Brand storytelling is how to build your brand’s image with a narrative that encompasses your values, mission, and vision.

People are storytellers by nature, so companies that want to make an impact better tell great stories. When we hear a good one, our brains naturally produce neurotransmitters. These chemicals are responsible for creating our feelings.

A study by Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate School, detailed how storytelling can change human behavior. He took blood samples from study participants before and after they listened to a heartwarming story. He noticed that cortisol and oxytocin were released after hearing the story, changing the participants’ brain chemistry and subsequently changing their behavior. The study revealed that “the subjects whose brains produced the highest levels of cortisol and oxytocin were “more likely to donate money generously.”

Let’s first explore what storytelling is, and how brands are adopting it as the new tool for reaching the right customers.

Storytelling has always captivated people.

Storytelling is an age-old human trait. We’ve relied on the spoken word to pass down our histories long before we were writing. Our ancestors told their stories to younger generations so they can learn about the past and keep traditions alive. But storytelling wasn’t just about history lessons — it was also a way to entertain.

Consider The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. That story taught readers to take care of the environment because it takes care of you. It was a simple message, yet it was effective because readers learned something. Stories that teach a lesson are memorable. Think of the stories that you remember best — which ones had a lasting effect?

Most stories follow a typical narrative of beginning, middle, and end. But there are no hard rules — you can use this structure in different forms. There’s no limit to the types of stories you can tell. The hero’s journey, the parable, and the fairy tale are just a few examples.

All stories share one essential trait: they directly connect with the audience. Great stories use suspense, originality, relatability, coherence, and emotion to get readers interested, then invested. Once they’re hooked you’ll have a better shot of eliciting some action or feeling from them. Research from content marketing agency Headstream shows that people who enjoy a brand story are 55 percent are more likely to buy that brand’s product in the future, 44 percent will share the story, and 15 percent will buy the product immediately.

It should come as no surprise that storytelling is finding a new place in the marketer’s toolbox.

What we know about marketing has changed dramatically.

The marketing business was born during the Industrial Revolution. It was cheaper for consumers to buy things than to make them. As product demands grew, manufacturers needed more ways to tell people what they were offering for sale, and contemporary marketing was born.

Many people view marketing as an extension of sales. Billboards, newspaper ads, pop-up ads, banner ads — we’re marketed to a dozen different ways. But these older techniques don’t fly as culture shifts. This is redefining marketing because of a few important changes in society.

The internet has made it easier than ever before to spread a message. From paid advertisements to sponsored content, there are many ways to advertise online. In one survey, 91 percent of respondents said they believe ads are more intrusive today than two to three years ago. This proliferation of advertisements means customers are more resistant to them.

Customer needs have also changed. They used to be happy with a good product at an affordable price, but now they want more. They want brands to take stances on social and political issues. In an Edelman study, 60 percent of respondents said brands should make it easier to see their values and positions on important issues at the point of sale. Consumers also want their brands to offer outstanding customer service all the time. And they want perks — discounts, customer loyalty programs, or free gifts.

Everyone has a smartphone and information is more accessible than ever before. But it comes at the expense of our attention spans. We use our devices everywhere — coffee shops, Ubers, and on international flights. We’re letting apps and companies slam information down our throats, leaving us no time to pay attention to more important things. That makes it harder and harder for brands to get attention.

Marketing firm Direct Development estimates that brands have approximately eight seconds to get a customer’s attention — that’s not much, so brands have to get creative.

Social media is also to blame for a shift in how brands market. People now interact with their favorite brands in their feeds. They even expect companies to take a stance when it comes to social issues. Social media management software company Sprout Social found that 66 percent of participants in their survey wanted brands to engage in social and political issues.

To meet customers in this new marketing landscape, brands need to change it up and try something new. That’s why brand storytelling can be extremely valuable.

Introducing a new way to capture an audience.

A LinkedIn study found that brand storytelling started ramping up as a marketing skill around 2011. Before that, it wasn’t a tool most marketers had. It happened because Coca Cola launched a video outlining their 2020 strategy. Included in this vision was storytelling, which would provoke conversations to integrate itself into modern culture. If one of the world’s biggest brands was emphasizing storytelling, then it definitely carried some weight. Now storytelling is the new way to market to the right audience.

Brand storytelling is the process of explaining to your target audience why you do business. You’re not just telling a story, you’re helping customers see what it’s like to be a part of the brand. It’s an exclusive community that people want to be a part of. Customers prefer to be part of an experience and not just buy a product or service. The Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than on material things.

If you want your brand’s story to be successful, it should include five things:

  • Suspense: a healthy amount of tension will keep the audience engaged.
  • Originality: new stuff is more interesting than old stuff.
  • Relatability: the audience should be able to see themselves in your story.
  • Coherence: Smooth stories will keep your audience’s attention. Complex, choppy stories will confuse them, and that spells death for your engagement.
  • Emotion: stories full of feelings and sentiment are more relatable.

These are the crucial elements that make a good story great. We’ll go into further detail on these in Chapter 3.

Your favorite brands probably use storytelling.

Brand storytelling isn’t some secret for business success, but it’s an art that needs to be practiced and developed. You can’t fake it till you make it here — only authentic stories will stick.

Check out some of these popular storytelling campaigns created by top brands:

Storytelling is a powerful way to convey your brand’s message. It lets you discuss your company’s origin, as well as its mission statement, purpose, and values. It’s also a channel where you can connect with your target audience on a personal level. You have the opportunity to show them you’re not just a product or service. Doing business with your company is an experience — and you want to share that experience with them.

Use your natural storytelling talent to prove to your customers that you’re more than a company. You’re a brand with a story to tell.

 

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