Step 10 ⇒ Brand Story

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What is brand Storytelling?

Brand stories activate emotions and communicate values. Your brand story is a complete picture of various elements from website copy to social media, to traditional ads. It’s the way your brand presents itself to the world and the way the public perceives you. We need narratives for our CEOs to inspire others to join their cause, for our sales team to convince people to buy, and for our customer support centers to convey a positive experience.

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.” William Bernbach
The Power of Storytelling

The best writers and speakers all have something in common—they are great storytellers. They have the power to delight, touch, inspire, challenge, and motivate. They help us to create a narrative picture in our minds that help us to see how an event took place.

Stories are all around us. The movies and television we watch, news articles we read, and conversations we have—we expect them to form the bases of our relationships. According to a study by Jeremy Hsu, personal stories and gossip on average make up 65% of our conversations. They represent a human need to understand and connect emotionally with how and why things happen. According to an infographic published by OneSpot, 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like a story when consumed.

Stages of the Hero’s Journey
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  1. The ordinary world: The hero realises that his everyday life is missing something – something crucial to him that he can attain.
  2. The call to adventure: It’s time for the hero to strike camp and move past his comfort zone. He gets a first glimpse of “that which could be”. If he ignores the call to adventure, he’ll keep hearing it again and again.
  3. The refusal of the call: The hero wants to listen to his inner voice that keeps telling him to avoid the unknown. So called “threshold guardians” play to the fears of the protagonist to discourage him from starting his journey. But only those who depart can make their dreams come true.
  4. Meeting the mentor: The hero receives the support of a mentor that strongly influences his development. He has a wealth of knowledge, doesn’t set any conditions and doesn’t expect anything from the hero. At the same time, he’s familiar with both the old and the new world.
  5. Crossing the first threshold: Most people stay in the ordinary world. But not our hero because he does something that cannot be reversed. By entering the new world, he experiences the polar opposite of his old world – and the second act of the journey begins.
  6. Experimenting with the initial change: From now on, the world is separated into good and evil. The hero masters some challenges and trials. He overcomes dangers, defeats enemies and finds out who’s on his side and who isn’t – in other words, he learns to navigate the rules of the new world.
  7. Approaching the innermost cave: The hero comprehends the situation as a whole and encounters his biggest (inner) enemy. He’s the exact opposite of all good traits, hopes and dreams. A showdown is imminent.
  8. The ordeal: The critical turning point, the biggest change in the story, takes place. It’s a matter of life or death and afterwards nothing is like it was before. In the moment of his biggest fear, the hero encounters a reflection of his own dark side.
  9. The reward and seizing the sword: The hero has completed his task and is rewarded with the “elixir”. He identifies what he wants to do in the future, feels alive and powerful. His confidence has grown. Time to celebrate.
  10. The journey back: With his boon, new insights and new understanding of self, he heads back into the ordinary world. Expendable characters are left behind. Oftentimes, a chase or race against time ensues.
  11. Renewal or metamorphosis: The hero returns home with the boon and faces the final change. His best traits join up with his lessons learned. Good ultimately defeats evil.
  12. Return with the elixir: The elixir has changed the hero and his environment. What he has learned throughout the journey is integrated into his everyday life. Many things take on a new meaning for him. Having solved the task, the journey comes full circle.
Brand Story Examples
Google, Parisian Love

Brand Story:Google is a relatively young brand, which was founded in 1995 and was initially named Backrub. After a quick change of name, it skyrocketed past the competition and into the popular vernacular. Google is all about advertising, yet it rarely advertises its search capabilities on the screen. When it does, it turns off the sales pitch and focuses on human stories. Google commercials use minimal branding, and rarely include a call to action. What’s consistent with the brand is the message that it can change your life.

Parisian Love is a three-act story told using the product it advertises. We follow the story what we presume to be a young man Googling his French adventure starting at studying abroad, then falling in love, and finally starting a family. We don’t see the protagonist, we just watch their Google search history played to sound effects and a gentle piano track.

