Since my childhood, I’ve always had difficulty memorizing things. People around me believed that I had a learning disability because in their vision I was grasping to understand new information. However, the reason for this apparent struggle was the fact that my brain is a scavenger. If I could create a suitable context for every new thing I was trying to learn, the complexity of the subject was eradicated, leaving only the simple remains behind which my brain could feed on like a vulture. In a way, I was forming a story for every new piece of information so that my mind could perceive it in its entirety. This way my mind avoided being confused and retained all of the information.
This is the magic of storytelling.
Simply stating facts can seem cumbersome, causing others to awkwardly squirm in their chair while eyeing the nearest exit from the conversation. The only way to captivate those around you while speaking is by coming up with an interesting background and context for the facts that you present. A reason why others should pay attention to you – a story.
A story shapes the way you perceive things, making it easier to even convince you. For instance, in the image below, the two black circles are of the same size but the varying nature of the surrounding circles gives a different impression of the black circles. The background story plays a huge and pivotal role in shaping the way we see things.
Given that this is common knowledge, it’s still surprising that many brands make the mistake of not having a good story to enthral potential customers. By focusing only on trying to educate people about the product, they miss out on the opportunity to engage with customers and convert them into long-term buyers.
Let’s try a simple exercise.
Try naming any brand that comes to your mind at first thought. Is there one word or phrase that can describe it? Or can you visualize an image in your mind right away when you just think of the name of the brand?
In most probability, the answer would be yes which goes on to demonstrate that the brand was successful in building a story around itself. And not just that, it was even successful in making you relate to it.
The essence of a good story is that not only is it memorable, it also becomes your identity. I could have incorrectly stated my learning predicament earlier and projected myself as an all-knowing being. However, every individual is transparent at the end of the day and audiences can easily see through a made-up story.
Being truthful about your personality resonates better with the audience than creating a false identity. Getting somebody’s attention requires an accurate persona because your falsehood will be detected within a few minutes when you address them.
A good story also provides a deeper connection with the audience and makes the brand seem more human-like. Here are some examples of brilliant brand storytelling.
Coca-Cola: Character-driven story
A bottle of Coca Cola has become synonymous with spreading happiness because of the years the brand has put into advertising. Before 1931, there wasn’t a ubiquitous face for Santa Claus around the world, with different depictions of him in different places. In 1931, Coca-Cola began its Christmas campaign showing a warm and merry man dressed in the red colour of Coca-Cola’s branding and spreading joy around the world.
This cemented the urban legend of Santa Claus, giving the character a memorable face along with a relatable story.
Toms Shoes: Human side of a brand
The brand started with the intention of providing shoes to the children in need of them. The founder of the brand was travelling through Argentina when he noticed the hardships of children who were growing up without shoes. The company was launched with the message that every shoe sold would be replicated to provide a new pair to the ones who could not afford to own them.
By 2013, Toms was reportedly making 250 million dollars in sales a year and had donated 10 million pairs of shoes since its launch. Just one year later, the company was valued at 625 million dollars. The reason for this success? In this age of abundant data and intense competition, consumers have introduced a new concept for evaluating every brand — “are you likeable?”
Brands have now been transformed into living breathing entities with personalities, goals, and values. Consumers want to feel not only are they getting a good product, but they are getting it from a good brand. Toms combined their product with a robust brand story and were able to scale up in a highly competitive market with numerous similar products by making people feel good about being part of their community.
GoPro: Consumer-driven story
It started out to help athletes document themselves, but realizing the true potential of the product, GoPro broadened their market and urged more people to capture themselves in the moments that they enjoyed the most. This brilliant strategy made GoPro synonymous with the feeling of excitement and your happiest place. After all, the best stories are the ones where we play the lead role.
The icing on the cake was GoPro’s use of user-generated content (UGC). The brand urged people to post videos of themself that have been curated on GoPro’s social media channels. AdAge reported that it would take almost three years to watch all of the video content that GoPro users uploaded in 2013.
Stories make your job of communicating ideas easier to understand and connect to, a mode that even cavemen made use of while making paintings on their walls. The more expressive you are in communicating your story the better and more relatable it gets for people, and the higher the chances of them recalling it even after a long period of time.
With attention spans of audiences decreasing at a faster rate than ever, a good and capturing story is extremely necessary for a brand. The social media-driven population craves new content while ignoring things it doesn’t consider worthwhile. Staying relevant is part of the strategy of most brands, and good storytelling skills are a must in this scenario. A study by Origin and Hill Holiday found that people spent more on everything from hotel rooms to paintings when products or promos were paired with a story. Similarly, a 2014 study by neuro-economist Paul Zak found that a character-driven story caused people to donate 56% more money to charity.
So how do you tell a good story?
To begin telling a story, you need to know about the characters. Similarly, it is crucial that you know your brand inside-out, what it stands for, the core principles and values, and the demographic you are targeting. You can then begin to create your persona. Until you put a face or personality to your brand, it won’t be engaging. It pulls back the curtain to actually show what you stand for and the traits that can make people relate to you.
If you are solving a common problem that people face, showcase the unique manners in which you do so. With a little creativity in your approach, you can display an interesting persona of your brand, exciting potential customers in the process. The entire purpose is to cater to their needs, so you need to know your customers well and why you care so much about them.
Think about not just what you do, but how you improve lives. People connect with things that educate, entertain, inspire, or even celebrate them.
Building up from consumer experiences, if you are able to tell a good story, you will be able to answer all the customer’s queries regarding what you do and how you do that, while also being engaging and telling them why they should invest their time and resources in you.
If you’re not sure what type of brand story might resonate with people, map your buyer’s journey. This helps you see what types of messaging people need to hear at each stage — and can help you identify gaps in your brand storytelling.
I could have started this article by simply stating the reason why I believe storytelling is so important. However, I chose to begin with a personal anecdote and the reason why I believe our minds to be like scavengers since drawing your audience into the world you create is the primary task for any storyteller. After all, we are all tied together with one common factor — our love for stories, be it an infant, an octogenarian, a caveman, a modern businessman; and irrespective of where we’re living, be it someone living in a country at the Equator, or Santa Claus in the North Pole.