The goal of marketing a brand is to create an emotional response in consumers that will lead them to invest in your product or service. The goal of a good story is to create an emotional response in readers that will make them believe in the story you are telling. So, if you want to be good at branding, you have to know how to tell a good story.
Storytelling is Selling
The craft of storytelling is a valuable tool for anyone in the marketing of a brand – not just copywriters and designers, but anyone who contributes ideas to the collective. All brand marketers are storytellers, and digital branding can become an expansive world building experience that could give the MCU a run for its money.
In the craft of storytelling, there are six elements: character, setting, plot, point of view, voice, and theme. Those elements, when fully developed and seamlessly connected, provide the ability for the reader to engage with the story and feel something for it. Why is that good? Emotions cause action. Like buying.
A brand should have characters. That doesn’t mean you need to come up with a mascot or a fictional cartoon character, although sometimes that works. Some brands use celebrities as their characters. Others don’t have that type of money. Often, you don’t need to look any farther than your own company. People find people interesting, and those feelings influence the gut reaction to a brand.
Your character(s) should be someone indicative of your target market, someone your target market looks up to, and/or someone your target market finds entertaining or charismatic. Nike has Jordan. Geico has the gecko.
Red Bull uses sponsorships as a way to develop brand awareness through characters. Whether it’s Max Verstappen, or Felix Baumgartner, Danny MacAskill, or alumni of the Red Bull Music Academy, they act as brand ambassadors, creating content for social media, and creating a culture of aspiration in their target audience.
A brand needs stuff to happen. And for this stuff that happens to mean something, the brand needs history and evolution. Stuff has happened, stuff is happening, and more stuff will happen later, and it all aims in one direction: upward. People are interested in action, not stagnation. And action begets action, begets action, ad infinitum.
Remember: You don’t have to tell the story in one shot. A brand is one story, and that one story unfolds through time. It is never finished… unless you run out of money.
Your plot should focus on a story that your target market identifies with, a story that inspires your target market, and/or a story that shows your target market what you’re all about. Sargento is a story of tradition being passed along. Wheaties is a story of athletic glory. Boldist is a story where awesome happens every day (wink, wink).
A brand needs a place in which it functions. Are you local, regional, national, or international? More specifically: where is your company’s HQ, where do you do business, or where does your market live? These are questions that set a context for the characters and the plot. People identify with places, and places have their own identities, so when a company identifies with a place, it takes on a deeper meaning.
Your setting should be a place the target market lives, a place that is indicative of the company itself, and/or a place that the target market identifies as quintessentially that industry. Publix takes place in the southeast. Coca-Cola takes place worldwide. Ford takes place in Detroit.
Point of View
A brand needs a method to tell the story, and that method comes from who tells the story and how they tell it. Is a specific person telling the story? (I see people work hard at XYZ company.) Is the company telling the story about itself? (We work hard at XYZ company). Or, is someone else telling the story of the company? (XYZ company works hard).
The POV you choose should be determined by the type of story you’re telling. When you know who is telling the story, you can give that storyteller a voice.
The voice you use determines who lends an ear and who doesn’t. You should develop a brand messaging voice that sounds like your target market, entertains your target market, and/or earns authority over your target market. Apple is new and hip. Groupon is silly and fun. Allstate is direct and informative.
A brand needs to mean something. What does your brand make people think and, more importantly, feel? Theme is not something you want to knock over people’s heads. Theme is something that comes out through the characters, the setting, plot, point of view, and voice.
If your theme is that you’re globally responsible, you don’t want to say: “hey, we’re changing the world over here.” Why? Because no one will believe you. You have to imply that kind of thing.
You need to know the theme but not state it so directly. If the reader, or in this case, a consumer implies that information by example, the connection is much more powerful. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but it depends on the type of message you’re trying to send.
Your theme should reflect the target market, should inspire the target market, and/or reach new markets. Nike’s theme is motivation. GE’s theme is innovation. McDonalds’ theme is happiness. Red Bull’s theme is adrenaline.