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Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of creative communication. And brand storytelling is one of the newest. But there’s a reason why businesses use stories to sell their products and services — it’s because stories are powerful. They strike deep chords and have the ability to persuade, inspire, and motive us to do all sorts of things. 

It’s no surprise then that good storytelling plays such a crucial role in the success of any brand. But the art of storytelling is no so easy to master, and as such many brands opt to forego stories altogether. But this can come at a heavy price. Because without good stories, a business has no real way of connecting with it customers.

So to make sure that no one falls foul of the storytelling slump, we’re here to provide some tips on how to improve brand’s storytelling capacity. 

Infuse your marketing with the Hero’s Journey

In order to make a message a story, you first have to understand what stories are and how they work. And one of the most effective story structures to learn is the Hero’s Journey. This is the classic three-act structure used in countless stories from ancient myths to Hollywood blockbusters. The term was coined by Joseph Campbell in the middle of the 20th Century, and is still widely popular today. 

For our purposes the Hero’s Journey can be summarised by three elements: set-up, narrative arc, and resolution. From a brand’s perspective it can be approached in the following way. A hero (customer) sets off on a journey to overcome a problem, they face trials and obstacles, then finally return home with a reward (your product/service). 

If you think about your marketing in this way, there are all sorts of interesting places you can go. The key is to treat your prospective customer as though they’re the protagonist of a story. Think of their problem, and what it might mean to them, then make them feel like a hero for buying your product/service. 

To apply the Hero’s Journey, just follow this simple skeleton structure:

  • Shine a light on your customer — show them someone who’s in a similar situation to their own — and highlight their problem.
  • Demonstrate the trials and obstacles they will face without your product/service.
  • Show how they can overcome their problem with your product/service.  

And it’s as simple as that (in theory, of course). That’s adding a dash of the Hero’s Journey to your marketing efforts.

Tell a story from your customers’ perspective 

This goes hand-in-hand with the Hero’s Journey. By putting your prospective customers in the front seat, you’re much more likely to engage them on a deep and genuine level. 

Truth be told, we all love to talk about ourselves and hear about ourselves. In fact, when it comes right down to it most of us only really care about ourselves most of the time. And as disheartening as this may be, it’s a very important truth for marketers to grasp. 

Once we understand that people are mostly in it for themselves (and this is especially the case when it comes to buying things), we can being to tweak our storytelling techniques to make our brands more compelling. 

Doing this is easy enough. Just tell the story from your customers’ perspective. A simple method is to ask whether your current marketing focusses more on your brand or your customers.   Is it “We do this, we’re good at that, we can offer such and such”, or “Do you ever experience this? Would you like your life to be more like that?”

By thinking about what our customers want, and telling our brands’ stories from their perspectives instead of our own, we can stand to go a long way.

Make it meaningful and impactful

Think about the best stories you’ve ever heard, read, or seen acted out. Likely they all have one thing in common: the had an impact on you. This applies all the way up and down the scale, from epic thousand-page novels to 30-second commercials. Good stories are universal in their emotional effectiveness and ability to resonate. 

It can be funny, sad, absurd, or frightening. The point is that it strikes a chord and lingers in the memory. So when it comes to our own brand stories, we can ask ourselves “What’s the point in this, why should anyone care, and what impact will it have?”. And if you can quickly and confidently answer those questions then you’re probably on the right tracks.

It’s important to remember that people are bombarded with stories and content of all kinds these days. No matter what they are or where we’re exposed to them, stories make up a huge part of our daily lives. So when we tell our own stories, through marketing and branding, we should try our hardest, every time, to make those stories meaningful. Ask yourself what can you do to make it stick. Could it be funnier? Could it be harder-hitting? Could it stand to be shorter or longer?

By taking the time to really think about what our stories are saying, we can take our marketing to new realms of resonance. A good (though slightly dramatic) exercise is to think about your next campaign and ask yourself, “Can I see this still being talked about in five-years’ time?”. That’s obviously a difficult question to answer, but just by asking it you’ll force yourself to look at your marketing with a more critical and thoughtful eye.

Principals in practise

To see some excellent brand storytelling in action, take a look at Ad Age’s top 5 ad campaigns of the 21st Century.