We can’t just talk about a product; we have to tell a story. Consumers have an insatiable appetite for content, and a story is content at its most engaging and powerful. Furthermore, storytelling can reinvigorate an older brand and capitalise on its heritage – many companies with a rich history employ brand archivists to do exactly this.
A lot of the current hot topics in marketing are based on storytelling in one form or another: content marketing, native advertising, "brand fiction" and the like.
Moreover, just as data and social are shaking up the old order, so storytelling is entering a new age.
So what can we do to make sure our brand’s story is told well?
Storybuilding, not just storytelling
Great stories are often created with the involvement of their audiences, enabling them to directly engage with the story. In the digital world, especially, stories are not simply broadcast to their audiences. Instead they are introduced by the brand, but then built and concluded together. Ultimately, stories must connect with the audience on an emotional level and create a bond.
Remember the fundamentals
Great stories have four elements: a hero, a challenge, an obstacle that’s overcome and a happy ending. For brand stories, the hero is the customer; the challenge is the need the brand delivers against; and the distinctive way in which the brand does this (in other words, overcomes the obstacle) is the USP or "magic" in its own story.
Think carefully about your story’s focus
Great brands are now telling their story of "why" consumers should engage with them (their purpose and values) rather than "what" they do (their functionality and service) or "how" they do it (their features and ingredients). Cadbury’s recent online "Free the joy" video, with James Corden, is a great example of a brand sharing a proposition (freedom) of a higher order to connect with consumers.
Publicly share your core values
The thinking and stories of brands such as Disney and Google are known to all. Building a customer charter that opens the door to conversations with customers at a higher level helps avoid it being a transactional relationship.
Share the story internally
A story is the perfect way to rally the troops and share a compelling vision of the future. If we can show what the brand cares about and why, it motivates employees and helps recruit the right talent. After losing focus on its consumers, Crayola famously created a manifesto that became a unifying, rallying cry for a more meaningful purpose, driving a complete internal revitalisation of the business.
Drive it from the top
Storytelling is a leadership responsibility and should be embraced by the most senior people in the company, ideally led by one master storyteller. For example, Procter & Gamble created brand franchise leaders for each of its major brands, instead of having leaders in each region.
But is all this talk of stories a little trivial? Absolutely not. Millward Brown and Jim Stengel, the former Procter & Gamble global marketing officer, analysed more than 50,000 global brands over a 10-year period and found that the top 50, based on ROI, all had a clear brand ideal or purpose that drove all aspects of their business. Now there’s a happy ending.