Capture Hearts By Capturing the Brain: 6 Steps for Compelling Brand Storytelling

In the past, our ancestors relied on storytelling to form relationships with community members as well as pass down and plant important traditions and values for future generations. It helped give sense to the vast, complicated world around them. In the Ice Age, prehistoric cavemen painted stories of their travels. In Mesopotamia, Sumerians preserved stories of battles and kings through writing. In Ancient Greece, playwrights integrated stories of majestic gods into choreographed masterpieces.

Storytelling is hardwired into the human brain — innate, and ingrained into our DNA. In fact, numerous studies have proven that there is a human need to process complicated concepts through storytelling. It’s an interesting science: when we’re listening to a compelling story, not only do the language processing areas of our brain activate — as we’re absorbing new information, but so do the sensory areas of our brain. Thus, storytelling anchors a personal, emotional outcome.

Today, this ancient form of communication is experiencing a “corporate renaissance”. In its core, marketing breathes storytelling. It is the foundation of how brands communicate who they are and what they stand for, and storytelling is now experiencing a widespread recognition that extends beyond consumer marketing.

Below, I outline a few essential points in brand storytelling:

1. Get Personal

Every great company story must be anchored in a human experience and told through a personal lens. Develop your stories through real people, and you’ll see a big difference in your storytelling. The hero is the audience, not your product.

In 2012, Gatorade developed a series of videos in a brilliant campaign called Win From Within. In addition to featuring big name athletes like Serena Williams, the brand also followed a handful of young lesser-known athletes. One video still stays with me. It’s about a girl named Jaide Bucher, a 15 year old varsity softball player born with one arm. In the touching short clip, Gatorade effectively communicates Jaide’s strength, tenacity, and unrelenting passion. It works because it’s raw and authentic, a relatable story that consumers can easily connect with.

2. The Role of Conflict

In your storytelling, it’s important to demonstrate that your product is resolving an issue or problem that the consumer cares about.This presents a great opportunity for you to show how your brand can help potential buyers.

Bonobos, for example, explains in their brand story how they came across a problem and tackled it head on. By weaving this problem into their brand narrative, Bonobos is able to capitalize on this common frustration.

3. Think Bigger

As one of the largest generations in history, millennials and their unique experiences and worldview are reshaping how companies operate and do business. Millennials want to do business with companies that care about causes bigger than themselves. People today often make choices based on social issues. Companies succeeding in this area include Warby Parker, Lyft, and The Humane Society.

Lyft for example has its Lyft for Good program, which brings together nonprofits and Lyft’s driver community to bring about social change. Recent activities include volunteering at a soup kitchen and donating to the Austin AIDS Walk. Each event adds to Lyft’s brand story, positioning them as a catalyst for social change — something that differentiates Lyft from its competitors and resonates with consumers.

4. Simplify

The simpler a story the more likely it is to stick. Try not to stray from the basic flow of (1) problem, (2) solution, (3) result. There are two reasons for this. First, the typical consumer attention span is short. If your story doesn’t grab them at the outset, your prospects are as good as gone. Second, too many embellishments create a sense of inauthenticity and author perhaps untrustworthy. If you keep it short and sweet, your audience is more likely to connect with the message.

5. Co-Creating

Today, customers have an increasingly important role in credible storytelling. Smart brands already do this; we should all follow suit. Some of the best content today is created or co-created by customers — this is no minor feat, and it is also a crucial aspect of brand engagement and scaling. GoPro and Airbnb are great examples of fantastic consumer-generated content. In each case, they integrate consumer experiences into their brand, so that future buyers can more easily picture themselves using their product.

Integrating user-generated content in brand storytelling can be done through several mediums, such as social media. Share, retweet, and like the posts your consumers are directing towards you. This helps build sturdy relationships.

6. Founding Story

Everyone knows the story of Apple — and not just because we rushed to see that Aaron Sorkin film. This is a great brand story, one of innovation, creativity, perseverance, and dedication. It’s not only everything Apple stands for but also everything they’d like their consumers to see in them. Think about a few key characteristics you’d like your brand to represent and try to naturally weave them into your company’s founding. Consider challenges you’ve overcome, passions you’re driven by, and goals you’d like to accomplish.

In short, great brand storytelling is simple and personal. It’s a narrative that encompasses your company values and presents your brand in a relatable light. Marketing is no longer about a single ad campaign, it’s about bringing everything together under one cohesive story. Don’t think too hard or try to manipulate a story that doesn’t fit. After all, storytelling runs through our veins.