How to Use Brand Storytelling to Break Through:
The Ultimate Guide
Infusing brand storytelling into your marketing strategy will help your brand stand out, take you to the next level, and leave your competition scrambling to figure out what the heck just happened.
In today's guide you'll learn:
- The secret to why stories sell
- How to structure your brand stories for success
- How to use brand storytelling to cut through the clutter
- Why storytelling is important in a digital world
In short, if you want to break through, capture attention, build loyalty, and drive sales for your brand, buckle up because this guide is going to give you that, and much more.
Brand Storytelling Basics
In this chapter we will review the fundamentals of brand storytelling, including why brand storytelling is important.
It's critical to build your brand storytelling knowledge off of a strong foundation.
So if you're new to storytelling as a marketing concept, this chapter is for you.
Let's get after it.
What Is Brand Storytelling?
Brand storytelling is the act of using an emotion-evoking narrative to connect your brand to customers, with a focus on creating empathy by linking what your brand stands for with the values you share with your customers.
The key to tell powerful brand stories is developing an emotional resonance with your audience.
A brand story is not just a series of events (and then, and then, and then), but a journey of suspense where the audience feels the experience.
The most powerful brand stories create empathy, capture and hold an audiences' attention, and compel them to take an action which directly benefits both the consumer and the brand.
Brief History of Storytelling
Storytelling is ancient. People were telling each others stories to convey things they saw, and explain experiences they had, possibly even before written language.
Storytelling is fundamental to how humans consume, and convey information.
If you think about it, storytelling is fundamental to marketing as well. Marketers have been telling stories from the very beginning. The only thing that's changed along the way are the mediums we use to convey our stories.
Powerful Examples of Brand Storytelling In Advertising
A great example of storytelling in advertising is Ivory Soap. Ivory Soap launching the first national print ad telling their 'It Floats' story to the masses.
The ad conveyed their message around the convenience of not losing your soap in a bathtub full of water. It's beauty was in its simplicity. A simple image with a single message.
The Ivory Soap ad created instant empathy with their target audience because they latched onto what was a huge problem at the time, competitors' soap sank to the bottom of the bathtub, leaving people splashing around trying to recover it.
Marketers behind the Ivory Soap ad tapped into the frustration other soap products made consumers feel, and then provided Ivory Soap as the solution: A soap that floats.
Apple is another company that understand the power of storytelling in marketing.
Apple is all about thinking different, fighting back against conformity, and expressing their originality. They wanted to tell a story that struck a cord with people who shared the same values.
Back in the 80s Apple used TV and print ads to tell their stories. They ran their most famous commercial '1984' during Super Bowl XVIII to help sell the new Macintosh computer.
In that spot, they told a powerful story about fighting back against Big Brother (IBM).
The commercial showed hundreds of men listening to Big Brother deliver a speech about censorship. Halfway through the speech, a model runs into the room and throws a baseball bat at the screen, destroying it, and freeing the men from Big Brother’s grasp.
In a few short seconds Apple was able to tell a story that evoked a wave of powerful emotions which flowed through their target audience.
People wanted to stand next to a brand that wasn't afraid to speak out, to think differently.
Sales of the Mac soared after the release of '1984', the Super Bowl's greatest commercial of all time.
Why Now For Brand Storytelling?
Now, more than ever, you must tell your brand story if you want to succeed in this global marketplace. Just like Apple used their ads to stand out, brand today must do the same.
TV is out. The new battle for brands is being fought on the internet. And the competition is FIERCE.
The internet has made it cheaper and easier than ever before to reach your audience. The problem is that you're now competing with tens of thousands of brands large and small for your customer's attention.
In an age of distraction and unlimited choice, brands need to find a way to break through, create loyalty, and drive sales.
Storytelling. Is. It.
The Power of Brand Storytelling
This chapter is all about connecting the dots to what makes brand storytelling such a powerful content marketing strategy.
