I recently saw a piece of excellent spec work from some advertising students out of Germany titled “Dear Brother.” I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it, but the spot is moving, effective and tells an incredible story. In working to produce the spot, film students Dorian Lebherz and Daniel Titz, enlisted the support of Ashton Hinkison, a London-based agency, to get the casting right. As Lebherz says in his interview with brandchannel,
Since this spot focuses much more on character than on plot, the casting process was very important to us…[The actors] portrayed that sensible authenticity we were looking for and when they met for the first time, it really seemed as if they'd known each other their whole life.
The power and authenticity of the spot got me thinking about how storytelling is so often used in varying degrees across marketing and branding.
For most of us, some recurring character or story line has shaped at least a small potion of our experiences with advertising: the Geico Gecko, Progressive's anthropomorphized “Mayhem,” even Verizon's “Can you hear me now?” character. With the growth of social media and the increase in different media the Internet provides, this marketing technique has exploded to great effect. As Lebherz goes on to say in his interview,
“We wanted to tell a story that captures the audience emotionally in a very short period of time… We believe a cinematic story that creates emotions is always stronger than a rich assembly of different settings without storytelling.”
Let's take a look at why and how these stories can create meaningful connections with consumers.
Increase Emotional Engagement
One of the main reasons brands implement storytelling in their marketing is simply because stories evoke emotions. When the stories surrounding your brand evoke strong emotions, your customers form an authentic connection with your products and services. Keep in mind, these stories don't have to involve complex plot lines or epic sagas. They simply have to tell honest and transparent stories that show who we are as a company.
Guinness recently released one such story with these principles in mind. Check out this video depicting a group of friends playing wheelchair basketball. On the surface it seems simple, but as the video plays out, we see only one member of the group is actually paralyzed. The rest of his friends partake because they want to be together. Playing on the brutal nature of wheelchair basketball and the tough-guy persona of the Irish themselves, the narrator closes by saying,
“Dedication, loyalty, friendship – the choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”
The message is powerful because Guinness does a nice job of aligning the above values with their brand through storytelling.
Generating the Bigger Story
One of the reasons the Guinness ad works so well is because the smaller story they tell through their spot fits in to their larger brand story. Often, the overarching brand story that companies craft will encompass many different mini-stories. One company that best exemplifies this strategy is Disney. Their stories are clear, entertaining and broad-reaching. We've met Mickey, Pinnochio, Cinderella, Hercules, Aladdin and, recently, Anna and Elsa. All of these characters tell their own story, but that story always fits into Disney's larger brand story. And for Disney, the story is the big sell. Will Burns, Founder & CEO of Ideasicle, explains in an article for Forbes,
“Where most brands start with a physical product and then build a story around it in the form of 'content marketing,' companies like Disney do exactly the opposite. They create a brand story – a movie – and then build products around that story.”
Disney's story incorporates elements of wholesomeness, magic and wonder. Its brand story of memorable family experiences has turned them into a household name across the globe.
What Will Your Story Be?
When you think about marketing your brand or product, think about what kind of story you'd like to communicate. Who are the stakeholders? What's at risk? And most important, how can you use that story to create a lasting impression?
Remember, your story doesn't have to be dramatic or complex, it simply should provide insight into what kind of values and experiences customers can expect when interacting with your company. Once you generate the overall brand theme, you can begin to craft smaller, memorable stories that fit into your overall message. And with the wide variety of media now available to tell those stories, you can increase the exposure of these stories in so many ways.
Stories work because they tend to be far more memorable than a list of facts and figures. The facts and figures may distinguish you positively from your competitors, but the stories your brand tells will create an emotionally compelling reason for customers to choose you over others. I look forward to seeing what types of brand stories become popular in the coming months.
Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation.