Advertising is no longer just a loose collection of disciplines such as branding and promotions. Rather, solid advertising campaigns are built around good stories. Everything that marketers do should help tell that story, regardless of the specific task a client may have charged them with in the moment.
The best marketers are storytellers. After all, how many customers truly make purchasing decisions based on statistics or a cost-benefit analysis? Emotional appeals are the truest way to connect with customers, and stories are the most powerful method for doing so.
This is what makes your brand’s narrative so important.
In the famous Significant Objects experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker, storytellers posted $129 worth of items on eBay, along with stories they’d written about those items. The result? A net profit of $3.6 million—the narratives given to these items had increased their worth by 2,700%.
The same power of story can be harnessed on a brand-level scale. Done right, a well-crafted narrative about your brand can significantly increase its value.
Storytelling at Its Finest
We all know a good story when we experience one. But the plot of a film might seem very different from the kind of narrative you’re trying to create for your brand. Keep these points in mind to ensure you’re not just shouting at the rain:
1. Root it in reality
Brand narratives must be genuine because consumers can smell insincerity a mile away. Made-up stories inevitably become inconsistent, which can lead to confusion, frustration, and even the loss of sales. If the pieces of your story don’t add up, the deception is obvious.
Deviating from the company’s truth in hopes of telling a more impressive story will only cause problems. On the other hand, if a brand is grounded in its narrative, a consumer’s journey with that brand will be consistent. The narrative will signal exactly what consumers should expect and keep them connected to the brand at every touchpoint.
2. Keep it simple
An overly complex narrative can be just as confusing as one that’s insincere. Even lengthy novels and multi-installment movie franchises have, at their core, a simple story to tell. Harry Potter is learning to become a wizard and fighting Voldemort, from the first book to the very last. As a brand narrative develops, new platforms, ads, and products might be incorporated, but the general story should be kept simple and consistent.
For most brands, the sequence is problem, solution and success. This three-act structure can be told in many different ways with many different characters, but the basics should remain consistent. When that story is told clearly, it’s easy for customers to follow, which allows them to focus on your brand’s content.
3. Consider your perspective
The perspective from which a story is told can significantly alter its impact. Brands should settle into their customers’ shoes (as well as their eyes, ears, and minds) and take a look at their own advertisements from that point of view. Of course, this could prove more difficult than it sounds—what appeals to the customer might not always be what appeals to the brand.
An excellent lesson in perspective comes from Allstate’s Mayhem advertisements. At a time when most insurance commercials were being told from the perspective of the quirky spokesperson (Geico’s Gecko or Progressive’s Flo), Allstate decided to create a narrative around the bad guy. Mayhem showed the bad things that happen to good people, a story that most viewers could relate to—and thus desire protection from.
4. Sprinkle in some surprise
People love page-turners and cliffhangers. We’re always looking for something new and exciting in stories. For both brands and customers, however, change can be scary. Sudden shake-ups in business can lead to uncertainty and fear.
Good brand narratives keep the element of surprise intact, without any of its potentially negative connotations. Think of the suspense before big Apple launches. On a smaller but more significant level, consider the way an email ad could tease a customer to click through and be surprised at what a brand can offer. The possibilities for “surprise and delight” in the advertising world are limitless.
5. Make an empathetic connection
Great books, movies, and folk tales remain popular because people connect to them. Similarly, brand narratives are at their strongest when they’re able to make connections to customers’ lives. A brand’s narrative might resonate with a customer’s values, or it might clearly describe a problem he’s experiencing.
Similar to the choice of perspective, the way a brand narrative is delivered can also determine its impact. Brands can now connect to customers through many different platforms, and they should take advantage of as many as they can. A company’s videos on YouTube, images on Instagram, and posts on its blog should all align with the same narrative.
Finally, in this integrated world, brands should not only create content that underpins their narrative, but they should also allow their customers to participate in that narrative. Much like how TOMS leverages customer stories to enhance its own story, loyal customers will give a strong brand narrative even more material to work with.
A brand’s narrative should be the cornerstone of its overall branding strategy. It provides the backdrop for products and services, fosters an emotional connection with customers, and identifies the emotional footprint that the brand creates.
Every brand has a story to tell. Make sure yours is worth telling.
Hakarl Bee is group creative director of Rapp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in January 2017 and has been updated frequently.