Their Secret:Emotional impact

Why it works:The 52-second Super Bowl slot allows the audience to directly see how the product can make an impact on someone’s life. It is a simple human story with an instant “ahh” factor that lead it to be shared quickly on social networks. There’s a hero, who has to overcome conflict (not being with his love interest) to live happily ever after (marriage and pregnancy).

Apple, 1984

Brand Story:Steve Jobs famously said, “it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy,” and that attitude permeated a lot of Apple’s most significant product launches. This iconic ad, created by the agency TBWA\Chiat\Day and directed by Ridley Scott put Apple on the map at the Super Bowl. Based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, the ad cost $650,000 to make and featured a British discus thrower as the woman who stops crowds of men from mindlessly following the words of a dictator on the screen. But it almost didn’t air. In fact, test groups found it to be one of the least effective commercials made.

Their Secret:Taking a risk

Why it works:A company needs to tell a different story at different stages of their life, and this ad makes a powerful statement, in the middle of a very challenging political climate. It manages to both make a comment on American politics as well as its rivals IBM. It doesn’t just say ‘we’re different,’ it says, “we’re revolutionary.”

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak loved 1984 and decided to ignore the test groups and air it anyway. Their risk paid off, and today, it’s one of the most memorable Super Bowl spots. It wasn’t until 1997 that we had the slogan Think Different, but this advert firmly plants that attitude as a seed in the audience’s mind.

Compare the Market, Compare the Meerkat

Brand Story:Compare the Market is probably not well known overseas, but in the UK, it’s a popular price comparison website. The Compare the Meerkat campaign launched in 2009 and was created by the VCCP agency. While Compare the Market wanted to build a trusted brand, their advertising campaign (which features prominently across all their marketing channels) suggests that they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Their Secret:A sense of humor

Why it works:Alexander is a cute character with an easy to remember catchphrase, “Simples.” He’s introduced here in this 30-second advert that sets the audience up for future storytelling opportunities. Alexander was immediately a hit with the British public, who flocked to buy toys of the CGI character.

We don’t know much about Alexander, just that he appears to be Russian, wealthy, and that he’s started a website where he compares meerkats. It’s memorable, witty, and leaves plenty of opportunities for follow on storylines. And that’s precisely what the brand has done. Compare the Meerkat is still going strong ten years later with more recent ads using celebrity selling power, such as this Kingsmen tie-in with the (delightful) Colin Firth.

Old Spice, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

Brand Story:Old Spice is a brand my Dad wore in the 1970s and 80s, but the brand itself goes way back to the 1930s. The founder of the Shulton Company, William Lightfoot Schultz, who manufactured the product, chose a nautical theme for the brand. Throughout the years the brand has used colonial sailing ships as a motif. Now owned by Procter & Gamble, those sailing ships may not be a central theme, but they are still present.

The challenge to Old Spice is staying relevant to a younger generation, and this is where the Wieden+Kennedy ad, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign comes into play.

The basic premise is not that Old Spice will transform your man into the perfect man, but that Old Spice can make your man smell like the perfect man. “Anything is possible when you smell like a man and not a lady.”

Their Secret:Targeting a new audience

Why it works:Instead of reaching out to men, the Old Spice guy talks directly to the ladies. It’s genius because it takes a brand that is associated with granddads and makes it appealing to a modern generation. How does it do that? Well, it’s well-written (and very quotable), and while it might inspire the perfect lifestyle, it certainly doesn’t over promise anything. It inspired several spoofs, including Smell Like a Monster featuring my favorite blue furry monster, Grover.

Pampers, Stinky Booty 2.0

Brand Story:In 1956, unsatisfied with having to change his grandson’s cloth diapers, a Procter & Gamble researcher by the name of Victor Mills, took on the challenge of making a disposable diaper. Today, Pampers is a trusted brand with many loyal followers, and its brand DNA is happy, healthy development for babies everywhere. This extends into all their storytelling, from packaging to ads featuring happy, laughing babies of all genders and race.

In this ad campaign by Pampers and Friends at Work, John Legend changes his baby’s bottom, with the power of pampers and a support group of singing dads.

