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Brand Storytelling 101: Think Before You Speak

Once upon a time in an agency far, far away, a team of creatives built a brand so beautiful and the business lived happily ever after. It’s a story so sweet you might want to spit it out – and that’s because it’s nothing but sugar. 

When crafting a brand’s story, it’s only natural to tell the sweet tales of success. Sharing the struggles that a business faces will only put a sour taste in the audience’s mouth, right? Well, not exactly.

If social media has taught us one thing, it’s that constant highlight reels are exhausting. Watching people constantly talk about success and smooth sailing is nothing if not eye-roll inducing. So how do you stop those eyes from rolling over to the next business? How do you engage your audience? And no, a few likes on a tweet doesn’t count as engagement. 

So let’s start from the beginning


What is storytelling in branding?

Storytelling is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot but what really makes a story worth telling?

Storytelling is about honest communication and an appreciation for what makes you unique. It’s the culmination of the highs, lows, conflicts, and barriers that define and drive your purpose as a brand. 

It’s the consistent narrative that connects your brand to your audience and underlines the values shared between the business and the customer. It’s ever-evolving and so much more than your about page.


So what?

In an internet-driven world of instant gratification and constant communication, authentic connection has become increasingly scarce and coveted. As a result, businesses can no longer coast by as faceless entities. They’re now expected to build relationships with their customers. A business needs to build a personality, tug on the heartstrings, and connect with an audience on a deeper level. 

Storytelling has become a crucial component of modern marketing because it allows a brand to share their values, ethics, and motivations with the customer. 


How do you craft an engaging story?

Engaging and effective storytelling demands more than a polished sequence of success stories. With the world flipped on its head and locked inside, 2020 marked the death of social media as a highlights reel. Self-indulgent stories about success reads as inauthentic and fabricated, which hinder the transparency and trustworthiness of the brand. What a reader wants to find in a story is themselves, something they can relate to that proves there are humans behind a business. 

To evoke a compelling response, storytelling requires four components: character, conflict, action, transformation. 


Most importantly, conflict.

Conflict is the single most important aspect to an engaging story. Without it, there’s no room for action or transformation. It’s Film School 101, the very first lesson you learn in scriptwriting class, and marketing should be no different. 

Let’s look at The Three Little Pigs, for example. 

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs who decided to move out of their parent’s home. They each built their own house; one from straw, one from sticks, and one from bricks. They moved next door to a wolf who baked them an apple crumble to welcome the pigs to the neighbourhood. The three little piggies each insured their home and contents and have family dinners together every Sunday.

Sounds charming but leaves plenty to be desired, right? Maybe your belly grumbled at the thought of apple crumble, but it’s hardly an evocative tale because it lacks emotional appeal.

The story has no relevance because it lacks reality. Life is unpredictable and no matter how determined or informed you are, it will throw obstacles at you. In the real world, there is a big bad wolf and he doesn’t bake apple crumbles. At least not often. 

Championing your obstacles is a show of strength for your brand and helps you form your story. It helps your audience empathise with the business and form their own relationship with it.


Denying conflict is denying authenticity

Time and time again we see businesses try to prove they’re flawless, faultless, fantastically perfect brands. In an attempt to gain and maintain the customers trust, brands deny themselves conflict and therefore deny themselves authenticity. And authenticity is exactly what the modern customer is looking for in a business. Why should they trust you?

Customers interact with their favourite brands on the same platforms as they interact with their friends, mothers, grannies, and cousins. This has changed the way in which we, as brands, communicate with an audience. It’s created an environment where ‘brand personality’ takes on a new and more literal meaning.

Brands need to work out who they are, why they’re here, and what they’re bringing to the table before marketing to an audience that demands so much more than what you sell. What’s our advice, you might ask?


Focus not on telling the story, but crafting the story.

You’ll forgive me for sounding like a primary school teacher; but think before you speak. Craft and draft the story before you tell the story. Crafting a compelling, relatable, and appealing brand story has become one of the greatest necessities (and accomplishments) for the modern brand. 

It serves as the North Star guiding the rest of the communications to tell a cohesive and consistent narrative. 

Now that businesses have dozens of two-way communication channels directly with their audiences, storytelling transcends far beyond a meaningless brand story that a bunch of dudes dropped in your brand book all those years ago and never told you what to do with it. 

Storytelling encompasses everything from Instagram DMs to the primetime TV slot. Once the foundational values are established, the relationship between business and customer will grow.


So before you start a dialogue with your customers, ask yourself one question:

What makes you human?