Much has been written about brand storytelling. And as such, the definition of brand storytelling has taken on such a complex meaning that it has become confusing and frightening. Let’s distill all the dissertations out there to get to the essence of what brand storytelling is about, and how to put forth such a narrative in five easy chapters.
- Define the problem you are solving
The greatest mistake made by brands is to start your brand story with the brand itself. Experience shows that you should begin your narrative by defining the challenge your brand resolves so that you create a context for how your brand will succeed. Find a market need currently unidentified by your competition. For example, Gatorade would be just another soft drink if it didn’t create the need for its unique existence. The University of Florida football team is a perennial contender for bowl appearances every year. They could easily drink water on the sidelines to quench their thirst, but they needed something super strong to withstand the dehydration that the hot Florida sun generates. Through research, they discovered that the body not only requires water to replenish that lost to sweating, but also electrolytes—such as sodium and potassium—that guard against fatigue. The school developed a special formulation of water and electrolytes and named it after the school mascot—the alligator, or Gators—and Gatorade became the go-to solution to a problem they shed light upon: sports super-hydration. So don’t start your brand story before you’ve identified why your brand should exist.
2. Create a story arc
Every story has an “arc”—a beginning, middle and end. If you don’t know how your story will end, you have no real idea how it begins. And if you don’t know how it begins, then you cannot take your customers on a journey that peaks and resolves into a satisfying finish. The more simple the story, the better it will adhere to the minds of your customers. Let’s take a story from literature. Once upon a time, there was an old, evil princess who put a spell on a young, attractive princess, who fell into a deep sleep from which she could not awaken until a king’s son kissed her. One day a prince discovered the sleeping princess, kissed her, and they lived happily ever after. The story arc of Sleeping Beauty is very simple and happy: Problem—Consequence—Resolution. Try it out on your brand, just as American Express did to great success: Problem (Lose your wallet)—Consequence (be vulnerable and cashless)—Resolution (American Express to the rescue with guaranteed financial security).
3. Give your story a title
Now that you know your story arc—the beginning, middle and end—you should create a title for your story, otherwise know as a Brand Promise (the central nugget of a brand positioning statement). Like the title of a fictional story, a Brand Promise is a constant reminder of what your story is really about in a nutshell. Take the story of the Toyota Camry, which at the time of this writing is the most popular car in America. Its story goes like this. A customer is worried that buying a car is a huge investment, and risks being a mistake that he/she must live with for a long time. He/she wants to be sure that the car won’t end up breaking down and costing money to repair. So the car puts forth a Brand Promise that says, “I won’t let you down.” The title of Toyota’s story is, The Reliable One. Problem (Risk)—Consequences (lose money)—Resolution (a car that’s trustworthy). Why is this title so right for the story Toyota is telling? Let’s examine this in the fourth chapter.
4. Make your brand’s story reflect your customer’s story
Good stories—ones that delight and satisfy—are really just a confirmation of an audience’s own stories. Toyota’s Brand Promise—its title—is The Reliable One. Who would be most likely to buy such a brand? People who feel that they, themselves, are very reliable. The brand story being told by Toyota is also the story of the customers’ lives. They don’t let people down. And so storytelling about the brand is actually a story about the customer.
5. Evolve your story to make it unforgettable and relevant over time
Ralph Lauren began as a fashion brand. Its story went something like this: Problem (Fashion is too fussy for me)—Consequence (I don’t know what I should buy)—Resolution (Ralph Lauren brings fashion down to Earth where I live). It cultivated an image of relaxed style of premium quality. People felt at once comfortable and proud, in love with the way they looked and felt. Ralph Lauren’s title was The Romantic One. Their stores were outfitted to create an alluring sense of casual luxury: weathered wood walls, aged-leathered accessories, and full, comfortable chairs to relax while your spouse or friends try on clothes. People liked stepping into this world, and Ralph Lauren evolved its brand to tell a richer story. They expanded their offering from clothing to home outfitting with bedding and furniture. Their world could now be your world—one into which you could settle and enjoy with all your senses. The title of Ralph Lauren’s story became The Romantic Lifestyle.
So if you have a need for brand storytelling, just remember: Problem (I don’t know where to start)—Consequence (I’m anxious I won’t get it right)—Resolution (follow the five chapters outlined herein).