How can storytelling grow your brand?

Friday, August 5, 2016 - 14:58

By AIM Education & Training

What do Shakespeare, Budweiser and Pixar have in common? They are all amazing storytellers. From Toy Story to Hamlet, with a few hilarious adverts thrown in for good measure, these three storytellers understand what it means to spin a yarn.

Marketing your brand can be as easy as telling a human-centric story.

So when it comes to communicating your brand, why not go with storytelling?

What is a brand narrative?

A brand narrative can mean many things all at once. It's the context for your team and customers, it's continuity as well as a future focus. Some narratives are amazing at shaping a company's brands, its culture and even its future.

For the consumer, it builds on the shared experiences and moments between a user and product. It's the conversations the company has with its customers - and not all are verbal. In many ways building a brand is about feelings felt and emotions engaged.

Think about it this way, your brand is not an isolated element. Instead, it's intimately connected to your users and consumers, who are directly connected to the world around them. 

When approaching a brand narrative, it's important to remember that your consumers are not just customers, they do not simply buy your products - they buy into you. They like, tweet, and tag your brand because they believe in it and belong to it. So how can you develop a community of consumers? Well, it's simple - through storytelling. 

How can storytelling help develop and communicate a brand?

As we are social beings, humans crave other people's company for survival and pleasure. On the one hand, storytelling allows people to affiliate with others and on the other, stories are excellent vehicles for the transmission of information

Anthropologists for instance have argued that stories pass on knowledge and values essential to the survival of certain ways of acting in the world. When Homer told the Ancient Greeks about the battle of Troy, he was not just recounting facts, he was developing and reinforcing the values that made the Greeks Greek. And so when Pixar tells a story about a lost fish, it's not just developing cute characters, it is passing on cultural knowledge to younger audiences. 

Stories are so good at this that they actually effect change in your brain. Researchers from the United States have found a clear link between stories and neurological stimulation. American neuroeconomist Paul Zak's work looked at the relationship between empathy and narratives and found that the neurochemical oxytocin plays a central role. 

His research found that when oxytocin is created in the brain, people are more generous and compassionate. Many have dubbed the chemical the 'love hormone' or the 'moral molecule' as a result.

"What we know is that oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help," he said.

Specifically, Zak's research found that character-driven stories cause the creation of oxytocin. Speaking to the Harvard Business Review, Zak and colleagues said that to drive altruistic behaviour, a story must sustain attention through the use of tension. If this is accomplished, the audience will come to share many of the same feelings and emotions of the characters, which can end with the viewers mimicking the characters' behaviour.

The neurobiology of storytelling offers weight to its relevance in a commercial setting. Whether it's an elevator pitch, a business meeting or a large advertising campaign, the power of beginning with a compelling, human-centric story cannot be over emphasised. 

So how can you use stories to create a brand community?

One way to achieve this is through the use of what Stanford Social Psychologist Jennifer Aaker calls signature stories.

"The development of signature stories can be a vehicle to understand what a brand or organisation should stand for at its core," she wrote. "Signature stories get beyond functional benefits by providing a perspective in which other richer concepts can have a voice."

A signature story is best defined as an engaging narrative based on a strategic message that is aimed at driving customer relationships and brand enhancement. In a paper published in California Management Review, Aker points out that stories such as a young John Nordstrom offering to refund a customer's well-used snow tyres, which would be the inspiration for the Nordstrom empire's customer-centric work policy, communicate organisational values and drive a company's brand vision.

Signature stories can and do build strong relationships with a host of stakeholders. Not only does it help generate a bigger consumer base, it can also help drive customer engagement with your brand. While the likes of Budweiser and Pixar have mastered the art of storytelling, it's time your brand used human-centred narratives to drive brand awareness.