Humans have been communicating through stories for tens of thousands of years. Historically, stories were needed to help ancestors teach their children of dangers. Narratives have not only shaped how people learn and communicate, but enabled their survival. As a result, natural selection has caused humans to seek and pay special attention to the narratives around us.
We still use stories to make sense of the world – however, they are now used for more than survival, making up half of our conversations and entertainment. Storytelling creates a connection between the speaker and the listener by releasing oxytocin in the brain and causing us to relate, care, and empathize with others. Similar to how humans use stories to get to know each other, brands also use stories to help consumers get to know them. By incorporating stories into marketing strategies, brands can provide information about the company, engage the target audience, and stick out from competitors.
WHY storytelling for a brand
Persuasion and engagement
In marketing, companies target the human need for narrative. Storytelling is an effective way to translate information about the brand’s history and purpose into an experience the target audience can relate to and trust. Authenticity will cause customers to share the content with others and come back for more.
For example, Nike’s ad campaigns have always focused on a specific athlete’s story that the target audience can relate to or featuring someone they aspire to be like. One powerful Nike campaign was Equality, which stated that “the ball should bounce the same for everyone, on or off the field of play.” This made the brand identify with more than workout gear and athletic inspiration. This campaign wasn’t created to promote a single product, but the brand’s identity in general. It acted as a force for social change that customers could further identify with. This enhanced bonds between consumers and the brand, strengthening their loyalty to purchasing Nike products, as opposed to another athletic wear brand.
Stories are memorable
Audiences are more likely to remember an ad if it taps into listeners’ emotions, as this engages many parts of the brain, increasing the ability to remember. If the message includes other people’s experiences, they will feel more connected to the human side of the brand and possibly see parts of themselves reflected. This is also important to brands trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
One commercial that stuck out for many during the 2020 SuperBowl was the Google “Loretta” ad, based on a real-life couple. Without ever showing the man talking, this ad captured an 85-year-old man using Google Assistant to remember details about his beloved late wife. Even though a great portion of this audience didn’t relate to this from their own personal experiences, this ad still pulled at their heartstrings as many were able to sympathize with this story. Google transformed a product that didn’t necessarily spark emotion on its own into something heartwarming that audiences around the world would remember and talk about.
HOW to utilize storytelling
Once you’ve decided storytelling is right for your brand and target audience, there are a few key tenants to keep in mind as you’re building out your narrative.
- Listen to your audience: understanding your audience’s desires, concerns, beliefs, and behaviors is crucial to deciding what they would respond best to.
- Identify the story to tell: decide your brand’s message (why the product is important) and for whom (how the brand was created, what the mission is)
- Identify the mode of storytelling: how the story will reach the audience the best may be through print, film, video, social media, blogs, etc.
An example of a blog spreading a company’s message is one of our clients, Avedro, and their LivingWithKC blog. This follows the journeys of different patients diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition causing progressive warping of the cornea. The blog emphasizes the importance of Avedro’s FDA-approved corneal cross-linking procedure and how it has changed these people’s lives. Beyond the procedure, the blog focuses on individual stories of navigating life with keratoconus and finding treatment, and is extremely impactful for those dealing with keratoconus.
In today’s society and the age of social media, people are quick to share how they’re feeling about a brand or campaign. If done successfully, storytelling campaigns can influence a person’s decision making in a matter of seconds, whether that is to share the ad with a friend or go buy the product.
Every brand has the ability to express what makes them unique through the power of storytelling. Brands can tap into these emotions to evoke a desire for their product, as people are increasingly choosing to be loyal to brands that align with their own personal values. Speaking to these values when creating a brand identity and campaign will attract more attention and set your product apart from the rest.