Some of your favorite companies are incredible storytellers.
Brand storytelling is the best way to gain attention from a target audience. It’s more effective than filling their inboxes with newsletters or buying up ad space on their favorite websites. Stories are more shareable, relatable, and personal than any type of promotional advertising.
The TOMS story is an excellent example of brand storytelling.
Picture this: a man goes on a vacation to South America and notices a lot of children are running around without shoes because they can’t afford them. Most people take shoes for granted, but approximately 300 million children around the world don’t own a pair.
TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie decided to change that in 2006. Since 2006, Mycoskie’s company has given more than 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need. The simple “One for One” message and its social purpose would make anyone glad to support their humanitarian cause.
The best part is that TOMS didn’t stop there, and adapted its “One for One” message to fit bigger social problems. It launched the End Gun Violence Together campaign earlier this year to bring increased awareness to US gun violence. TOMS started by donating $5 million dollars to charities fighting to end gun violence. The company then took their campaign on a tour of the country, and more than 700,000 Americans mailed postcards to Congress in support of universal background checks. The campaign finished in Washington, DC with a rally to gain attention from Congress.
Dove has taken a different approach from other personal care brands — they’ve humanized their brand through storytelling.
Take one of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaigns that appeared on the web in 2013. The videos portrayed women walking into a sparsely furnished floor of a warehouse building. The women take a seat on one side of a curtain, and on the other side sits a forensic sketch artist with a sketchpad. He asks them to describe themselves, and he draws an image based off of their descriptions. Once he’s finished, the woman leaves and a stranger walks into the room.
The sketch artist asks the person to describe the person who was just in the room. The sketch artist then repeats the process. The finished result is two sketches, side by side. The self-described images are sadder and colder, while the other images show someone more recognizable. You can watch the full video here.
There are many things that make this story so powerful. Dove immediately uncovers something that everyone can relate to: insecurity about our beauty. It’s as raw as it is memorable. Dove also doesn’t mention its product anywhere in the video — the campaign isn’t even slightly self-promotional. Dove highlights their bigger vision of “helping women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.”
Take a look at the Dove Evolution campaign. They took a photo of an everyday woman and doctored it up to be a billboard photo. It told the story of how the media manipulates what beauty should look like. They also had the image_hack campaign, which uncovered that 68 percent of women don’t identify with the images they see in advertising. So they encouraged photographers to upload photos of non-stereotypical women to the site and tag the photos with “beautiful woman” or “real woman.” This would challenge the stereotype that stock photos have perpetuated.
Longer work hours and an impossibly fast culture mean that home-cooked meals are falling by the wayside. But Blue Apron challenges this trend.
Blue Apron’s mission is to give people an easy way to make dinner using trusted, chef-recommended recipes. They include all the ingredients customers will need, precisely measured out in sustainable packaging. But the company turned to brand storytelling to overcome the reductive “food in a box” perception.
When they release their meals, they don’t just put things into boxes and ship them off with well-wishes. They take the time to describe where the ingredients come from, where the dish originated, and the cooking methods behind it.
Blue Apron also expanded into different channels to reach its audience. It had a series of TV campaigns called “What Cooking Can Do,” which showed food’s transformative power. Each video portrayed a scene of how a home-cooked meal could change someone’s mood or day. Blue Apron CEO Brad Dickerson also appeared on podcasts like Recode, DealMakers, and The Growth Show. It even started its own podcast called Why We Eat What We Eat. It gives them a different channel share the message that its meals are good for you.
Buying eyeglasses online wasn’t a thing in 2012, but Warby Parker made it happen. The company disrupted a market ruled by expensive brand-name eyewear companies.
The founding story is wholesome and relatable. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal lost his glasses on vacation and spent the next semester of college squinting because he couldn’t afford expensive new glasses. Why weren’t eyeglasses cheaper, and why couldn’t customers order them online? These questions eventually yielded Warby Parker.
Storytelling is a huge part of the company. It even prints a short version of the company’s founding on an eyeglass cleaning cloth. It’s genius.
Warby Parker is similar to TOMS by virtue of embracing the “buy a pair, give a pair” mentality. It partners with nonprofits to donate a pair of glasses for every pair they sell. This effort will slowly help the one billion people around the world who need glasses and can’t get them.
Many people are blind to their habits, going through the motions without a second thought. Shaving is one of these habits, a mindless morning ritual that many people suffer through. People tend to use disposable razors because they’re a widely available alternative to costly electric razors. But disposable razors aren’t exactly cheap, but they’re certainly cheaper than going electric.
Then Dollar Shave Club came along and changed that industry, bringing a new face to shaving. The company knew its audience right from the start. The first commercial in 2012 cost $4,500 and took a single day to shoot. It ended up generating so much traffic to their site that the servers crashed. The video follows Dollar Shave Club founder Mike Dubin on a walk through the company’s warehouse. He asks why anyone would want to spend too much money on shavers with too many features that no one really needs. He then states that Dollar Shave Club is changing that by offering affordable, quality razors delivered right to the customer’s door.
The commercial was low-budget, crude, funny, and completely effective. Dollar Shave Club acquired 12,000 customers in two days.
Dollar Shave Club was also successful because it had strong product-market fit. Shaving is necessary for men (and women), but it’s also expensive. The company’s new solution to shaving.
Dollar Shave Club continued making videos that its audience connected with. It has a #DSCYourThing contest for Dollar Shave Club members to submit videos describing their “thing.” People can talk about what they love doing most: running a small business, managing a nonprofit, or having a hobby. They award a $1,000 prize to a new winner every three months, and also give online shoutouts to other submissions.
It also launched a new commercial at the end of last year, called “Get Ready.” It described the unique ways every man gets ready in the morning, and it racked up nearly 3 million views.
These efforts paid off — Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for a reported $1 billion in cash.
Storytelling isn’t the latest fad, like pivoting to video. It’s a way companies share their vision with a target audience in a relatable, emotional, and non-intrusive way. Popular brands today embrace storytelling as part of their content marketing strategies. It’s a way to offer an experience instead of just selling a product. Storytelling also lets anyone express their own perspectives, values, and goals in a digestible way.
These brands caught your attention. Now it’s your brand’s turn to capture an audience using a compelling story.