A good story shows a character developing from one thing to another via a series of events. By sharing that journey of transformation, we learn about changing ourselves from the safety of an armchair. We don’t need to go through the events themselves to learn how to evolve.

Growth is something all humans strive for. It motivates us to buy into things. We buy into the stories because we want to emulate heroes. If we see that other people survive difficult situations with aplomb, we instinctively want to copy them so that we too are prepared to face peril with courage.

Stories affect every conceivable aspect of branding. Brands represent products or services that help us overcome difficulties. Our customers’ experiences and brand traits show character, and brand positioning and conversations root us to our place in the world. Here are some storytelling techniques that brands can use to engage people in narratives.

A Good Story Grabs Attention.

People are hardwired to notice change. Our senses are alert when action happens because we need to know how to act in response – it’s a survival mechanism. Any interruptive media should include the threat of change, either to an environment or a character. In a story, this would be a compelling first sentence. In copywriting, it’s about a great ad, title, caption, email subject or strap-line.

Characters Make Us Care

Stories contain valuable information, we swap them with each other to regulate our social packs. Once we’ve heard a story and decided who we think the hero and who the villain is, we are compelled to share the tale with our friends to see if they draw the same conclusions. If they agree, we have jointly created moral codes. These codes become codes of conduct in real life. We let the people seen as heroes become role models and we make punitive laws for villains

It’s intrinsic to our natures to hone in on character because we want to know who’s behaving in a way we respect. This would be the main character in a story, but in a marketing campaign, we brands need to let the hero arc belongs to the customer.

New customers need to trust that they will make a good decision and that your service or product will help them overcome adversity. Giving them the answer to a problem and making them feel like a hero encourages them to share their story after the fact. Once this story is shared, a tribe begins to form. A customer journey that includes your participation in this plot = a successful campaign.

Building some platform to showcase your customer success stories, whether sharing case studies, reviews or customer conversations is elemental if you want people to care about your brand.

We Naturally Align With Our Heros

Heroes are diverse, though. What people believe to be ‘moral’ is not the same. We’re different. We have different values. That’s how tribes evolve. Some want selfless role models. Others want charming ones. Some people buy fast cars because they want to be like James Bond. Others by Tom’s because they feel good about passing on shoes to people in need. Everyone has a drive for something they couldn’t live without, and they look for people who share that need.

To do this well, brands need to find the social groups their values align with.  Where do they hang out, and how do they wish to communicate? The way brands translate value is through careful narration. Brand values are shown through our communication choices: who we speak to, what we say and how we say it.

Therefore customer research and profiling is key to any marketing mix. Aligning your brand values will attract a crowd of likeminded thinkers, and a room full of red hot leads when you are ready for sales, ensuring your brand’s survival.

We Are Inspired By Our Heroes

If a good set up to a story contains the threat of change, then the pinnacle of dramatic action in the centre of a story is when that threat becomes a reality. By this time, readers are hooked on the character they admire. They’re wary of the potential threat; they are on high alert. This is the moment where a hero is forced to do something. They are forced to act.

When we see someone face adversity and act in a manner we align with we are driven to mimic them. That’s why reviews, testimonials and case studies are valuable to potential customers, but they are fruitless without a call to action. You made that person money, solved their problem, moved their life forward, and others will see this and want to act similarly — but how do they achieve this? Give people the map, and be their guide when they take the next steps themselves.

Happy Endings Make Us Happier

When we see people we like overcome problems, we get a little neurological reward. We are happy for them to develop as a person because it helps us understand what is important to us without going through it ourselves. We take that little hit of hormonal pleasure and gain the courage to replicate the adventure. We see David overcome Goliath, and we feel motivated to take on our own giants. So stories shape our goals and aspirations.

It’s hard to like someone who isn’t vulnerable. So many brands are forged when founders faced challenging circumstances and needed to get creative to survive. Yet, many brands present as these forever strong, consistently amazing, law-of-nature-defying, impenetrable forces. In doing so, they lose their humanity.  You need to translate the fact that you survived despite the odds — and sometimes those odds are flaws, mistakes, moments when the world or your body or your friends or your family let you down. For the phoenix to rise, there have to be ashes.    

Therefore, your founder story is very different from an ‘about me’ page. Founder stories are inspirational. They show monumental leaps of faith, whereas an ‘about me’ page is where you show people you have built the strength and resilience to step back and help others with your product or service. One is full of fight, the other is full of confidence, but people need to see your battle scars to see how that confidence was earned.

Only Our Fears Hold Us Back

It was a dark and stormy night… and we held fear at bay by sharing stories about frightening events from the cosy, warm chair by the fire while the wind and rain batter at the window.

If we don’t know what’s important to us, then we act heedlessly. If we act heedlessly, we are in danger. At best we could fail; at worst we could lose our life.  Stories become testing grounds for repercussions. They are safe spaces to work out who we are and what we want.

Your marketing literature should show the ‘what if’ scenarios that potential customers could be facing. It’s different from sales patter because you’re putting it out in the world without getting to know your client on a one-to-one basis.  The story needs to apply to an archetypal person, rather than an individual. As you don’t know what individuals fear, literature needs to be story-based rather than solution-focused to have broad appeal.

For example, writing a brochure about fixing a problem may only really be interesting to a few hardcore people who instantly relate to that problem. Whereas telling a story that asks the fearful question— what if you had this problem?— would hook more people into investing their time to read the booklet. That second group of people might not be ready to buy now, but if that problem ever comes up in their life, they have the memory of your solution already planted there.

If you would like to learn more about brand story strategy, then sign up to receive a free copy of the Attractivity ebook Get To Grips With Your Brand Story.