Once Upon a Brand.

Building connections through storytelling.

Thanks in part to the work of influential figures like Seth Godin, Brian Solis and Shane Snow, “storytelling” has become a buzzword in marketing circles. Generally understood as the application of some kind of narrative to develop deeper connections with customers, storytelling has fast become a guiding principle for marketing communications. While many leading brands have embraced storytelling, others are yet to fully understand the approach and how to implement it to generate value. So is storytelling more than just a “vibe”? And if so what does it mean and how should it be utilised?

More than just a “vibe”.

The Business Perspective

For businesses, storytelling can be best understood as a strategic and creative extension of brand - the expression of unique values, culture and market position. While basic models of communication see brands encoding their values into simple messages, storytelling provides a framework for a more comprehensive expression of brand. When implemented effectively, stories develop connections and loyalty from consumers that deliver major competitive advantage.

The Consumer Perspective

Because consumers decode marketing communications through their own context and subjective opinion, varying interpretations of brand messages often result. This is where storytelling becomes a valuable guiding principle for the development of marketing communications that resonate with consumers. Neuroscience research has shown that our brains respond to stories on a far deeper level than messages driven by facts or data, making storytelling an effective approach for building robust and emotional connections with consumers.

The greatest story ever told.

For storytelling to successfully build the desired emotional connections with consumers, you can’t just tell any old story - it needs to be credible, relevant and highly engaging. To achieve this, it is vital to thoroughly understand the values of the target audience and where these overlap with the goals of the brand. The space in which these converge is where the best storytelling insights are found. To deliver truly great stories they must be consistent with other brand messages and most importantly, reinforced by product and service delivery. Inconsistent messaging and failure to live up to expectations set by storytelling will quickly dissolve consumer trust.

Once the narrative has been developed, it should be supported by a robust media strategy. Identify the media channels that best reach target consumers and how to mix them to achieve the desired results. Developing an effective media mix in the rapidly changing digital environment requires a good understanding the bought, owned and earned channels that make up the Converged Media landscape. In this landscape, brands have a great opportunity to implement storytelling in owned digital channels such as websites, applications and social media. In these channels, an understanding of the following three elements is crucial for effective storytelling.

Content  

Perhaps another buzzword of recent times, Ahava Leibtag defines content as information presented in a certain format, distributed on different channels and platforms. Great storytelling content should be built around well defined message strategy (what you want to you say) with a hierarchy of specific elements refined for various consumer segments. Tone of voice (how you say it) is also fundamentally important and should be consistently applied in a style that reflects the values of the brand. Content can be presented in an array of formats (blogs, videos, web pages and images - to name a few) so choosing the right one can be a challenge. Ultimately though, format decisions should be based on the goals of the content, the type of information being conveyed and the audience it is intended for.

User Experience

A ubiquitous concept for some, user experience (UX) is often the unsung hero of storytelling in the digital space. Of greatest importance for owned media channels such as websites and applications, UX must balance both user goals and business goals to deliver a valuable experience for all involved. UX gives intuitive structure and hierarchy to digital content based on accepted research of user psychology and behaviour. With the added help of analytics data, UX can be continually optimised to facilitate evolving user trends and business needs. At the heart of it all, good UX brings the most relevant content to the forefront of a user’s interaction while conveying the brand’s identity and intended messages.

Visual Design

The old saying “a picture paints a thousand words” remains true in the realm of brand storytelling. In fact, research suggests that 65% of people are visual learners and 90% of the information we process is visual. There’s no arguing then that consistent, attractive and appropriate visual design plays a major role in the storytelling approach. As with tone of voice for written content, visual design supports storytelling by reinforcing the desired impressions of the brand. For example, professional, playful or nostalgic brands will all require different visual identities to accurately tell their stories. Logos, colour, typeface and imagery are all key elements of visual design and should be professionally developed to align with brand values and tap into established consumer associations and interpretations of visual cues.

Good stories spread far and wide

By effectively utilising these key elements of brand identity and message strategy with a  storytelling framework, brands are able to communicate their purpose more concisely and effectively. The result is compelling and engaging brand stories that work to develop deeper connections with customers, building long-term trust and loyalty. When implemented with a strong strategic and creative vision, storytelling also holds the power to turn fans into brand ambassadors, generating a culture of retelling and positive word of mouth.

On a global scale, brands like Apple and Cadbury consistently excel at creating deep connections through storytelling and have the kind of customer loyalty that many brands can only dream of. Dollar Shave Club has been widely praised also for it’s no-nonsense approach to a very simple story about razor blades. And at home in Australia, two giants of fashion stand as shining storytelling examples: R.M. Williams with its iconic bush heritage and Lorna Jane who have built an entire movement around motivation and inspiration to sell fitness wear. No matter what the brand is or who the customers are, there is always a story to be told that taps into the common ground between the two parties.  

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