Once upon a time, on a dark and stormy night, a marketer hit upon an idea. “What if we don’t focus on the features of the products? What if we don’t even talk about the qualities of the brand? What if we instead use narratives to more smoothly communicate our message?”
The other marketers chuckled lightly and rolled their eyes. What a preposterous idea! Such a method would only confuse the target audience, leaving them unclear about what they’re being offered — and that’s ultimately what really matters, after all. But if the marketing maverick wanted to die on this hill, they could give it a try. And give it a try they did.
The name of the company they worked for, and from which the scoffing marketers were soon enough made redundant?
This tale? Wholly fictional, but of illustrative value.
The point? That if you intend to build a powerhouse brand, telling stories is the way to go.
Consumers are tired of on-the-nose advertising
Ever since video screens entered our lives — be they cinema screens, classic TVs, or modern digital displays — advertisers have filled them with the most blatant advertising you can imagine.
Look at this bowl of cereal. Here’s someone eating the cereal and smiling because of the cereal. Buy the cereal. Go on, buy it now.
And there’s a place for that approach, but with the ever-rising intensity of the media stream we’re exposed to, it’s become exhausting.
What’s refreshing about narrative-driven content is that it doesn’t place demands on the consumer. It doesn’t say “BUY THIS PRODUCT”, or even “LIKE THIS BRAND”. It couches its promotional intention in something entertaining, allowing it to have a more subtle effect.
To use the example of Nike once again, think about the appeal of the classic “Just do it” slogan: it can support an entire ad by itself, never even openly mentioning Nike products, because the concept has such a firm brand association.
Social media demands emotive hooks
Like it or not, social media plays a huge part in today’s most successful marketing campaigns: whether it’s through influencer marketing, creative copywriting, or topical commentary, it provides the reach that you need, and it can account for the difference between a hit campaign and a complete failure.
And social media feeds off one thing more than any other: emotion.
While individual exchanges can work through social media channels, they don’t have the emotional potency of group reactions — tribalism gone digital. And since tribes stay together through shared storytelling, telling the right story at the right time with the right emotional hook can make your brand hugely memorable to a large group of relevant people.
Imagine the difference in virality between two shared videos: one about how your brand saved a customer a lot of money, and one about how it went above board to help a customer in crisis. The latter simply has more emotional power, because it tells a story: the customer is having a rough time, but then you swoop in to save the day. Saving money is great, but not inherently emotional — it demands context.
This is a time of ethical responsibility
The judgement of social media can tear down even the hardiest brand, so it’s become more important than ever before to show people that you understand your ethical responsibilities as a business, and are committed to doing (and exceeding) what’s expected of you. If you come across as indifferent, you’ll earn a damaging backlash.
But how do you show that you’re ethically responsible? You can make a direct statement about how you’re meeting your ethical obligations, but this can go very wrong in two distinct ways: it can feel cold and detached, suggesting that you don’t actually care and are simply checking some branding boxes, or it can feel overwrought and self-indulgent (implying that however much you care about the issues, you care more about getting credit for it).
Storytelling offers the best alternative. Instead of telling people about the good work you’re doing, you can show it through making videos about real-life events. That way, your audience will focus more on the people documented than your role in the matter, and you’ll come away with a positive association that doesn’t make you look attention-seeking.
Narratives are creatively freeing
Even if you leave aside all of the practical reasons for pursuing storytelling as a marketing tactic for your brand, there’s still a compelling justification for giving it a try: it offers tremendous creative scope. There are only so many ways you can directly market a product because you have to show it clearly, provide some context, and make the nature of the advertisement clear.
Not so with brand storytelling.
That’s because a brand story can be just about anything you want it to be. It can be heavily promotional, slightly promotional, or promotional in the barest sense (that being that your brand is clearly responsible for creating it).
It can feature real events, fictional ones, or complex mixtures of the two. It can focus on being entertaining above everything else, or it can aim to be educational (an effective trust-building tactic). It can be delivered through articles, videos, infographics, podcasts, and/or images, and across as many instalments as you see fit.
What’s the central purpose of branding, when you really get down it?
To set your company apart from others.
I like to dabble in e-commerce, and I’m often struck — particularly when I’m browsing store listings, hunting for a bargain— by how a distinct brand identity can affect the perceived value of a business. Even if you can’t stand out through your products or service, you can use creative storytelling to show that you bring something unique to the table.
Telling stories is how we connect with people — how we share experiences, creativity, emotion, and culture. When you hear a story that grabs your attention, you can’t help but want to follow it, no matter the circumstances. This makes narratives incredibly powerful for an industry, in marketing, that has major issues with being perceived as inauthentic.
This article was written by Kayleigh Alexandra from Microstartups.org