The art of storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. Starting with the earliest cave paintings that would “animate” a story of the hunt in the flickering firelight, humans have always been compelled by the power of imagination. We use stories to pass on our personal and familial history, enlighten our minds, and for simple entertainment.
Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki once said: “I do believe in the power of story. I believe that stories have an important role to play in the formation of human beings, that they can stimulate, amaze, and inspire their listeners.” Stories are an incredibly powerful way of speaking directly to a person who you may otherwise never interact with; they are our one true way to connect with – and understand – each other.
We’ve all heard the phrase “brand story,” but often times this phrase is used in a hollow manner that discredits the meaning of the word. For instance, a cleaning product manufacturer creates a story about keeping homes clean with green products, and then incorporates little sprouts and leaves onto their product page. How original. In a digital age that’s flooded with information, brand stories, and millions of companies begging for attention, it’s absolutely necessary to create a story that truly speaks to people.
This requires a finesse of storytelling. Sure, anyone can tell a story, but a good story is one that pulls on the heart strings of the reader and elicits emotion. People thrive off visceral stories that make them feel for reasons they cannot quite pin down; stories that make them think and stick around long after the tale is told (this is great for branding, too). It may sound impossible to tell entertaining stories about brands, but I assure you, it’s not. Brand storytellers can learn to craft a story by using classic storytelling formulas, tapping into company culture, and aligning stories with the minds of real people who make up their audiences.
Draw Upon the Classic Story Arc
The story arc, or Freytag’s pyramid, was developed in the 1800s by a German writer named Gustav Freytag. The arc creates a pattern that almost all stories follow. The story starts out with an exposition or understanding of the idea, which then follows a rising action where conflict, drama, and antagonists run rampant. After reaching the climax, or turning point of the story, the story’s action begins to subside until finally wrapping up its ending in the denouement. Most writers follow this arc instinctively, but it can be helpful to revisit this basic structure to keep your story, and in this case your brand story, on the right track. How does this apply to a brand story, you ask?
- The exposition. Think about your company culture and establish your protagonist (your brand). The beginning stages are where we learn about you and your ideas.
- Rising action. Give your brand story some oomph. Determine your audience’s challenges, and then start to frame a narrative around it.
- The climax. This is where your brand steps in to save the day by giving the customers what they always wanted. Your brand has provided the solutions to your consumers’ issues.
- Falling action. The falling action unveils the overall plot and reveals how your brand fits into the big picture. Your audience grasps a true understanding of your story and you.
- The denouement. The neatly packaged, all encompassing wrap-up of the story. This is where all the elements of your story and your brand come together to create a happy ending. Hint: your CTA comes into play here.
Consumers want to be entertained. They want to know their favorite brands, but they want an organic way of acquiring that knowledge. So many brands repeatedly shove their messages down their audiences’ throat without giving them an engaging meaning behind the message. Instead of telling your audience who you are, introduce yourself politely and then show them by offering an entertaining means of discovery.
Now You Know How to Plan a Story Arc – Here Are the Tools to Build It
Know your Readers
Since you now know the super-secret classic formula for storytelling, it’s time to start building your content marketing strategies using that blueprint. The first step in both storytelling and marketing is: Know your audience. Understanding your audience beforehand will help you create stories that speak to them on a personal level. Suppose your brand is targeted to mothers. Personalize her: how many kids does she have, and how old are they? Do they live in an urban city landscape or rural farmland? What does she do for work? Answering these questions will get you into your consumers’ heads and give you a better way to communicate with them.
Know Yourself – AKA: Write What You Know
Once you know your audience, you will find it much easier to follow story arcs that will hold its attention. In the mean-time, you’ve probably discovered a little bit about yourself as well – this is good! When we know ourselves, we can speak truthfully. Many brands get confused about what their products or services actually mean, and they create convoluted stories that sink, flailing their arms through the depths of the internet, never to be heard from again. Brand confusion kills off brands faster than an outdated website on a slow internet connection.
Choose Your Medium(s)
The great thing about brand storytelling is that it’s not limited to just one or two mediums. Businesses can tell their brand stories through social media posts, blogs, videos, site pages, web design – the list goes on. As long as you know your audience, know yourself, and have a clearly developed “plot” for your brand, it should be a piece of cake to keep your ideas consistent across all mediums. Get creative, and add some interactive video content on your landing page that lets the user learn about the main character. Turn boring case studies into a mini-series of narrative blog posts about how your brand helped customers. The opportunities are abundant, you just have to use your imagination to get there.
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