Understanding the power of storytelling will ultimately help you create remarkable brand stories that move people.
Knowing the power behind brand storytelling will also give you confidence if you have to justify the approach to senior leadership, and ensure them that it will work.
Pumped for the power of brand storytelling? If so, let's get started.
Why Tell Stories?
Two words: Break through.
In today’s world we are all inundated with marketing messages. Whether it's ads or content, when you consider the following stats, it's fair to say that marketing saturation is taking place (by the time you read this, these stats will already be outdated - things are moving THAT fast):
- Every 60 seconds, 3,780,000 Google searches are performed
- 4.4 million blogs are published daily (Source: Worldometers)
- 5.3 trillion ads are shown online each year
- The average consumer processes 100,500 digital words daily
The result of all of this? Consumers are ignoring our marketing messages.
Marketers shouldn't take it personally. With so much information thrown at them, consumers are in survival mode.
They are turning to tools like ad-blocking software just to get some reprieve.
In an environment where traditional content marketing has become saturated, and ads are being blocked, how do you get your brand to rise and cut through the clutter?
Inject storytelling into your content marketing strategy.
Because stories break through.
What Makes Brand Storytelling So Powerful?
This answer requires just one word: Empathy.
Great stories create a deep empathetic bond between the main character and the audience. The feeling of ’like me’ that the audience gets when consuming stories that resonate causes emotions to flow when something positive or negative happens.
The rest of the story hangs off of the empathy that's created within the audience. Empathy is what allows the audience to place themselves within the story, put themselves in the shoes of the main character.
When the main character encounters an obstacle, the audience encounters that same obstacle. They feel emotions of sadness, fear, guilt, etc.
When the main character overcomes an obstacle, the audience feels as if they've overcome that same obstacle. This leaves them feeling the same emotions of joy, satisfaction, happiness, love, etc. as your character.
Empathy creates the emotional connection between a brand it's audience. It's that emotional connection that makes brand stories resonate so deeply.
Humans Are Hardwired For Stories
The human mind is a biological engine built by evolution to constantly create and consume stories.
Stories affect us physically and mentally. If the main character is in a tight corner, our hearts race, we breathe faster, and sweat more. When consuming a sad story, we frown, or even cry.
In brain studies, researchers have seen that no matter if someone is having a physical experience or they are watching a movie where the main character is having that experience, the same areas of the brain light up.
To our mind, there is no difference between reality and story.
This. Is. Significant. For. Marketers. It means that we can use storytelling to create experiences for consumers that are just as impactful as if they were participating in a real life event.
During an escalation of conflict driven events in a story, chemical reactions take place within the brain, like the release of oxytocin and dopamine, flooding humans with a rush of emotions.
According to Marsha Rossiter, in her 2002 work, "Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning", stories are effective educational tools because the audience become engaged and therefore remembers the story messages.
Storytelling can be seen as a foundation for learning and teaching. While the listener is engaged, they are able to imagine new perspectives, inviting a transformative and empathetic experience.
The fact that stories help humans remember important messages can be substantiated by the work of cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner. He states that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more memorable.
It's because of information like that above that storytelling is at the core of all great marketing.
Stories help marketers resonate with their audience by threading marketing messages together in a way that creates emotional connections, helps people remember what they learned, and compels them to make brand-friendly decisions.
Without storytelling, marketing messages simply fall away into a sea of similar rhetoric.
What's one goal of every single marketer?
To ensure your marketing messages are remembered.
If you believe Dr. Bruner, then injecting your marketing messages into brand stories gives you the best chance of successfully achieving your marketing goals.
Story Marketing Captures Audience Attention
In a world filled with distraction, attention is a marketer’s most valuable asset. Storytelling captures an audience’s attention and holds it in suspense until the telling is finished.
Having created that emotional connection with your audience, they stay tuned in through every twist and turn the story takes because they feel that connection with the main character, and want to find out what happens to her.
