No matter what you produce or sell, every brand has a story; you just have to know where to look for it.
If you’ve spent any time around marketing or marketers in the last few years, you may have heard references to “storytelling” or “telling your brand story.” And you may have rolled your eyes, figuring it was just the latest buzzword in an industry that cranks out new buzzwords like a factory assembly line.
If you stop to think about it, though, this particular term has a little less buzz and a little more truth. Humans (as far as we know) are the only species that create and tell stories. We may have used different mediums in the 30,000 years since the first cave drawings were created—hieroglyphics, oral storytelling, the written word—but we’ve always been human beings, sharing our stories with other human beings.
The key word in that chain of events? Perhaps surprisingly, we’d argue it’s not “story,” although that’s a close second in importance.
The word we’re talking about is “human.” That’s because stories entertain us, teach us and most importantly, connect us. To share a story that moves another person, that makes someone laugh or cry or aspire to something, is one of the most human experiences you can have.
So, what does this all have to do with brand? More specifically, with your brand? First, think about how your favorite ads or commercials—the ones you don’t want to fast-forward through, the ones you watch every second of—make you feel. Do they make you laugh? Do they exhilarate you? Do you say “Aww…”? Or are they so bad that, like the proverbial accident on the side of the road, you can’t look away even when you want to?
No matter how they make you feel, the important thing is they make you feel. They’ve connected with you on a human level, and because of that, you’ll remember them. Whether you want to hug the TV when these ads come on or lunge for the remote to click away, at the very least they’ve struck a chord deep within you.
Who’s the Hero?
One of the most important factors in telling your brand story is finding the right hero. And—surprise!—it may not be who you think it should be.
Let’s start with some examples. Here are three relatively recent commercials that connect positively with viewers. If you haven’t seen them, take a couple of minutes to watch them now:
Did you notice something about all three commercials? Well, beside the fact that you might have something in your eye after watching them (or is it just us?).
What you might have noticed was that each commercial is a perfect little story all on its own—and none of them featured the brand or product itself as the hero of the tale. Yes, the brands played a part in making the stories happen, but they were tangential at best. The main focus was on the human beings at the heart of each story:
- Maria might have worked her way through college at McDonald’s to help pay for school, and they may have helped her with grants. But McDonald’s didn’t graduate for her; it was Maria’s own hard work, ambition and intelligence that put her up on that stage.
- FedEx might have delivered a package, but they didn’t physically send the recipient back in time. They were only a vehicle (literally and figuratively) for the safe delivery of precious family mementos that let a young man see his ancestors in a whole new light.
- Extra Gum might not have set Sarah and Juan up on their first date, but like so many of us, the young lovers whose story they tell always had a stick of gum handy—giving Juan the perfect opportunity to document the progression of a beautiful relationship.
Once you find the human side of your brand, you find your story. No matter what you manufacture or sell, somehow, somewhere, it comes into contact with a human—your audience—and they are the heroes of the story. Your brand merely serves as their mentor or guide. But as fans of Yoda, Mr. Miyagi and Professor Dumbledore know, the mentor is a vital part of the story, since there’s no hero’s journey—and no happily-ever-after—without their help in finding the right path.
Looking at Your Brand With New Eyes
“That’s great for huge companies with massive ad budgets and a popular product,” you might be thinking. “But I’m a small business, I don’t make exciting things, and I can’t afford TV commercials. Tell me, where’s the story in that?”
Let’s take two random products, from two fictional businesses, and find a story for each of them. Keep in mind that these aren’t the only two angles our fictional businesses could choose; depending on their teams’ personal experience, the number of potential stories are virtually unlimited. But it’s enough to give you a glimpse of the possibilities.
…manufactures rivets for automobiles and other vehicles. Where could the story possibly be in little metal things that hold cars together?
Well, what about the people who ride in those cars each day? They all have stories. Think about the widowed or divorced father who works two jobs to support his kids and drives a rusty 15-year-old car that he prays each night will hold together just one more day. Or the emergency medical tech who doesn’t have time to worry about the structural integrity of the vehicle she relies on multiple times a day to get to and from her patients’ life-and-death situations.
Now, think about the automakers who use those rivets—Business One’s ultimate audience. Thanks to the automakers who use their reliable rivets, Dad’s car is still getting him where he needs to go. And the EMT never has to worry as she races through intersections and along the sides of freeways to transport patients to the hospital.
In this case, the automakers are the heroes of the story, who make sure their vehicles deliver heroic dads and EMTs safely to their destinations every time.
…manufactures and sells a line of plain, utilitarian, soft-sided coolers made for adults to take their lunches to work. They come in three colors: black, blue and red. And frankly, they’re a little more expensive because they’re so well-made.
Do the cooling properties of the lunch box material justify the cost? Of course they do. But how does Business Two cut through the noise a thousand other lunch box companies make about their own cheaper products? So far, “They keep your lunch cold! And they’re red! And blue! And black! And…they keep your lunch cold!” hasn’t cut it.
Hmm. So maybe it’s not the easiest sell. But what if they took their potential customers back to the days when they brought their lunches to school in Barbie, Scooby-Doo or Superman lunch boxes? Back to noisy, fun lunch times in the school cafeteria, when they and their friends sat at the table swapping items out of their lunches? Back to the happy embarrassment of finding encouraging notes from Mom tucked under the napkin? Back to the days of struggling through a first adult job, when they had no choice but to bring lunch because it was all they could afford?
Taken separately these are just random memories, but they’re memories most Americans share and identify with—and they’re among the many things that make them who they are today: successful, happy people who can afford to spend a little more because they’ve worked hard to afford the better things in life for themselves and their families.
They are the heroes of their own stories. And darn it, they deserve a top-quality lunch box!
Your Story’s in You
If you’ve ever cried during a movie, laughed at a commercial or closed a book with a contented sigh, you’ve experienced the power of storytelling.
While we’re not declaring that storytelling is the magical marketing pill that will instantly bring you leads and customers and ROI, it’s been proven through surveys and studies that the perceived value of an item or service is often higher for an ad that includes personal elements, as opposed to ads that lack personalization. And what’s more personal than connecting with someone on a human level?
It’s why we so often choose to do business with companies that share our very human values or ideals. It’s also why we choose to tell our friends and families about the encounter we’ve had with a company’s product or customer service—good or bad. We want them to be as happy as we are, or to keep them from going through the same pain we did, because that’s part of our shared human experience.
And the more humanity you can bring to your brand through its story, the more likely it is that someone else will tell a great story…about your business.
Looking for some guidance in creating your brand story? We’re ready to help, since storytelling is in our DNA. Contact our Marketing Director, Jeremy Sterling, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-546-5434 for more information.