Storytelling in marketing is a great way to connect with audiences and make something memorable out of your brand that’ll stick in the minds of your customers. But it’s not something that’s easy to get right. So, we’ve put together an introduction to brand storytelling to set you up on the right track.

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What is brand storytelling?

The aim of brand storytelling is two-fold. Firstly, you want to convey your brand message and voice to your customers. Secondly, you should connect to your audience on an emotional level, conveying your own brand values and priorities with your customers, specifically through a narrative or story.

But why connect to your customers emotionally? If we’re talking about buying a product, the idea that emotions have a hand in the decision-making process may sound a little strange, but it’s true for all types of consumers. In particular, emotions have a huge hand in impulse purchases (which make up the most common type of consumption). It’s the emotional connection that makes the sale.

Your story has to suit you and your business. It’s a way to identify customer needs and highlight how your brand solves them. It must have authenticity to capture the audience’s attention; transparency is highly valued by customers.

Why is brand storytelling important?

Traditional advertising is losing steam, especially with attention spans becoming shorter, now only eight seconds. So, you need something to hook your audience.

Storytelling within content marketing offers a more unique type of marketing, which focuses on creating a narrative around the product. It’s, in essence, an answer to ‘why’ customers should buy the product.

When a stable bottom line is dependent on your customers shopping with you regularly, you must foster brand loyalty by creating an emotional connection with them.

Put simply by Katrice Horsley: “People don’t buy products, [...] they buy the story of who they will be if they have the product.” Make your target audience the main character of the story you’re creating. Creating a narrative to suit your brand can be built in a number of different ways but, all of them, when done right, serve to elevate your marketing strategy.

Types of brand storytelling

Data-driven storytelling

This blends your hard facts and data with narrative. Often, it represents the data visually in graphs, charts, and infographics to convey the data in a compelling way.

One of the best things to represent in a data-driven story is trends. Customers can see the lines rise and fall, and can compare these changes to previous years. The main things to get right are:

  • Make sure it’s data your audience will care about (even if it’s just something fun, such as preferred chip flavors or colors or styles),
  • They should understand the plot (developments and changes over the years), and
  • Have a satisfying end (what conclusion can be drawn up from this?).

Stories from customers

This type of storytelling is a path that customer marketers are more familiar with. Customers love hearing from other customers and are more likely to trust their experience than the brand itself.

Testimonials, reviews, and case studies are all types of storytelling, and one of the best things a brand can do is create a platform for these stories to be told. You can do this on forums, or directly on your website.

Companies such as Vocal Video have recorded testimonials on their homepage. These not only showcase customer voices as the front of their business, but these testimonials also showcase their SaaS video-making product at the same time.

Another way companies do this is by using social media - lots of companies have their own hashtag on Twitter and Instagram that customers can use to share and connect with the brand. Lots of companies host these testimonials on their Instagram Stories so they can be seen by more people.

Visual storytelling through video

There are a variety of ways the visual medium can be used to tell your brand story, and help customers visualize the “story of who they’ll be” with your product.  

Human beings thrive on visual storytelling, as we communicate and convey emotion visually, including via facial expressions. Arguably, it’s easier to connect with an actor crying in a movie than it is to a character in a book crying.

That’s not to say the written word can’t produce waterworks, but, for the sake of advertising, the visual medium is simply quicker at making a connection with the audience - remember those shortening attention spans?

The elements of brand storytelling

Creating a good story relies on things like pacing, script, editing, music, and more, to create a genuine emotional response. But the priority is to convey your brand tone, brand identity, and your brand story. To do this, think about the hero’s journey:

The hero’s journey has 12 main stages, some of which can be translated into different parts of the customer journey.

The ordinary world

  • The ordinary world - the ordinary life of the hero where something is lacking.
  • Translates to: The customer has a need that isn’t being met.

The call to adventure

  • Call to adventure - The hero is given a challenge that highlights their goals.
  • Translates to - The customer realizes what their need is.

The refusal of the call

  • Refusal of the call - The hero may be reluctant to set off on the right path.
  • Translates to - The customer may browse the internet for solutions, but isn’t ready to make any purchases.

Meeting with the mentor

  • Meeting the mentor - The hero encounters a wise figure who prepares them for their journey.
  • Translates to - The customer comes across a testimonial or an advocate for your business who tells them about their experience with your company.

Crossing the threshold

  • Crossing the threshold - The hero commits to the task and enters the unknown world.
  • Translates to - The customer makes the decision to explore your website.

Approach to the innermost cave

  • The innermost cave - The hero reaches the place where the ‘object of the quest’ is hidden.
  • Translates to - The customer decides on a product that is right for them.

Seizing the sword

  • Seizing the sword - The hero take possession of the object of their goal
  • Translates to - The customer purchases your product.

The road back

  • The road back -The hero must deal with the consequences of their actions.
  • Translates to - The customer begins to learn how to use your product, and experience how it changes their work.

Resurrection

  • Resurrection -The hero transforms into their best self.
  • Translates to - The customer realizes how your product fulfills their need and they become a loyal customer.

Return with the elixir

  • Return with the elixir - The hero returns to their ordinary life bearing the rewards of their conquest.
  • Translates to - The customer now knows your brand, and becomes an advocate for your business.

Now, while not every single customer will follow each of these steps, you now understand how successful brand storytelling can make compelling stories from your customers' experiences.

Brand storytelling example - Patagonia - “Don’t buy this jacket”

In 2011, for Black Friday, Patagonia released an ad in the New York Times titled “Don’t buy this jacket”. Now this may sound like a ludicrous idea of an advertisement but, in reality, Patagonia’s sales rose by 30% and that was because of the story and messaging behind this campaign.

Their aim for this ad was two-fold. They wanted to raise awareness to the dangers of consumerism, and promote their initiatives that work to counter this consumerism issue.

Patagonia has always been a company involved in activism, specifically around environmental issues. Releasing this ad during Black Friday, when spending and consumerism are at an all time high, was a conscious choice and set up their story. In 2019, Black Friday saw a whopping 93.2 million consumers shopping online.

The ad read:

“Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”

It then goes into the exact resources used to make their jacket, specifically citing:

  • 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 45 people, and
  • 60% recycled polyester, which generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

These are scary statistics, which is the point. They begin by making you aware of the problem they want to try and solve, the marketing equivalent of the call to adventure. Then they take you through how they’re going to try and solve it.

They mention the jacket is made to a high standard and durable. They also talk about their initiatives to recycle their worn products into new items; they introduce their exchange and repair system, “worn wear”, where you can pay to have your existing clothes fixed or buy pre-loved items.

The story for Patagonia is that it wants to sell you clothes that are long-lasting and sustainable as an active protest against fast fashion and climate change. This aim was clear from the moment they launched the brand and they’ve stuck to it.

This story is woven into everything that they do. At this point, they’re not just making clothing but also producing films, books, and articles, all of which serve to elevate their brand story and core values.

Our sister community, Product Marketing Alliance, has a podcast episode in which guest host Elliot Raynar and Andreas Konrads talk about the Patagonia campaign alongside other storytelling acts.

Storyselling
Elliott Rayner, a storytelling expert, explores the skill of effective storytelling in the world of product marketing, focusing on the four key stages: the story, speaker, listener, and response.

Putting people at the heart of your brand story

Brands can't just be big faceless monoliths anymore, they have to be built around people. Our guest, Erin McLean, CMO at eSentire, shares why and how you should put people at the heart of your brand story.

Discover:

📖 Erin's background and role as a CMO,

❤️ The importance of human connection in branding,

🗣 Encouraging your employees to become storytellers, and

🏗️ Where to start building a brand story.