Think back to watching some of your favorite movies? Were you tuned in? At the end of the movie, when you checked the time on your phone, were you surprised by how much time had passed?
Great stories draw us in. They maintain our attention by taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride.
By creating empathy with the audience, and telling a story that evokes emotion, brands can take advantage of this storytelling trait.
Great stories capture, and hold a customer's attention, ensuring all of your key marketing messages get consumed, and cataloged in their minds.
A Powerful Brand Story Compels Action
In their book, STORYNOMICS, Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace talk about the concept of the "open-mind moment".
The open-mind moment occurs during the story's climax. The story's climax jolts the audience's mind with a rush of emotional insight, a flash of "I get it" when the meaning of the story is revealed.
In an instant, a flood of charged understanding opens the mind.
Neuroscientists have measured this open-mind phenomenon and found that it lasts approximately six to eight seconds.
In this moment of wonder and pleasure, anything presented to the mind lodges in its memory.
This is the SPOT the marketer plants his logo or call-to-action.
Only when people are open to receiving your sales messages will they take action to buy your product or service.
This is the power of brand storytelling - it opens people up, and drives them to take brand-friendly actions.
Your marketing stories open customers' minds to buying your product or service.
Structure Your Brand Story for Success
During this chapter we are going to dig into the common structure that all great narratives share.
Implementing the right story structure is critical to telling effective stories. Because of it's importance, this section is a little heavier in terms of content.
We need to go deep on the components of effective storytelling or all that you will end up with is a flat narrative of "and then and then and then".
Grab some water, and let's jump in.
What Are The Components of A Great Story?
When one starts to go deep on storytelling, it's easy to realize that the best stories share a similar structure. There's a formula for telling breakthrough stories.
The best part?
That formula can be learned.
The common trait that all stories share is that they all have a beginning, middle, and an end.
For marketing purposes, think of these phases of story as: Introduction, Challenge, Solution.
If you want to tell effective stories, including the key components of each of these phases is critical.
Let's break each one down.
A story's introduction is when the story setting, both time and place, is introduced. The story's theme or core message (plot) unfolds, usually through the introduction of the main character and his or her core values.
For your marketing stories, it's important that you choose to focus your story on values shared by your target audience.
Think back to the Apple example. Their brand stands for thinking differently, going against the status quo.
In Apple's 1984 commercial they pulled that vibe through, so that their story would resonate with consumers who also share that trait.
The only way to know for sure if your story will hit the mark, is to truly know your customer. Market research is critical for this.
From there, you must find out what problems your audience has, and then focus in on those that can be solved with your product or service.
If you craft your story around a challenge that resonates with the audience, it'll create what's called a "mirror experience".
The mirror experience occurs when the audience can put themselves in the shoes of the main character. It occurs because they've either had that experience before, or they can easily see themselves having it.
An audience will replace the main character with themselves. It's that empathetic feeling of "like me" that you read about above.
Creating a mirror experience within the mind of the audience is the secret to why storytelling is the best approach to driving the consumer behaviors you seek.
The Mirror Experience
According to Robert McKee and Thomas Grace, the emotional mirror experience begins and ends with empathy.
"When a protagonist radiates a positive human experience, this center of good attracts the audience's natural instinct to connect with a fellow human being. The audience falls into a subconscious identification, aka empathy with the main character."
3 Steps to Creating the Emotional Mirror Experience with Brand Storytelling
- Identification - Moment the target consumer (audience) recognizes the shared values between herself and the main character.
- Subconscious Switch - Once identification occurs, the audience feels this is "her" story and she replaces the main characters' desire for her real-life desire. This means that subconsciously when she's rooting for your story's main character, she's actually rooting for herself.
- Reenactment - The audiences' mirrored experience motivates her to act. Wishing to relive the positive feeling of the story, she purchase the product or hires the service that was set up as the solution.
Once the mirror connection is made, and the subconscious switch occurs, the challenge is introduced.
