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05/12/2022

What is brand narrative?

Brand storytelling is nothing new. The likes of Apple, Ikea and AirBnB have been doing it for donkey’s years. That is, telling stories to express their values and engage customers who share those values.

In fact, it’s such a well worn device that some brands are starting to poke fun at storytelling tropes – Lidl’s latest Christmas ad features a teddy bear who shoots to fame through their ads before becoming jaded and realising he needs to go home to his owner, a little girl, on Christmas Day. ‘Narrative complete’ the VoiceOver quips at the end. Genius.

All very clever, but what if you’re not selling shiny consumer goods that can be flogged with time-lapse depictions of family life soundtracked by a breathy Ed Sheehan cover? 

What if you’re trying to sell a highly technical and unglamorous bit of hardware or a complicated B2B service? Is storytelling still the right approach to take then? 

That would be a resounding yes. Because humans have an innate need to connect with others through stories.

Stories make us feel like we’re part of something bigger than us. And because they make us feel something, they stick in our minds – 22 times more than facts and figures alone, according to psychologists. 

So what exactly is it?

Brand narrative involves using the basic principles of storytelling to connect your audience to your brand values. Simply put, relatable human stories that matter to your audience will create lasting positive associations with your brand. 

The good news is brand storytelling isn’t an abstract art. You’ve probably heard the famous theory that there are only seven stories in the world, with variations on those themes being infinitely repeated. Handy, hey?

If you want to know what they are – Christopher Brooker wrote a book about them (The Seven Basic Plots): The hero’s quest, Overcoming the monster, Rags to riches, Voyage and return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth.

So let’s take a few and see how brands are using them.

Heroes quest

This is a story of ordinary people going on extraordinary journeys and overcoming challenges along the way. It fits perfectly with the entrepreneurial story. Take this Google Ads film about a sandwich deli that’s turned into a multimillion dollar national business. 

The film focuses on community; it tells the story of small business growth and how everyone benefits – “everyone comes along for the ride”. This gives it emotional heft, leaving you feeling inspired and convinced that Google Ads can grow your business.

Rags to riches

This story taps into the power of transformation born of struggle. Many of these stories only find resolution after a period of tension, so you have to tell the uncomfortable parts, too. 

Take Chrysler – a car brand so synonymous with generic luxury that it almost became obsolete – that is, until this stirring ad told of its gritty Detroit roots – “When it comes to luxury, it’s as much about where it’s from as who it’s for.”

Overcoming the Monster

The narrative arcs aren’t always so obvious in the B2B space, but they are there. By focussing on relationships rather than revenue, this promo for LinkedIn Sales Advisor takes a knowing swipe at the monster that is sales stereotypes.

Consider it this way: your customers are likely experiencing one of the seven plot archetypes. So, which is right for your brand? That all depends on who your customers are and what solutions you offer.

For instance, the ‘tragedy’ arc may be better suited to a law firm who can help their clients in dire situations. However, the ‘quest’ arc could be the right route for a tech service provider who can act as a “companion” to the hero.

How can you create your own brand story?

This is an opportunity to bring your audience along on a journey, be it tragedy, rebirth, quest or comedy. 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to make it up. The thing that’s interesting about your brand, on which you can build a story, is already there. Just go beyond your products and services and think about why you got started. 

Find your ‘Why’

You might not be aware of it, but there will be a driver behind your behaviour – your “raison d’être,” if you like. 

  • Is it to make the world better? Method products wanted to be “role models in bottles”.
  • Is it your history? Do you have a cracking founder story? Innocent smoothies started after selling juices at a music festival. 
  • What about your passions? What do you stand for that’ll connect with customers’ values?

Define the ‘Who’

Now think about your main characters – the people buying from your brand.  

What kind of people are they? What are their hopes and dreams, aspirations and fears? 

Remember, you don’t need to be all things to all people. Identify your audience and put them at the heart of your story. 

Build the ‘What’

Whichever arc fits your brand best, know this: the most powerful stories have some element of adversity. 

So, with your ‘why’ and ‘who’ resolved, it’s time to get to the meat (or falafel) of the sandwich: the status quo, the conflict and resolution. In other words, the ‘what’. 

The status quo is the way things are/were for your main character. 

The conflict throws a spanner in the works, bringing the crux of their problem to light. It forces the main character to search for a solution and shapes the narrative towards your products or services.

Finally, the resolution describes how your brand solves the problem, giving your audience the emotional pay-off they crave. 

A swift kick in the feels

Your customers want to be a part of and that shows you ‘get’ them.

For example, when Ericsson wanted to get across to its audience what it was all about – telecom infrastructure, it knew it would have to tell a story to make people care. This documentary, Networked Society, showed the power of connectivity to change people’s lives – borrowing from the rebirth arc. It helped people understand the company’s mission and why it matters.

With your narrative defined, you’re ready to create consistent stories that connect your brand to your audience through shared values, aspirations and experiences. Stories that catch your customers unaware with an emotional suckerpunch. 

Because storytelling is more than just a buzzword. It’s the most powerful communication tool we have. 

Whether you’ve helped your hero slay the beast or appeared just in time like the Fairy Godmother of the tech world, let your brand be the happy ending your customer craves. 

Ready to write your story? Let’s chat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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