For brands, there are plenty of benefits to strong storytelling. “Stories,” says scriptwriting guru Robert McKee “are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience.” Storytelling can tackle the rational mind, while also engaging the emotional mind. It’s the way that, according to Unilever CMO Keith Weed, we can “connect purpose to purchase”.
But what makes a good story? It’s not a question that can be answered definitively, but we believe there are some hallmarks of great storytelling that most successful brands display, and that those hallmarks can be integrated into any good storytelling strategy.
Your narrative is the white lines on the playground that define what you are and what you aren't. A narrative might consist of your brand purpose, the problem your brand resolves, and your positioning, but on its own your narrative can’t make a connection with consumers. That’s where a story comes in. A story provides shape to your narrative; the characters, the heroes, the conflict and the content that drive home your message.
Cycling brand Rapha are a great example of this; their goal is to make cycling the most popular sport in the world, and they make beautiful, high-performance products that accentuate the aesthetic values of the sport. But they also draw upon what founder Simon Mottram describes as the “darkness” of what cycling is all about. As he puts it, “the real appeal of road cycling for those who participate in it is actually the suffering, not the pleasure.” The lines on Rapha’s playground couldn’t be any clearer, and this sets the scene for the brand to tell inspiring stories of pain, suffering and glory.
It might seem absurd to strive for longevity and control in a world of ephemeral social media and instant gratification, but creating a sense of permanence in your storytelling breeds credibility, creates trust and gives your story meaning.
GE are masters of telling a consistent story to create permanence. GE works is a people-inspired hub of hero stories that become the go-to resource for all GE content across the globe. But it’s not something that’s happened overnight, GE have been consistent in their messaging over several years, amassing a collection of their own stories. “My Mom works at GE” is a prime example of how the brand tells a deeply human story while staying true to their purpose, positioning and narrative themes.
Insights from the source and the energy of storytelling. They help inform the opportunity for your brand and the powerful permission role it can play for people. Without clear insight there’s no emotional gap or conflict for your stories to overcome.
There was a time when washing powders only talked of the benefits of their product: whiter whites, softer clothes, brighter colours. But parents aren’t really interested in molecules and formulas, they only aspire to have creative, care-free kids. Persil’s “Dirt is Good” campaign focuses on the insight that “if you’re not free to get dirty, you cannot experience life and grow”. The narrative structure and subsequent stories grew organically from there. Insight should be the focal point of your story, the ignition for your creativity.
Every great story needs a hero; a symbol of achievement, fortitude or ingenuity, a figurehead that has the characteristics to help people connect and mirror. This is especially true for brands.
The hero might be your brand or product. IKEA have a long history of worshiping their product and making them the hero of their stories; their video about HÅRTE, a lamp that goes wherever the user goes, makes a hero out of the product, but does so with just the right dose of wry, Scandinavian charm.
The hero can also be the consumer. GoPro regularly shift focus from their product to the amazing feats of their audience, allowing the quality of the footage, and by extension the product, to speak for itself.
Good stories create their own worlds. When you give consumers a fun and tangible way to get involved with a brand they love, they jump at the chance to play a role in the story. Making your brand the enabler, not the broadcaster can be a brilliant way to win them over.
AirBnB are a brilliant example of an enabler brand, with a service and associated content/stories that are their brand. You might struggle to think of any of their advertising, and that’s because they don’t need it; their customers are evangelical about the experience they provide.
If, as someone very wise once said, “Advertising is a tax you pay for being unremarkable”, then perhaps the only way to avoid that tax is to tell remarkable stories.
By Joe Hale, managing director and David Beare, design director, Dragon Rouge London