Brand storytelling plays a critically important role growing the business assets of relationship and reputation. Story based brands whose stories have enhanced their relationships and reputation with customers, are usually telling stories they have earned the right to tell. On the other hand, if you create brand stories your audience perceives as disingenuous or contrived, your efforts can bring the brand’s credibility into question with a velocity never before experienced.
The shift of the digital age.
Right now, brand storytelling has become the new shiny object in the marketing lexicon. Marketers everywhere are thinking about brand storytelling like it is an entirely new discipline. Of course intellectually we all know storytelling is nothing new and will forever remain at the very core of marketing and communications. The difference is the shift the digital age has wrought on our cultural inclinations.
In the broadcast era, mythic brand stories were created and controlled by the marketer in tightly controlled media channels. The emphasis was on the brand as the central hero in the story. The audience had to “buy into” the story. Persuasion was the rule of the day.
Now in the digital age, meta-fragmented audiences control the narrative in ever more online channels. Driven by social media, audiences belong to communities. Story based brands in the digital age realize that it is the audience who is on the hero’s journey. Story based brands put the audience at the center of the story and inspires their audience to embrace and undertake the hero’s journey within their own lives.
Story based brands realize that the art of storytelling has come full circle back to the ancient oral traditions– where stories are essentially shared one-to-one with the power to go viral for good or ill. Marketers are just now beginning to appreciate this shift. This is forever changing how we are building businesses based on shared values that grow audience engagement with our brands.
Our stories are no longer about consumerism, but rather community and empowerment.
The audience is the hero now–all of us are on our individual hero’s journey seeking our own truth connecting with our own like-minded tribe. Those brands that help us make these deeply personal connections through compelling storytelling are the brands that will lead markets.
Brands can’t share values unless they have them to begin with.
As an example of this “audience as hero” idea, ebay created a series of online stories that have nothing to do with the functional benefits of the brand. Through this story, the brand teaches us all how to hold true to the things that bring meaning to our lives and to seek them out. It is a simple story powered by the earned reputation of the ebay brand. See it here.
Here is another compelling brand story from a video series titled “Expedia Find Your Strength”. This story of two children who are cancer patients at St Jude’s Hospital is so beautifully heart wrenching and sad it’s difficult to watch. But something about the ending may bring one to pause and ponder the motive of the storyteller. To my way of thinking it felt more like a subtle advert than a public service story highlighting Expedia’s philanthropy for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Certainly, at the risk of being called a cynic, this judgment is in the eye of the beholder. But it’s noteworthy to ponder whether this story is authentic enhancing the reputation of the brand, or does it call it into question? Can the brand tell this story with authenticity to shared values? (Watch it and decide for yourself, then please leave your comment.)
Every story must have a moral, a core truth, a transcendent meaning. And so it is with brand storytelling. Story based brands live in the truth of their purpose beyond moneymaking. Story based brands connect with their audience through shared values that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s higher purpose, philosophy, culture and contribution. At the heart of enduring brand storytelling, shared values will be the only reason people will notice, listen and act.
Four components for building your strategy for a story-based brand:
1) The audience is the hero on their own journey. Story based brands know with precision who the tribe is and what truly matters to them. The equation is us=them – improving their condition on the journey. In fact adding to the increase of life itself providing the guidance for the hero to make the sacrifices necessary for the common good!
2) Story based brands speak in a trusted authentic voice. There’s no puffery, no preaching, no dogma, no superficial expression. Like the storyteller of ancient times around the campfire, the brand speaks truth that resonates with each and every listener on his or her own hero’s journey.
3) Story based brands anchor their stories in an archetype. The archetype serves as a mentor for the audience on the hero’s journey. Some brands are caregiver brands, and others, like Patagonia, are explorer brands, but all incorporate familiar symbols and themes that are easily recognized by the audience. Every hero needs a mentor. Luke Skywalker had Obe Wan Kanobi, King Arthur had Merlin the Magician. Anchoring brand storytelling in a familiar archetype is an essential component of a story based brand strategy.
4) What is the gift the brand provides the hero? What magical gift that makes the impossible journey possible. Glinda (The Witch of the North) gave Dorothy her ruby slippers. God gave Moses his staff. Apple gave its tribe beautiful elegant design within an ecosystem of extraordinary user experiences.
Story based brands bring their positioning to life illuminating the path of the audience’s hero journey. To build a story based brand in the digital age will require marketers to embrace the shift from the command and control broadcast era to the oral tradition powered by the transparency and immediacy of the social web. To build their stories guided by their uncompromising core values and a narrative of shared values.
And finally recognizing the brand storytelling is a strategic process… don’t rush to communication and media tactics without first anchoring your entire organization to why your brand’s story matters to people.
The Blake Project Can Help: The Strategic Brand Storytelling Workshop
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education