Here's Where the (Brand) Story Begins

Oh, do we have a story for you!

The phrase, “brand storytelling,” gets thrown around quite a bit these days, and quite frankly, we’re fatigued with this phrase. In most cases, this phrase catches attention, but it’s not uncommon to fail to understand the principles of the story. And furthermore applying it to a brand. Everyone is looking for that unique connection between potential consumers and brands through this overarching idea of storytelling.

But, it’s not as easy as, “buy this to solve your problem.” As people become more and more saturated with options, the brands are everywhere, but there are not as many stories being told.

Because of that, many brands are getting lost in the noise.

Let’s talk a little bit about equipping a brand with the power of a story. First, let’s start here: authenticity.

Your story must be genuine.

To quote a 90s cult classic film, “I can smell a lie like a f*rt in a car.” That’s how consumers, especially in the younger parts of the audience, view brands. If you are not being real with people or taking too long to get to the point, it will stink and they will smell it.

Furthermore, if a brand internally doesn’t like the story they’re presenting, it’ll be reflected in what is shown to the audience. Some of the worst campaigns we’ve ever seen were ones where it was clear the internal team didn’t like it, but was forced into it for one reason or another, including stroking someone’s ego.

Every person has a story.

A brand and its story are only as good as the people behind it. We recently aided the Indiana Bankers Association with a rebrand of their logo and messaging. One key point we emphasized was focusing on the success stories of bank employees around the state, as opposed to just the banks themselves. That adds a genuine connection to the audience, in terms of relatability.

It’s not the only way to do it, but here’s the angle:

If every person has a story, so do brands.

Take “Jurassic Park” for example. It’s a quasi-futuristic amusement park run amok by (spoiler alert) newly-created dinosaurs. But, to tell the story, the plot needed people or a mascot, like archeologist Alan Grant, or Blue, the female velociraptor.

So brand storytelling does rely on people. But, does that make the brand itself the hero?

In a word, no.

Who are the heroes and villains exactly?

Any good story has a few key elements - a plot, the main character or hero, the guide, and the villain. The plot focuses on the hero’s journey to a conclusion involving defeating the villain with the help of a guide.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into what these are in the context of a brand.

The customer is the main character

It’s easy to assume the brand is the main character or hero of this fable. But, not so. The consumer is the person making the journey.

For example, think about Mr. Clean, the iconic, muscle-bound, bald, Vin Diesel-esque character that has been a popular stable of Procter & Gamble ads since 1958. On the surface (a clean one, I assume) you may place Mr. Clean as the hero in this brand story, and it seems that Proctor & Gamble did as well.

Meet Mr. Clean 1958

As the ad campaign evolved, the notion that the consumer should be placed in the seat as the main character prevailed. Making the woman of the house the hero. The hero is able to make surfaces shine, with the help of her guide and secret weapon, Mr Clean.

Mr. Clean Commercial 1986

The villain, or in marketing terms, the pain point that needs to be solved, is the undesirable grime on surfaces.

So, the brand in this metaphor acts as the steering mechanism for the hero to find a way to vanquish the villain. Or, a homeowner using Mr. Clean products to clean up whatever mess might be plaguing their home.

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The Resolution

Understanding the power of storytelling can help your marketing to have more impact. Like any story, it is only as compelling as it is told well, and story structure can help build the connection to the consumer. That strength is built and maintained in how your brand - and the people behind it - act as the best guide to get the consumer from problem to solution.