Brand Stories. Dramatically Structured.

Finding another parallel between vocation and avocation.

It’s all about stories.

If I had a dollar every time I’ve heard “brand story” I’d need not work regularly anymore. It’s a nice phrase. It sounds good when spoken. It’s often bandied about among agency folk and clients alike. It does feel right, though. We do relate to brands when they’re expressed in compelling ways. They can become stories, and as consumers we respond. Preferably with our wallets.

So what makes a brand a story to begin with?

First, we examine a brand and how we think it’s positioned in the marketplace. How it’s differentiated from its competitors. We identify the brand’s essence, core attributes, voice, messaging, personas, and narrative. And of course the visual aspects. Design, typography, and color. A brand’s story will emerge from this primordial soup.

So: Is there something we can learn from what makes a good story. And how that can apply to crafting or expressing a brand’s story? I sorta think there is. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. Or at least: I found an interesting parallel. Okay, and the fact I’m in the midst of directing a play (SHAMELESS PLUG) gives me another angle to consider.

That angle is this: Gustav Freytag established the model of dramatic structure as a way to break down stories into specific, common elements. While he developed the model with classic Greek and Shakespearean works in mind, it can be applied to all kinds of storytelling forms today: films/TV shows, plays, novels, etc.

Freytag’s Pyramid to outline dramatic structure

Exposition is the background information provided to the audience: setting, events occurring before the story begins, characters’ back stories, etc.

Rising Action are a series of relevant incidents that create suspense, interest and tension in the story.

Climax is the point of highest tension and drama, during which the solution is given.

Falling Action occurs right after the climax, when the main problem of the story unfolds and resolves.

Denouement is when all conflicts are resolved. It creates normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety for the audience.

How does this relate to telling a brand story? Let’s give it a go.

But with one caveat: this does not suggest a brand is a character. No protagonists or antagonists. Let’s just get that out of the way, lest we fall into a rabbit hole. And frankly, consumers will make any hero or villain designations based on their personal experience with a brand, yes?

Freytag’s Pyramid, with brand elements

Brand & Audience are the Exposition: Our starting point. We dig in to learn about the brand. We review any research or conduct it ourselves, audit all touchpoints, what’s been done before, what’s worked, what hasn’t. We also learn about the target audience as deeply as we can, too: who they are, their attitudes, beliefs, purchase cycle, what have you.

Problems to Solve are Rising Action: These are the problems a brand faces and must overcome: Things like Awareness. Market share. Customer perception, behaviors, and attitudes. Product launches. Anything, basically, that’s preventing that brand to achieve its desired goal. It’s also about clearly establishing how those problems are to be solved, and what success looks like.

The Insight is Climax: Given the circumstances outlined and the problems defined, what is the insight we can glean to move things forward. This is always the hardest part to nail, but it’s the major pivot point to inform everything else that comes after.

Deployment is Falling Action: How things begin to unfurl and unfold from the insight we have. In practical terms: it’s the plan. It’s how we bring that brand story into market, outlining the various strategies and tactics.

Defining Success is Denouement. It’s all about the results. Did the decisions made in the previous steps lead us, for lack of better phrase, to a happy ending? Or did it create an absolute tragedy of epic proportions? Or was it even something like a Kenneth Lonergan film, where it’s a mixed bag of results.

Ok. Clearly, I’ve had a little too much time on my hands. Nevertheless, I’ve found this as a fun exploration to inform my thinking. And while I haven’t formally used this in any client setting, it’s been helpful to frame up a business situation and another perspective to figure out the best way to move things forward.

It can also make for a good brand story. To me, anyway.