Their Secret:Changing the status quo

Why it works:Pampers fights against social stereotypes by showing that men can change diapers too, using the celebrity power and vocal cords of John Legend and Adam Levigne. What really makes this ad work is Chrissy Teigen (Twitter’s current doyenne) who is every woman asking, do you want a medal for this? It’s relatable and it subtly tells the viewer, if it’s good enough for a celebrity’s baby bottom, then it must be good enough for mine.

Marks & Spencer, This is Not Just Food

Brand Story:Oh, how I love (and miss) Marks & Sparks. It’s a brand that I’ve grown up with and am very loyal to. I’m happy to spend a good hour or so browsing around the Bluewater store every time I go home. Not because it’s an innovative brand, but because it sells quality high street fashion that lasts. Or to put it another way — great bras and damn fine sandwiches. It’s a company that has had its ups and downs since starting in 1881, but the quintessentially British brand has held true to its brand position of premium quality for consumers.

“This is not just food, this is Marks & Spencer food” was a 2004 campaign by that focused on the quality of M&S groceries.

Their Secret:Focusing on quality

Why it works:This isn’t a story, so why have I chosen it? Well, because it helps to paint a bigger story. With a sultry voice-over by actress Dervla Kirwan, some sexy food photography (lights down low, those parsnips! That pudding!), and Fleetwood Mac as the background music, the story the ads tell is that the food M&S sell is of the highest quality. The public nicknamed it “food porn,” and the reason these ads work is because they are easy to remember and easy to mimic. This ad is now such a classic that M&S have resurrected it after 12 years, with the latest ads injecting a little fun and humor into the campaign.

Warby Parker, How Warby Parker Glasses Are Made

Brand Story:Compared to many brands out there, Warby Parker is a baby. Buying glasses online is very different from an in-store experience, where you can simply select different pairs and try them on. Warby Parker wanted to circumvent traditional purchasing channels, and they wanted to make their experience fun. Their first job? To make people care, and to do that, they had to start with great storytelling.

As a brand, they keep their story simple. Look across their website and social channels, and you’ll find unpretentious copywriting and eye-catching photography, and this 2018 ad, explaining how glasses are made is no different.

Their Secret:Telling the right story at the right time

Why it works:Here’s a company sharing their story by explaining how they make their product and putting their people and the way they work in the spotlight. It shows that they care about quality. It’s exactly the right story to tell to launch the brand to a broader audience. They don’t try to fit everything in, but you learn a lot about them in a short space of time.

This spot doesn’t feel fun, but that’s okay because they’ve told us in the first ten seconds that fun is important to them. We quickly pick up on the brand’s meaning and purpose, and thanks to the affordable price point, the audience can imagine owning a pair of high-quality glasses. I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to own a pair of specs.

It’s okay though, fun fans. There are TWO ads! The second commercial, It’s Mesmerizing Isn’t It? manages to inject the fun and quirkiness that we see in Warby Parker’s annual reports. It’s a fun follow up that shows an appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into making the glasses as well as the camera work. Yup, I definitely want a pair of glasses now.

Mercedes Benz, Snow Date

Brand Story:Mercedes Benz is a brand that’s over a century old. We know it from the Janis Joplin song, “Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” and its emblem, the three-pointed star represents the use of Daimler engines on land, at sea, and in the air. Mercedes Benz stands for “the best or nothing.” We associate the brand with perfectionism and exclusivity.

Snow Date, the 2016 ad by Merkley + Partners, focuses on the reliability of the 4-MATIC 4 wheel drive. In his Mercedes Benz, the boy’s father has no trouble in driving him to the cinema. When he gets there, we wonder for a fraction of time whether his date is going to make it, and then we see the headlights of another Mercedes Benz.

Their Secret:Emotional impact

Why it works: This is a beautiful ad that gets me in the feels every time. (Seriously, why am I crying? This is about a car!). The basic premise of the story is that a boy needs to get to his date safely in the snow. We have an engaging character (the boy), overcoming a terrible obstacle (the snow) to reach a desirable goal (the girl).

