As far as historians can trace human history, there have been stories. In fact, you can’t spell the word history without including the word story inside of it.
Before there were YouTube, podcasts, and social media.
And back before there was radio and television.
Even before there was written word – there were stories.
The medium through which stories are told has evolved over the centuries, but the power of the story has not.
As businesses and brands attempt to be more authentic and engaging, stories are taking the place of overt sales tactics. And if you want your marketing to cut through the noise, it’s important that you embrace and perfect the art of brand storytelling.
The fact that humans continue to cling to stories after thousands of years shows that there’s something innately powerful about them. It’s not just that we like them – it appears that we’re biologically compelled to respond to them on a physiological level.
“Depending on the story you’re reading, watching or listening to, your palms may start to sweat, scientists find. You’ll blink faster, and your heart might flutter or skip,” Elena Renken writes for NPR. “Your facial expressions shift, and the muscles above your eyebrows will react to the words — another sign that you’re engaged.”
According to functional MRI scans, stories cause multiple areas of the brain to light up. As the story unfolds, your brain waves actually start synchronizing with those of the storyteller. In fact, the greater the listener’s comprehension, the more closely the brain waves mimic those of the individual telling the story. In other words, the quickest way to get someone on the same page as you is to tell a compelling story that captivates their mind.
Storytelling has been around since the dawn of mankind. While we might sit in front of screens watching stories unfold on YouTube or Netflix, our ancestors sat around fires where skilled communicators relayed the oral history of where they came from. Same concept…different vehicle.
Some time ago, savvy marketers and business owners picked up on the idea that humans relate to stories. Thus it makes sense to engage with customers through storytelling. And it’s out of this idea that brand storytelling emerges.
Brand storytelling is basically an audience-centric marketing tactic that focuses on capturing attention and captivating prospects through a combination of narrative and emotion. The objective is to tell a story that builds trust and puts them on a specific “wavelength” so that they (a) recognize a specific need or want, and (b) believe you’re the best solution to satisfy that desire.
Whereas most businesses take a factual or practical approach to marketing and branding, storytelling emphasizes the softer, more emotional side of things.
According to a Stanford University study, people remember stories more than facts. In the study, just five percent of people were able to recall statistics after listening to a short speech. However, more than 60 percent of people were able to recall a single story from the speech.
And in a separate study out of USC, researchers found that 31 percent of ad campaigns with emotional content performed “well,” while just 16 percent of ads with rational content did the same. The study found that certain emotional themes were most effective, including achievement, love, pride, empathy, friendships, memories, and loneliness.
Understanding that you need to tell stories in order to maximize your marketing and SEO ROI is one thing. But, inevitably, the question becomes: How do you tell effective stories?
With this question in mind, let’s dig in and explore some of the top tips for brand storytelling (and how you can use them to propel your own content strategy).
Most brands understand the value of brand storytelling, yet very few are as successful with it as they’d like to be. What gives?
In most cases, the problem can be traced to the type of story brands tell. To be more specific, they put the emphasis on themselves – they make their brand the hero. In reality, the customer should be the hero and your brand is merely the guide.
In classic storytelling, we call this the hero’s journey. This formula was first developed back in the 1940s by film director Joseph Campbell. Since then, almost every major blockbuster film is based on this script. It goes like this:
Now that you see the 12 steps of the hero’s journey, you’ll never unsee it. In fact, you’ll probably think about it next time you watch a movie (and may even be able to predict exactly how the story will unfold before it happens).
Okay, great…but what does this have to do with marketing and brand storytelling?
Well, this same script can actually be used to tell a powerful story about your brand. Branding expert and best selling author, Donald Miller, believes in it so much that he created something called the “StoryBrand Brandscript,” which is a simplified, business-specific version of the classic 12-step script.
It includes seven basic elements:
While it can take some work to get focused and drill down to these seven elements, doing so will allow you to tell a more compelling story. Even more importantly, it puts the emphasis in the correct place.
Whereas most businesses frame themselves as the heroes, the reality is that the customer wants to be the hero of their own story. Our role is merely that of the guide. And the sooner we embrace this, the more relatable and transformational our stories become.
You can think of stories on an axis. As you move right on the X-axis, you go from “irrelevant” to “relevant.” And as you move up on the Y-axis, you go from “expected” to “unexpected.”
The best stories exist in the upper right corner of the graph. In other words, they’re a combination of two ingredients: unexpected yet relevant.
No other combination works.
The only way for a story to be memorable and effective is for it to be both unexpected and relevant to the audience.
Remember that the story isn’t about you. One way to shift the emphasis from you to your audience is by sharing your customers’ stories and then briefly connecting the dots at the end to show them that you were able to guide them from where they were to where they are now.
Testimonials are the classic tool for sharing customer stories. These can be done in any number of formats, including written case studies, videos, audio interviews, or even graphics.
For successful customer stories and testimonials, you should ask the right questions. This includes prompts like:
You obviously don’t have to follow this script exactly, but hopefully you can see how it creates a nice story arc of transformation. It positions the customer as the hero and your brand as the thoughtful and sage guide.
The beauty of a story is that it can be expanded and evolved. (Not in terms of the story itself, but in terms of how it’s told.) And the more resourceful you are with your brand’s stories, the greater your return on investment will be.
Most stories exist in a core format. For example, you might have a video interview with a customer who used your product and experienced a significant transformation. But it’s up to you to figure out how to create additional permutations.
A video interview can be turned into a PDF case study. It can also be used to create a podcast episode, an article on your blog, and a series of social media posts. You can even use it in your email marketing and Facebook advertising strategy.
If you’re going to take the time to create a story, you might as well make sure you’re able to tell it in multiple formats and places. That’s the key to building a successful brand.
From a very basic point of view, you can categorize the brain into three parts:
Despite having a rational processing system in our brains, we can all point to daily instances where we don’t use rational or logical decision making. Whether it’s saying something mean to someone you love (even when you don’t mean it), or buying a product that you don’t really have the money to buy, simply because it feels good – we all act irrationally from time to time.
Psychologists believe this is due to the formation of the brain.
The simplest explanation is that the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system) processes information five-times faster than the rational part of the brain (the neocortex). This makes people more likely to respond to emotional appeals than logical, rational arguments. And it’s for this reason that storytelling works so well.
But here’s the thing: Not all emotions are created equal.
Learning how to tap into the right emotions is what takes a brand’s storytelling skills to the next level.
Depending on the product or vertical that you operate in, you’ll find the following emotions to be most powerful:
You obviously can’t tap into each of these emotions in every story. However, having a good mixture of these elements in different brand stories is a powerful way to grow your brand and resonate with customers.
At SEO.co, we believe as an SEO company in partnering with brands to help tell their stories in more powerful ways. We’re able to do this through a combination of different strategies, including link building, content marketing, and public relations.
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