Storytelling predates writing; the earliest forms were spoken, and combined with gestures and expressions. Types of stories include fairy tales, myths, legends and many of religious origin. There is much to learn from stories. With brand storytelling it is possible to transform a brand from a frog to a prince, prolong brand life and even slay a competitor or two in the process.
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Great stories endure
Saint George (AD 280 to 23 April 303), for example, is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. Initially, a soldier in the Roman army, he became venerated as a Christian martyr. He was sunsequently adopted as patron saint of many countries, cities and organisations.
The story about George and the Dragon originated from the Crusades in the 11th Century. In the story, now a legend, the dragon lives at a water hole and requires a gift of a sheep or maiden to allow the locals to reach the water. When it is a maiden, they draw lots. However, one day a princess is chosen. She begs for her life but to no avail. Then George comes along, slays the dragon and saves the day.
Great stories are retold
Great stories touch and move us. Particularly when seen in a cinema, or through mini movies – as some television advertising has become. Not only do great stories engage, but they merit retelling and sharing. Only the best stories grab attention, are ‘liked’ and shared. In this rich digital media world (1), we are all writers, photographers, producer/directors and editors!
The same thinking process applies to brands. Only the best impress journalists, trade buyers and of course, consumers. Some brands became great through brand storytelling. Some stories are born of reality, though many of accident, serendipity or even invention.
Great stories offer inspiration for brands
Figure 1 shows a typical cinematic story structure. This is also useful for brand storytelling. Act 1 involves setting the scene, introducing the characters, conflict and setting. It then concludes with a climax or set-back (turning point 1 (TP1)). Act 2 develops the story, with rising action and tension, and concluding with another climax or set-back (turning point 2 (TP2)). Finally, in the last act, the dénouement, the story reaches a climax, and resolves. For brands, consider and dramatise the problem it must solve, and finally the benefit it must deliver.
Great stories tend to recognise deep truths, important life lessons
Examples of great stories include ‘good triumphing over evil’, and ‘that every cloud has a silver lining’ – i.e. that you can derive some benefit from every bad thing that happens to you. Also ‘that fortune favours the brave’ – that drive and determination is essential to success. Christopher Booker’s Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning, espoused seven basic plots (2). Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson subsequently highlighted eighteen: eight guides or gifts and ten warnings (3). Figure 2 maps eight familiar stories against Mark and Pearson’s need-states.
So-called ‘transformations’ deal with significant change in attitude, behaviour or personal growth. ‘Overcoming the Monster’ stories are crime and adventure staples. They feature archetypal heroes (and villains) such as George and the Dragon. Also James Bond and Scaramanga (in The Man with the Golden Gun). And Harry Potter, growing from boy to man, while battling Voldemort.
The typical story-line is baddie does bad thing (set-up), goodie fights baddie and loses (story development, set-back). Then goodie digs deeper, fights back and wins the day (dénouement). In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he kills a young maiden and then goes after Harker, the hero’s fiancée. Harker and friends then hunt and eventually kill Dracula. Thus saving Harker’s fiancée (and allowing them to live happily ever after).
Great brand storytelling follows from brand archetypes
Brand archetypes can play different roles in narratives, and inspire different forms of brand storytelling. In a typical ‘overcoming the monster’ story-line, archetypal heroes, such as James Bond and Harry Potter are protagonists (leading players). Alternatively, the brand could still be the hero, but not the protagonist. Or a bit player – perhaps the protagonist’s assistant or ‘weapon’. The choice is yours.
Here’s an example. Cleaning brand Mr. Muscle is a utilitarian hero archetype. In a typical 3 act story, the housewife battles the dirt, then gets tired and frustrated at her inability to clean the house etc. . Then along comes the hero, to clean away the dirt and save the day. The protagonist is the brand user or housewife, and the adversary is simply the dirt.
Nike is an inspiring hero(ine) archetype (4). The protagonists in Nike advertisements are usually athletes or ordinary people, and the adversaries are fellow competitors. In a typical 3 act story, the athletes compete against each other. One wearing Nike clothing or using Nike equipment, suffering set-backs yet finally winning, and winning applause.
The Nike advert (below) features a female tennis playing protagonist vilified for being a pretty face. However, the antagonist is not just a fellow competitor but public dismissal, or disdain. All questions confidence in the athlete’s skills. Will she, won’t she succumb to the pressure? Watch the advert to see the dénouement. Also feel how the rising tension strengthens the brand story, and benefit pay-off.
Brand Storytelling Marketing Inspiration
Now work through these simple brand storytelling steps to finesse and execute your brand strategy.
1. Understand your brand truth, archetype and positioning
Great brands like great stories are based on great truths. Great truths include customer and brand truths. So look inside and outside your business to find them.
- Consider what do customers’ really think, believe or need? What is meaningful and true or unknown or disbelieved about your brand?
- What is your brand founder’s tale?
- What’s special about where or how it was invented? Perhaps a ‘secret’ production or delivery process or ‘magical’ ingredient?
- Also what’s special about the brand look, livery or the people who make or deliver the brand?
2. Create and tell stories to engage and dramatise the brand benefits
Consider characters, the role of the brand, and how your brand can transform customers’ lives. How can you create rising tension, and a dénouement that fits the brand? To work out the answers involve disparate people in the creative process and allow lots of time to nurture your ideas. Figure 3 shows a start-point brand storytelling concept.
3. Express the story through multiple media
While great stories and great brands touch people in different ways, they are based on a clear brand strategy and also express a consistent message. Also consider how your brand story unfolds or presents through different media and choose media that enhance the message and encourage social media sharing.
1. According to https://www.internetlivestats.com there are now over 1.1 billion websites including a burgeoning range of social media including Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and many more.
2. Booker, Christopher The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
3. Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero & the Outlaw. Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes.
4. Named after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.