What Storytelling Means to Branding

  Stories shape the world, and everybody loves a good story. A little philosophical, yes, but equally undeniable; we’re surrounded by stories every day, a multitude of overlapping narratives that form our realities.

  Recently, we haven’t been shy about stating importance of story-driven marketing. We’re on the edge of the precipice. Behind us, there is a history of ‘buy now’ strategy – call to actions, instant demands of the user that takes them from A to Z. But we no longer want to take the fast lane; we want to see that pretty scenery we’ve been missing, to develop those personal, intimate relationships that are now so crucial to modern marketing strategy.

  Storytelling has always possessed the power to mould perception. But what does storytelling mean to branding?

  First let’s deal with the definitions. Storytelling isn’t about the sagacious village elder sitting on a rock and chatting about the ‘good old days’. As far as marketing goes, it has become slightly more advanced. For simplicities sake, and to remove any discomfort from the traditional meaning of the verb, modern storytelling can be better seen as story craft – of constructing an image and/or recognisable identity around a product, service or thing. This entails a methodical process of adding to a narrative, of helping a customer understand the product journey, otherwise known as funnel-based marketing, from that point A to point Z (and Z is, naturally, where we buy).

  And it’s important in this definition that we’ve removed the emphasis on words. Crafting a story can involve both words and pictures, or a mix of both – all components of a larger mechanism – and a look at video marketing shows just how essential new media has become for establishing brand recognition.

  Successful branding is shaped by successful story craft. The two concepts are pretty much interchangeable, and each have the shared trait of establishing and infusing a personality. A likeable personality no less; one that relates specifically to the targeted audience and is able to create an essential sense of familiarity and knowingness. We recognise people based on their face and psychical appearance, but more often than not our initial discord is down to personality. The same is true in marketing.

  Take a look at some of the successful marketing campaigns over the last few years: Apple, John Lewis and Sainsbury’s. The last two, in particular, are famous for their moving Christmas advertisements, from the little girl with a telescope to the snow-laden battlefields of the First World War. What each did brilliantly was reconcile Christmas’ negative overly-commercialised image with that age-old concept of the Christmas spirit. Branding is about finding something familiar that strikes at the customer’s psyche, and there’s no better way to do this than through a heart-warming story.

  Fiction is a truth that tells a lie. To find that truth – the genuine need and desire felt by the customer – effective branding strategies must not only captivate their target audiences, but also elicit an emotional response. This is the role that storytelling plays, and requires a marketer to have a critical understanding of their audience to be successful. People don’t want to be sold to or made demands of. So forget the ‘buy now’ stuff; let them get lost in your story.