Brand Storytelling Guide

Stop Marketing and Start Storytelling

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We have always communicated through stories. Stories help us remember information. In fact, facts told through stories are 20 times easier to recall, making great brand storytelling an essential part of your strategy.

People want to connect with brands through storytelling. And when you do it right, it pays off big time: When people enjoy and identify with a brand story, they’re 55% more likely to consider a future purchase, 44% more likely to tell the story to others, and 15% more likely to make a purchase then and there, one survey found.

So how do you tell a good story that resonates with potential clients and customers? Rodney Hess of Rally Marketing has you covered. In his session at Managing Editor Live 2020, Rodney shared his principles for bringing your brand story to life. Here’s how.

Brand Storytelling 101: You are Not the Hero

The first thing you need to accept before you can tell your brand story is that you aren’t the hero — your customers are. They want to see themselves reflected in your content. You can do this by sharing actual customer stories, thus making it easier for potential customers to relate to your offering. Airbnb, for example, has a webpage devoted to stories from the community.

If the customer is the hero, you are the guide on their journey (I like to think of myself as Gandalf). You have to know the “villain,” or the issue they’re facing, and how it makes them feel. Are they frustrated by a lack of solutions to their problem? Or are they cynical after a fruitless search? Demonstrate that you empathize with their pain points and that your brand has the authority to overcome it. Develop different stories for different markets so that everyone has the chance to see themselves playing a part in your brand’s narrative.

Start in the Middle

Beginning a story in medias res, or “in the midst of things,” is an age-old storytelling technique. The Iliad, for example, drops you immediately into the Trojan War first and then backtracks to show you how the characters got there. This technique can be great for marketing because it helps you meet customers where they are.

“Community” and “Rick and Morty” creator Dan Harmon uses a story wheel to create balanced narratives, and Rodney shared a modified version that reflects the marketing funnel. At the awareness stage, the potential customer is stepping from order into chaos. Then they’re faced with the decision-making phase. But once they convert, they step back into order and become advocates for the brand.

“The reason I like this is that it outlines when your customer is stepping from order into chaos,” Rodney says. “Your content needs to reflect that and try to mitigate that chaotic feeling.” Great brand storytelling requires you to produce content to meet your customer at every stage of their journey.

Reach the Core of Humanity

This seems like a big ask, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. Your story should hit an emotional chord. This isn’t without precedent: From Greek and Roman times to today, orators appeal to three main concepts: logos, or facts and logic, ethos, or credibility, and pathos, or emotion. Appealing to emotion helps our story stick and our brand resonate — and the impact can be huge. To illustrate this, Rodney referred to the Immortal Fans campaign that used pathos and human stories to literally save lives (check it out but grab a tissue!).

Our brains retain 70% of the information that we hear from stories and only about 5-10% from stats and figures, he says. An emotional gut-punch or a heartwarming story may not result in 100% conversions, but people will remember it — and they’ll talk about it. You can’t put a price on organic, word-of-mouth advertising.

A Great Image and a Great Headline Can Tell a Whole Story

The internet is vast, and we don't have a lot of time to capture our target audience’s attention. In fact, 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on a page before deciding to click away. But we do react strongly to visual media, especially when we can relate to the content or person pictured. And when your story is paired with a compelling headline, you can express yourself in a powerful way.

Distilling what your brand stands for down to an image with a tagline is challenging, simple and extremely powerful for reaching customers emotionally. Images are easy for readers or viewers to digest and can tell a potent story quickly and effectively. Remember to use diverse imaging so that a wider audience can see themselves in your brand storytelling.

Make Your Words Count

We’re bombarded with SEO best practices dictating specific word counts for effective marketing, but that also leads to a flood of bad content, Rodney points out. (Lee Price calls it "sludge," which accurately conveys the disgust it inspires.) So cut the fluff. “Make your story as simple as possible, but no simpler,” he says. “If you confuse someone by your content or someone does not immediately recognize themselves in it, they're going to bounce.”

Choose your words wisely, and try to distill your story down to three lines. Rodney shared his company’s landing page, which tells visitors the value he can bring to their business in just three lines. His value proposition and what sets him apart from the competition are clear. And in terms of SEO, he’s ranking just fine.

Watch Rodney’s full session here.

Clare Chiappetta serves as editorial coordinator and staff writer, with a specialization in HR and the future of work. She earned a master’s in English from Southeastern Louisiana University, and continues to explore the world through books, films and music. Test your most esoteric pop culture references on her.

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