A lot has been made about the importance of brand storytelling.
Which begs the question: what exactly is brand storytelling?
Moreover, is “storytelling” even the right word to describe what a brand does or should be doing?
Is Brand Storytelling Just A Buzzword?
We tend to think of “stories,” after all, as narratives that have a beginning, a middle and an end, with heroes who overcome adversity and provide us with a moral or a life lesson.
So let’s ask: Does Apple have a beginning, a middle and an end? Who, if anyone, is the hero in the Starbucks story, and what kind of adversity is she overcoming? Is there a moral to the McDonald’s story?
Suffice it to say, the term has its critics.
As Benjamin Hart wrote in Salon:
“The problem is that the definition of “storytelling” has never felt emptier. Everyone from mealy-mouthed online marketers to self-help gurus have taken note of the sacrosanct place “storytelling” holds in our culture — and they’ve kidnapped it, roughed it up and deposited it on a one-way train to buzzwordsville. “
Brand Storytelling Is Indeed A Useful Way To Think About Communications
Benjamin Hart has a point, but brand storytelling is nonetheless an appropriate and helpful way to approach branding if we spend some time thinking about these basic storytelling principles:
1) Stories move forward with intention and purpose.
2) Stories set up a problem and then resolve it.
3) Stories are held together by a unifying idea.
For brands that means communicating the purpose of the products and/or services they provide. What problem do they solve? What adversity do they help overcome? What vision of the good life do they present?
Once these questions questions are answered, the actual marketing communications may or may not take the form of a story in the traditional understanding I cited above.
But cumulatively they need to be forever reinforcing the brand’s core purpose and answering the core problem that the brand exists to solve.
This is what is meant by having a Unifying Idea, which is perhaps what makes brand storytelling most challenging.
Achieving unity would be difficult in the simplest of times. But today, with the multitude of channels through which brands communicate and the sheer volume of content they need to produce, holding it all together requires a considerable degree of discipline and a crystal-clear understanding of what the brand is all about.
Thinking In Terms Of Story Changes How Your Think About Your Brand
Overall, storytelling is best understood as a conceptual tool, rather than as a communications formula.
If you approach all of your marketing communications by first asking the question “What is my story?” it will significantly affect how you move forward.
By simply thinking that instead of making a video, for example, or writing a blog post, or shooting a series of photos, you’re telling a story, the medium in which you’re working will become rightfully subordinate to the the overriding Idea that will make your brand something powerful and engaging.