to create that type of visual content.
We’ve learned that including visual elements such as full-screen background videos grow engagement by up to 400%. Personalizing content based on data about the reader’s industry, location, and demographics increases reading time by 71% and social shares by 75%. These are two strong examples of why you should present your content in a jaw-dropping, memorable way.
Every communication, every piece of marketing collateral you produce is colored by your brand’s messaging. With the way online conversations about brands happen today, that messaging is a continually evolving story. For the health of your company, it’s important to remain the protagonist of that story.
Luckily, by understanding the elements of good storytelling and using them to your advantage, you will have a lot more control over the outcome. By telling your story well and consistently, you lower the chances that someone else will tell it instead.
Ben Kulakofsky is a digital marketer and content writer. His past work has been featured in the Guardian and Al Jazeera. When not buried in his notebook, Ben can be found catching midnight showings of his favorite classic horror movies.
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