Since you used market research to identify a specific challenge that your audience has, you know what challenge to inject into your story.
The inciting incident is the moment when a shift occurs, usually a negative event, throwing the main character's life out of balance.
This sudden reversal of fortune in the main character's life mirrors the customer's life and reflects her target need, the unsatisfied desire that you discovered during your research.
The audience will fall deeper into resonance because they too face that same challenge and have the same unsatisfied desire.
An inciting incident sends the main character on a journey to seek a solution to overcome the challenge, and restore balance back to her life.
During this section of the story you inject obstacles into the story to create suspense and hold an audience’s attention as they go through an emotionally charged journey with the main character.
The Emotional Journey
Because of the emotional mirror, as the main character tries to find solutions to the obstacles they encounter, the audience is constantly thinking about how they would handle each situation and solve the challenge.
The audience will let their minds wander trying to figure out how the story will end.
It's this injection of the self into the story that forges such a strong connection between the teller (brand) and the audience.
With longer stories like movies or novels, it takes repeated steps for the main character to solve their challenge. There might be an initial challenge which the main character fails to overcome, only to dig deeper and find a solution during her second attempt.
This process should speed up in your brand story.
Marketing stories are usually shorter. More times than not, there is a single challenge with a single solution.
In either case, the highs and lows that the main character goes through, which are felt by your audience, is what triggers emotional responses in the audience.
As you read above, chemicals are released during these emotional swings, and those chemicals reactions are what helps the audience remember your story, and your marketing messages.
Whether your story is short or long, when it comes to a marketing story, the solution is ALWAYS your product, service, brand, or company.
Make your story stick with an AHA moment explaining the story’s meaning.
Position your brand, product, or service as hero.
Insert your CTA to compel action.
Earlier you read about the concept of the open-mind moment, and the mirror experience, as described by Robert McKee and Thomas Grace in their book STORYNOMICS. The two come together during a story's solution.
At the end of the story, the main character uses your solution (product, service, etc.) to solve their challenge, and restore balance back to their life.
It's during this event that the story comes together for the audience, they connect the dots, and the story's meaning is revealed.
During those precious 6-8 seconds, marketers can plant their call-to-action. The CTA should align with the solution (your product or service) that the audience just experienced the main character use to solve her challenge.
How to Get Started With Brand Storytelling
In this chapter you will learn everything you need to know about getting started with telling brand stories.
A lot of what we cover will feel familiar to you. Remember, as marketers, we tell stories all the time.
Now we are simply being more purposeful about telling stories, and injecting the core components of storytelling in order to build those emotional bonds.
If you're ready, let's begin.
Where Should I Start With Brand Storytelling?
When it comes to storytelling marketing, always start by creating a quick plan. Sounds familiar, right? Storytelling is no different than other marketing strategies.
You must know where you're going, why you are going there, and how to measure that you got where you want to go.
Follow these steps to get started with storytelling for your brand:
- Set your storytelling goals and objectives
- Determine what type of story you want to tell (ie. brand story, product story, customer story, etc.)
- Conduct market research (or dig into your existing customer research) to identify your target audience's key challenges (remember to align these with the challenges your product solves)
- Identify the marketing channels you want to use for telling your story (these should be channels where you can reach your target audience)
- Set key performance indicators which will allow you to determine if you are meeting your goals
- Pull together a storytelling team to help you execute
What Team Members Do I Recruit for Creating a Brand Story?
Like all great marketing campaigns, when it comes to telling powerful marketing stories, it takes a village. Recruiting the right team members is critical.
If you are currently using content marketing, then you probably already have the team you need. Storytelling is simply the most effective form of content marketing, so the team usually remains the same.
Build your storytelling team with these roles:
- Art director
- Digital director
- Marketer (possibly you)
- Project manager
In every organization these roles might look a little different or be referred to by other terms, but the essence remains the same.
