The Neverending Story: 5 Golden Rules for Effective Brand Storytelling
BRAND: THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM
The term “brand” comes from Old Norse “Brand” translatable as “burn,” and it refers to the practice of branding cattle. Semantically speaking, therefore, “to mark” means placing a permanent identification mark and proof of ownership on someone/something. Therefore, the only action of “own” a product or service implies that your business already has a brand, whether you like it or not. And this is where things all too often become problematic for businesses; because, if you’re not building a story around your brand, rest assured that someone else (namely: your customers) is. Brand identity expert David Brier once said that “If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they will define your brand story for you.” I think this is the best definition of what is commonly called in marketing brand storytelling.
WRITING IS (MOSTLY) A MAN’S BUSINESS
In an illuminating article on the subject published by Forbes, Celinne Da Costa wrote that, above all “In today’s fast-paced, overly automated and digitally driven society, humanity is becoming the new premium” and that, in order “To survive, businesses need to connect with the public, tug at their hearts, and engage with them on a much deeper level than before.” This is especially true today, with the rise of NLG (Natural Language Generation), AI writing tools capable of writing autonomously. Consider companies such as AI Writer, WordAI, Writesonic, Article Forge or Copy.ai. All of these systems can already create content for ads, emails, social media, landing pages, and more at a fraction of the cost of a human copywriter. What these systems still lack (at least for now), however, is that almost esoteric concept we usually define as “the human touch.” The relationship between writer and reader is sacred. It takes empathy, self-awareness, spiritual curiosity, and that spark of creativity that divides Barreast Wolf (a contrived writer, author of “The imperfect in the disaster”) and, say, Fëdor Dostoevskij.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND… THE BABY?
A memorable copy is always a combination of art, craft, genius and science. And, often, brevity. Rumor has it that Ernest Hemingway, to win a bet, wrote the shortest novel of all time. The six-word story, known as “Baby shoes,” is a perfect example of human creativity at its peak. When it comes to corporate branding, an apt example comes from Apple: Craig Tanimoto’s name probably won’t ring a bell to the casual reader, but he’s the art director behind the tagline. “Think differently.” Consider the influence of these two simple words on pop culture and the mental images they keep conjuring up. This is the power of (good) brand storytelling. And… bad too. Think of Gerber, the famous producer of baby food and baby products. Following its success in the United States, the company began to expand (it is currently distributed in more than 80 countries) abroad. When Gerber tried to enter the African market, it launched its baby food with a picture of an actual baby on the label. Unfortunately, Gerber did not consider that due to the low literacy rate (compared to western countries), it is common in Africa to present an image of the product contents directly on the packaging. This “incident” led some African consumers to believe that Gerber products contained, well…real baby parts!
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY WRITE A GOOD BRAND STORY IN 5 STEPS
So how do you write a good story for your brand without falling into the trap(s) of cliché writing or being misunderstood? Here are five suggestions I learned along the way.
- Find out. There are hundreds of books on brand storytelling. Some good, some less so. A good place to start is Donald Miller’s “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify your message so customers listen to you,” and Malcolm Gladwell “The Tipping Point: How Small Things Can Make a Big Difference.” Also consider taking some writing classes. For the price of two Starbucks Lattes per month, you can join Masterclass.com and learn from the best of the best. If the names of Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein don’t ring a bell, don’t forget that they are the minds behind the “Have milk?” campaign, and they have 18 lessons on how to create brand stories effectively. In my career as a writer, journalist, and ghostwriter, subscribing to Masterclass has been the best investment I’ve ever made.
- Create an emotional connection between your brand and your customers. Remember: it doesn’t have to be about you, you, YOU. Quite the contrary! Nike rarely uses a direct narrative around its company and prefers to tell stories about the achievements of athletes. In our industry, a perfect example is Airbnb: the P2P market does not present itself as the OTA with the most granular filters to find the best accommodation; rather he talks about experiences guests can live in the chosen destination;
- Ask yourself: why does my business exist? What are its values? Of course, making money and being profitable is the ultimate goal of any healthy business, but there has to be something deeper. Buying a Tesla or an iPhone isn’t just a purchase, it’s a personal statement. What motivated you to start your business? What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning? Remember: your customers are not only buying your products and services, they are also buying your story, your vision and your dreams;
- Your story affects how your customers perceive themselves and how others perceive them. “98% of people who buy a Mercedes or a BMW like what other people think of them, not that they like it.” Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur, author, speaker and internet personality, says it often. You might want to keep this in mind when telling your brand story;
- Remember that you can only write one chapter in your brand story. Your customers will fill in the blanks: on social media, review sites, word of mouth, etc. Brand storytelling is always collaborative, and it can go where you didn’t really expect… An example? As a kid, you probably played with Play-Dough, right? But did you know that the original purpose of the famous modeling clay was to clean the wallpaper? Or that Coca-Cola was created to fight morphine addiction? It’s 100% true, check it out!
CONCLUSIONS: THE NEVERENDING STORY
People love stories. Think of the myths: the American writer Joseph John Campbell wrote a classic work on comparative mythology titled “The hero with a thousand faces”: “A hero ventures from the ordinary world into a region of supernatural wonders: fabulous forces meet there and a decisive victory is won: the hero returns from this mysterious adventure with the power to grant favors to his neighbour.” Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the story of Odysseus, Aeneas, Siddhartha, and, well… even Luke Skywalker. Writing a brand story that resonates with your customers can be difficult. You need to connect emotionally with your audience, but in a way that keeps the narrative true to your company’s culture, values, mission, and selling proposition. You need to be consistent and consistent: once your story is set, you need to repeatedly reinforce it with every marketing message you deliver. Stay focused, honest, and always remember that you’re not just talking about your products and services, but triggering specific feelings and emotions in your customers. Because, as JK Rowling beautifully explained: “there is always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”