By: Susan Gunelius
Brand storytelling isn’t a new concept, but with the explosive growth of social media and content marketing, the opportunities to tell stories as part of direct and indirect brand marketing initiatives have become a strategic priority.
Marketers have been telling brand stories for years through advertising, in-person brand experiences, and so on, but the art of writing those brand stories as effective pieces of online content is a challenge that few are trained to do. That’s because the best brand storytellers understand the critical elements of fiction writing, which are skills that few marketers have been formally trained to do.
Today’s strongest marketing team will have room for new roles like the data architect and the brand creative content director. While the former position focuses on all that big data has to offer, the latter focuses on increasing consumer emotional involvement in the brand through social media and content marketing stories as well as on weaving the brand storyline into offline brand experiences and marketing initiatives.
Following are five secrets that brand storytellers understand and use to intrigue, engage, and connect emotionally with consumers. These secrets include a mix of branding fundamentals and fiction writing basics. Together, they can help you craft compelling brand stories for your own content marketing and integrated marketing efforts.
1. Speak truthfully.
Honesty and transparency are important in brand storytelling. Yes, you’re crafting “stories,” but they need to be rooted in the reality of your brand, products, and industry. In other words, even brand stories must adhere to the three primary steps of brand-building: consistency, persistence, and restraint. If your brand stories are inconsistent, they’ll confuse consumers who will turn away from the brand in search of another that meets their expectations for it in every interaction. Be creative but don’t stray too far from your brand promise. Confusion is the number one brand killer.
2. Infuse personalities into stories.
Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.
3. Create characters your audience will root for.
Brand storytelling requires that you create characters your audience will like and cheer for. That doesn’t mean you’re required to create fictional characters or brand mascots to tell your stories. While characters like Allstate‘s Mayhem can be very effective in presenting brand messages and stories in a variety of ways, you don’t need to create a fictional mascot to tell brand stories. For example, create buyer personas and tell stories from their perspectives. Tell stories from your employees’ points of view or from a third-person point of view. The important thing is to create characters that enable your audience to become emotionally connected to them to such an extent that the audience wants to follow their character arcs (discussed in #4 below).
4. Include a beginning, middle, and end.
Fiction stories follow a structure that includes a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your brand stories should follow a similar structure. In the beginning, you need to open strong and establish your story setting and the characters. The middle should set up your main character’s problem and present conflicts that get in his or her (or its) way before he or she (or it) can find resolution in the end. This is your character’s story arc, and you need to take your reader along for the ride. If they enjoy the ride, they’ll stick around, tell other people about it, and come back again and again.
5. Don’t give it all away.
Make sure your brand stories are page turners by focusing on the use of perpetual marketing in your efforts where one piece feeds off of the next. Leave your audience wanting more, and they’ll come back again and again. Consider using “Watch This Space” hooks on your website or Facebook Page, or try releasing teasers via Facebook, email, or Pinterest. Perpetual marketing tactics offer the perfect opportunity to include offline and mobile marketing in your brand storytelling initiative, too.
As with all brand building efforts, your goal is to surround your consumers with brand experiences (including stories), so they can self-select how they want to interact with your brand. Give them multiple ways to enjoy your brand story, and you’ll find yourself moving closer to achieving your brand marketing goals.