You need someone to write the story, someone to bring it to life creatively, a person who knows how to use digital to distribute it, a marketer to oversee the program, and a project manager to keep everyone on track.
The Difference Between Content Marketing and Storytelling Marketing
Once you bring your team together, the first thing to do is get them in a room and explain how storytelling is different than content marketing, and educate them on what makes storytelling so powerful.
*Hint: Traditional content marketing usually focuses on the "what". What your product does, what features you offer, what it looks like, etc.
Storytelling is all about the "hows" and the "whys". The "hows" and the "whys" are where the emotional aspects of your brand, product, and service stories lay.
- How can our product solve your challenge (there's a story here).
- Why did we start this company (there's a story behind that question).
- Why does customer Jane love our product so much (there's a story behind that too).
It's critical that your team knows that storytelling is much more than a series of "and then, and then, and then". Have them "hows" and the "whys", not just the "whats".
You can always have them read this brand storytelling guide if they need more information.
Brand Story Checklist
When you and your team begin constructing your brand story, make sure you account for each on of the following components.
Core value or theme
A story's core value is a quality that both your brand and your audience exude. You want to can tap into it. Remember Apple's 1984.
For your brand story, choose a location in space and time for your story's events to unfold. To determine the setting, answer questions like:
- Where does your story take place?
- Does the story play out over minutes, hours, days, years?
Develop a main character that your audience can relate to. This character should exude the core value you've already identified for your story. Usually main characters are people who represent your customer, your brand, or your product.
A good example of a main character who represents a product once again comes from Apple. Their Mac vs. PC commercials use two people, one who represent's Apple's Macbook, and another who represents a PC.
You may or may not need a supporting cast for your story. These could be people your character leans on for help or advice, and/or someone who is creating the chaos that your main character experiences.
Through your market research, you have identified one or more challenges that your target audience face. Pick one to focus on for your story, and craft a series of events that the main character experiences in order to bring that challenge to life.
These obstacles, are what creates the emotional roller coaster for the audience, hooking and holding their attention while they wait to see how the story will turn out.
Determine how you will present your product, service, or brand as the solution to overcoming the challenge facing the main character.
During that open-mind moment, when the story's meaning is revealed, create a call-to-action that will compel the audience to take your desired behind in order for them to achieve the mirror experience.
If you have done your job with presenting a challenge that your audience faces, and you have presented your brand, product, or service as the solution, a strong CTA will help you achieve your story objectives.
What Marketing Channels Work Best for Storytelling?
After completing the brand story checklist, it's time to bring your story to life.
Before you create the story, it's best to determine which marketing channel, or channels, you want to deliver your brand story through.
Although there is still a place for print marketing, our world has gone digital (and to be more exact, mobile).
Digital provides marketers with so many benefits that it only makes sense to use digital channels for storytelling.
Digital storytelling can be executed using:
- Your website
- Social media
- Email newsletters
- Even digital ads
I recommend using all of your digital channels to tell your brand story. The challenge is that each of these channels has a specific set of configuration requirements.
You don't want to create your story multiple times so that it works within the confines of each channel. You want to build your story once, and distribute it everywhere.
Telling a Brand Story In a Digital World
If you've come this far, hopefully this guide has been helpful.
In this chapter we are going to talk about the STORYSOFT platform.
Yes, it's a bit self promotional, but we think you'll find it valuable. We believe it provides marketers with the best tool for telling your brand story in today's digital world.
Stay with me to learn more about how our digital storytelling solution can help you tell breakthrough brand stories.
How Can My Brand Cut Through the Clutter?
How many promotional emails did you wake up to this morning?
What's the number of Instagram ads you have scrolled through so far?
How many search results were displayed when you asked Google a simple question?
It's overwhelming, isn't it?
So, what did you do?
You ignored 99.9% of those ads and content, right?
In our digital world, reach has been commoditized.
It doesn't matter if you're the biggest brand on the planet, or a one-woman band selling t-shirts, you can reach your customers at a scale like never before available to us in human history, for the cost of meal at Panera.
