The value of great storytelling goes far beyond entertainment and, well, telling a story. There’s plenty of research that shows consumers like to feel a human connection to the companies with which they align. Connecting to human emotion on any side can help build trust and get away from the perception of only caring about pushing sales, sales, and more sales. Of course, everything a company does in its marketing efforts is to generate success in sales and improve brand reputation, but tapping into strong narrative storytelling in your marketing efforts can go a long way in showing consumers your heart and allowing people to feel more personally connected to your brand. And this, in turn, can generate business.
As we see each year during televised events with high viewership like the Olympics and the Super Bowl, ads with great storytelling have the power to get people excited and talking. Brands with ads from this year's Super Bowl were within the top 10 mentions on Twitter during the game, up there with the Bengals and the Rams themselves. Clearly we're receptive to commercials – we get excited to see brands spend big to make a splash, and when they work, we respond well. But ad-heavy events also remind us each year that when storytelling is bad, viewers recognize it right away.
So what makes an ad or a campaign good or bad? When you only have thirty seconds or a minute to leave a lasting impression, great storytelling is everything. As marketing experts, we know the importance of telling the story you want your audience to hear. In fact, even with non-video based campaigns like email marketing and social media, storytelling is at the heart of effectiveness.
Today, we're going back to school for a quick lesson on Storytelling for Marketing 101 to get you started telling a story that moves your audience.
1. Identify the Hero
Spoiler alert: in most cases, the hero of a brand narrative shouldn’t be the brand itself.
Let’s go back to early high school English class for a moment and recall the foundational character archetypes. By knowing your audience, who you’re telling your story to, and how you want your brand to be perceived, you can better understand how to tell a story that will leave an impact.
In the case of brand storytelling, the best way to tap into the humanity of your brand is to demonstrate a connection to the struggles, needs, and hopes of your consumer. Telling a strong story that does just this means positioning your target audience, not your brand, as the hero in the story.
What does that make the brand, then? There’s lots of options. Check out the chart below for some character archetypes to point you in the right direction. Maybe your brand is the creator of the solution that will get your hero out of a difficult situation. Maybe it’s the sage that levels with the hero when they’re between a rock and a hard place and seeks to express relatability. Maybe it’s the outlaw that swoops in just when all hope seems lost and offers a new and creative solution to a problem.
By making your customer the center of the narrative, you can present your brand not as the star of the show, but as the helper, to which people are sure to respond positively.
2. Identify the Hero’s Journey
When there are about a million stories to tell and a million ways to tell them, writing your brand story can feel overwhelming. You’re not alone – writers and storytellers have been singing this tune for thousands of years. But there are ways to break down a narrative arch that makes writing your story much easier.
Stories evolve, and media evolves, but the majority of stories follow seven classic archetypes. Marketers can leverage these archetypes to shape their story into one that feels altogether unheard yet familiar, with a relatable and recognizable pattern that taps into our human emotions and social desires.
The 7 Classic Story Archetypes are:
The Quest is all about moving forward, overcoming obstacles and challenges along the way to come out at the other end. For a great example of a brand telling their story using the Quest archetype, check out Nashville’s own Nearest Green Distillery, who shares the brand’s journey from uncovering the history behind their product and finally sharing their story after so many years and hardships overcome in a ten-minute video narrated by Emmy-Award winning actor Jeffrey Wright.
Overcoming the Monster:
It’s easy to think of epic tales about overcoming monsters that have withstood the test of time, from David and Goliath to Jack and the Beanstalk to Avatar and the James Bond movies. Brands can use this classic archetype by placing its hero (which we have defined as its target customer) face-to-face with a problem, then presenting the brand itself as the tool or weapon to overcome that monster. For a great example of brands overcoming monsters, think Nike’s Just Do It campaign, in which the hero (Nike’s target audience of a person with athletic goals) must overcome “it”, that is, whatever is holding them back from tackling their goals. Their secret weapon? Nike’s line of athleticwear and gear. Nike launched this campaign in 1988, but clearly the archetype holds water and taps into timeless emotions, because the story they tell in these commercials is still just as relevant today as it was then.
Rags to Riches:
Think Cinderella and the Prince and the Pauper. Rags to riches stories tap into the classic ideology of the American Dream. Brands often utilize this archetype to share the story of how their brand came to be, or to tell their founder’s story within this framework. When I think of how brands have leveraged this archetype, I think of the story Mrs. Fields tells of how they got their start, when in the 1970s, Debbie Fields, who grew up in a working class household, believed so strongly in her cookie recipe and the heart behind it, she managed to transform it into a $450-million company. To read the full story of Mrs. Fields cookies, check out this Forbes article.
Rebirth stories paint the narrative of a hero who is threatened, the threat overcomes them, and just when all seems lost, redemption comes about, often requiring character growth from the hero. What does this look like for a brand story? A brand could use the rebirth archetype to announce a major change in the company, or a rebrand. Or, if we continue to place our consumer as the hero, a brand can present the overwhelming threat that may lead consumers to feel that all hope is lost, then present the solution (the means for major character growth, or the means to overcome the threat) by saying, “Something has to change, and here is the way to change it.” For a strong Rebirth example, check out Prudential’s Day One campaign.
Voyage & Return:
Similar to the quest archetype, this narrative shares a protagonist’s journey home. Brands can leverage this archetype to connect to their roots, like in Budweiser’s 2013 Superbowl ad, which continues to tug at heartstrings.
Tapping into the comedy archetype can create some of the most memorable ads. This is a common choice for brands and can go a long way in putting human relatability at the forefront of your brand reputation. There are so many great examples of comedic storytelling by brands, but I first think of Axe.
Much more difficult than comedy to use in brand storytelling, the tragedy archetype presents a tragic flaw or shortcoming. Much like in the case of Overcoming the Monster, brands can use the tragedy archetype by presenting themselves as the best solution to overcome a tragic downfall, such as in Truth’s anti-vaping campaign.
3. Paint the Picture
Now that you’ve got some options under your belt, consider what story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. There’s no question that photo and video are some of the most compelling means of storytelling. Do you think the most memorable ad campaigns would be anywhere near as powerful as they are if they had just been an article or a social media post?
Nearly ⅔ of all people say they are visual learners, so employing strong visual representation to tell your story will take it far.
People recognize and respond best to visuals featuring real people. This adds to our feeling of connection and can go far in the way of humanizing brands and emphasizing the people and the stories behind them. So once you’ve identified a great story to tell, consider how you want to share it with the world, and what you want it to look like.
So what stories does your brand have that your audience would love to hear? And how could those narratives tie into your mission and goals?
Leveraging these stories that come to mind could be the thing that connects with your audience in a new way and takes them from being an average customer to a loyal fan of your organization. Whether it’s a milestone from your history to uncover, a special experience with a visitor, or a recent major accomplishment, we’d love to partner with you to share it! Check out highlights from some of our favorite stories in this video.
Not convinced you have a story worth telling? Try us! We would love to hear from you and help uncover your story. Once you've identified what you want to say to your audience, our expert team of content writers, strategists and cinematographers can help make the magic happen.
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