Three ways to create your amazing brand story

Would your brand story be a good read for your customers?

Would your brand story be a good read for your customers?

Everyone loves a great story. It’s a fundamental part of human nature. From our ancestors swapping yarns around the campfire to the Biography Channel, stories help us put the world, and life, in context.

Stories also help us remember. For tens of thousands of years, when the vast majority of the human race couldn’t read or write, our fellow homo sapiens passed down stories by word of mouth, from one generation to the next. Homer’s Odyssey—a massive work of imagination and detail—was originally sung as a story.

Why do stories have this effect on us? Neurologists tell us our brains are actually wired for storylines. In clinical studies using MRIs and other monitoring equipment, our noggins’ neural pathways fire up when engaged in a good tale.

There’s been a lot of talk about story in recent years, especially how it relates to marketing and branding. Corporations and non-profits alike are increasingly telling their stories through marketing, advertising and promotion—including ads, YouTube videos, podcasts, social media and even storybooks. A good marketer knows that if her story is compelling enough, it will claim a small section of people’s memories for years to come. It’s powerful stuff.

Maybe that’s why the art of storytelling is accelerating as fast as our tongues can wag.

In Daniel Pink’s recent book, A Whole New Mind, he says story is becoming more and more important in a world packed with too many choices and too little differentiation. Pink tells us that there are now multinational storytelling festivals to learn the craft. And major organizations are taking up tales, too—3MTM, NASA and Xerox® are all actively collecting and archiving databases of their key stories.

Xerox alone, according to Pink, keeps a database of swapped stories from their repair personnel, which is valued at $100 million. NASA and 3M have storytelling lessons for their executive teams to help sell their organizations and make them memorable to shareholders, government officials and the public.

Joseph Campbell, in his 1949 masterwork, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, concludes that all cultural stories share many of the same ingredients. In fact, Campbell says there are no new stories, just stories retold.

Many brand stories share common plot lines, too.

So, where’s your “once upon a time?” Here are three storytelling techniques that work really well…

1. Take them to your leader

Many companies tell their founder story… a tale of a visionary who rose above personal struggles or the times and set something amazing into motion. Think of such icons as Walt Disney… Henry Ford… Milton Hershey… and Steve Jobs. The list goes on, because people love these stories. Steve Job’s authorized biography was even a best seller!

The best way to tell a founding father story – Reveal the human behind the legend. Disney put himself in debt up to his mouse ears to finance Snow White—the first feature-length cartoon. People thought he was nuts, but we all know how the Disney story unfolded. Use old films and pictures, accounts from people who worked with him in the early days and more. You may even consider an app or electronic timeline to tell your founder’s rise to fame.

2. Behind the scenes

This is a favorite technique with entertainment companies, B2B marketing and many others. Take your audience inside your company, where most people are typically shut out. Show them the inner workings, the people, some of the secrets you use to make your magic. Think education + entertainment + engagement.

A great example? The next time you watch a favorite movie on DVD, there’s almost always a behind the scenes documentary showcasing how the movie is made, the actor’s viewpoints and a reveal of how the creative juices flowed. I always find it amusing that it’s not enough for people to just enjoy a good movie, they want to see more, and understand deeper. Cool tools for this technique are video, apps, quizzes and Facebook posts.

3. Your humble beginnings and struggles

Americans, in particular, love success stories. People who started in their parents’ garage, and went on to build an empire. Here, the key is sharing your strengths and weaknesses. Show your vulnerability, dirty laundry and skeletons… and how you overcame it all. It builds empathy and fans.

An awesome example of this technique? The Facebook movie from a few years back—with its power struggles, back stabbing and Machiavellian tactics—not only engaged people, it helped accelerate the masses signing up. I’ve seen brands use everything from storybooks to slideshows to tell their humble beginnings stories. Be creative with it, but most of all, be real.

There are many other story techniques, and you can seriously get lost in the weeds with how to tell your particular story. (For an amazing tutorial on how to craft a compelling story, see this video from Ira Glass of This American Life. The man knows how to keep you entranced!)

Great stories, told well, can transcend culture and time. Tell yours, and tell it well.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group.

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