It's the most incredible time to be a marketer.
But just because you can reach your customers, doesn't mean you have their attention.
Attention is a marketers most valued asset.
The question you should be asking is, how can I capture, AND KEEP, my audience's attention?
Tell powerful, emotion-evoking, make consumers cry for your brand, laugh for your brand, love your brand, stories.
As a team of marketers and technologists, we struggled with the same content marketing problem.
We needed to create marketing campaigns that break through the marketing clutter, capture attention, build loyalty, and drive sales.
In realizing that storytelling is the solution, and the next big thing in marketing, we made it our mission to help brands tell breakthrough stories.
But we quickly hit a roadblock.
We found out that a single story had to be told ten different ways in order to fit the restrictions of each platform we wanted to use to get the story in front of our audience.
A keyword filled diatribe for the blog.
280 characters or less for Twitter.
Images only for Instagram.
Oh, and once you spend all that time creating stories using social media, most disappear after 24 hours!
We needed to find a way to create stories once, share them through every channel, and allow them to live forever online.
So, we created STORYSOFT.
Why Use STORYSOFT?
STORYSOFT is the ultimate digital storytelling platform.
The platform combines a proven storytelling framework, integrated marketing technology, and actionable analytics enabling marketers to tell breakthrough brand stories which capture attention, create empathy, and compel action.
Digital stories don't replace a website, but they do provide a powerful experience for conveying specific messages from brands to consumers.
Instead of spending time and money recreating your brand story for each marketing channel, tell your digital story once using STORYSOFT, and then use those channels to drive traffic to your story.
Unlike social media stories, where the available audience is confined to only the site's members, STORYSOFT stories are hosted on a URL and can be shared through any marketing channel.
With our digital storytelling solution, everything is built in.
You don't have to pay for, or spend time configuring, third party tools.
Build your story on STORYSOFT, create trackable campaigns, generate short URLs for easy story sharing, and view analytics from the easy-to-use storytelling dashboard.
What Are STORYSOFT Stories?
Stories are digital experiences. Think social media stories, but more interactive and hosted on a URL.
Digital stories consist of a series of individual content screens strung together to create a narrative.
Screens bring content to life with digital media like images, animations, text overlays, and video.
Consumers navigate digital stories by swiping screen-by-screen in a linear flow.
Different from a website, the linear construction forces consumers to navigate your brand story along a specific path, ensuring all of your messages are consumed in the same order every time, by everyone.
Everything a consumer does within a story can be reported on.
Reports are based on the linear storyflow, making it easy to understand what to optimize by looking at which messages are being consumed, where people drop off, what's resonating, and what's driving action.
Get Started With STORYSOFT
Getting started with the STORYSOFT digital storytelling platform is super easy.
Request a demo of the STORYSOFT platform and one of our team members will show you how STORYSOFT works.
Choose the type of story to tell and complete the Design Book.
The Design Book provides you with storytelling best practices, story templates, and media specifications in order simplify the story creation process.
Work with the STORYSOFT team to develop your story. You provide the story, we take care of bringing your digital story to life.
Publish your story on the platform, and share it through any marketing channel.
It's that simple.
You made it!
Hopefully you found this Brand Storytelling Guide informative.
If you take one thing away from this guide, I hope it's a sense of how powerful storytelling can be for your brand.
I encourage you to dig deeper into the science of storytelling because it will explain why stories are so fundamental to human beings.
We are storytelling creatures.
Tell Your Brand Story
For marketers, it only makes sense to use storytelling to penetrate the human psyche.
Everything we are trying to accomplish, from capturing attention, to building emotional bonds with consumers, and driving behavior, is what storytelling does best.
Your stories are what makes your brand different from every other brand.
That's why stories will help you stand out.
Great stories will get people to love your brand, feel for your brand, cry for your brand, and buy your brand.
Every brand has a story.