Using the Hero’s Journey for Brand Storytelling

The hero of your brand’s storytelling is your audience. They’re at the very center of an epic journey through which you’re going to lead them. From taking them out of their ordinary world to returning with the knowledge in hand, taking a page out of the Hero’s Journey playbook helps us as content marketers create an experience they’ll never forget.

  • Act I: The Ordinary World The Hero’s Journey is broken up into three acts, each with individual steps. We can align these three acts with the three stages of the Buyer’s Journey: Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Act I: The Ordinary World. Like the Awareness Stage, this is the first leg of your audience’s adventure. This is where you meet them and begin solving problems or answering questions. The Ordinary World is comprised of three main milestones: Call to Adventure, Refusal and Meeting with a Mentor.
  • Call to Adventure Call to Adventure | Your hero is living his or her ordinary life, but probably wondering what else lies out there—think of Luke Skywalker staring at the suns on Tatooine. He knows he wants more, but he’s just not sure what it is. That’s where you come in. If you’ve worked in marketing, you’re probably familiar with the acronym “CTA.” Typically, this stands for Call to Action, the point where we ask the audience to, well, do something. This action could be clicking a link in a social post or downloading your new ebook. Whatever the case, the CTA needs to be enticing and worthwhile to the audience, your hero. How will you pull them out of their world and convince them to embark on the adventure? Think about top-of-the-funnel, awareness stage content. From social posts to blog articles, your call to adventure content should answer your audience’s questions and be easy to find. Most importantly, it needs to lead somewhere else—to more great content that ushers your audience farther along the journey.
  • The Refusal Refusal | PFG BlogWho me? I couldn’t possibly! No matter how great our content might be, audiences don’t always engage right away. With so many options and and a seemingly infinite amount of information out there, audiences are likely to be a little skeptical at first. They may scroll right past your perfectly-targeted boosted Facebook post or never open the first email in your campaign. However, if your content truly answers their questions or solves a problem, hang tight. Sometimes this refusal has nothing to do with eagerness, but rather bad timing. Maybe they don’t realize how big their problem is just yet. Strategies like A/B testing and posting at optimal times of the day help you hone in on the right formula to ensure your hero accepts the call. Keep tabs on your site analytics, too. Are certain blog posts or pages doing better than others? Focus on the content your audience is already engaging with and see what common factors you can find.
  • Meeting the Mentor When your audience decides it’s time to solve the problem or answer the question, you need to be ready. From Yoda to Dumbledore, a hero needs a trusted advisor. That’s where your company comes in. You’ve already called your audience to the adventure of your brand’s content, now it’s up to you to answer questions and provide solutions. Keep your content engaging and informative to be a true mentor. They need to feel as if you’re a trusted advisor. This will keep them coming back for more information and help usher them down the path you’ve set. This may come in the form of reading through multiple blog posts or signing up for newsletters. Maybe they’ve even given their contact info in exchange for a helpful worksheet or ebook. If you can prove yourself to be a trusted mentor, your audience will continue along with you. Once your audience trusts you, they’re ready to cross the threshold and learn everything they can about your brand and the second stage of the Buyer’s Journey, or in terms of the Hero’s Journey, Act 2: The Special World.

💥 Take Action

Develop Your Brand Story

1. THE EXISTING WORLD

Who are they and what will make your audience recognise themselves in your description

2. THE OBSTICLE

Life is not perfrect in the life of your main character (your audience). They have wants or needs which causes conflict in their lives. Highlight these obsticles so they can relate.

3. THE CALL TO ACTION

Something happens to the main character that sparks them into action. This is an opportunity to highlgiht potential dangers and consequences of not taking cation.

5. THE CHALLANGE

The hero opens up their vulnerability. Beneath their problem is an emotional consequence. Extract the emotion from your audience here.

6. THE TRANSFORMATION

This is the payoff for the hero and where your audiences sees themself most. The contrast between the before and after states allow you to increase the desire for a resolution.

7. THE NEW WORLD

This is the life of your hero without the problem they had early in the story. The removal of this problem allows them to experience the perfect version of their lives and gives the audience insights into the possibilites