Are you a sucker for a good story? We are too. And it’s not just us. Humans are wired for stories. Literally. Our brains instinctively organize information into categories and narrative formats in order to make sense of the world. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of time: it’s called storytelling.
For brands, storytelling is a great way to communicate brand values, forge emotional connections with an audience, and convey a shared vision of the future. We’re totally into it. Because it’s important. So, we wanted to pass along a few tips to keep in mind when you’re crafting brand stories…
Make it visual:
We’re not only wired to love stories, we’re also wired to respond to visual information quicker and in more active ways. Ninety-nine percent of all sensory information is filtered out by the brain immediately, which means only 1% of information actually gets thru. Of all the info successfully transmitted to the brain, 90% is visual. Our brains are overwhelmingly devoted to visual functions—our eyes are linked directly to our brain—which is why most people are “visual learners.” And just think of human history: People have been drawing for 10’s of thousands of years but we’ve written for only about 5,000. So images are not silly and inconsequential (as our traditional educational system might sometimes seem to suggest). They are powerful and essential for understanding.
Actionable: Include visuals in your brand stories. And don’t be afraid to make them unexpected, sensory, and unique (perfection is so overrated). Go beyond images–well-designed quotes, stackable graphics, visually engaging stats…all of these elements can be powerful visuals. Oh, and useful (easy to share, transfer, etc.) is also a visual win.
Make it emotional:
Stories activate many areas of the brain. When our brains process facts, two areas of the brain are activated. But stories can engage many additional areas including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex. Importantly, stories activate the parts of the brain that are associated with emotions. So when you tell your brand story as a story, it’s easier to connect emotionally with your audience. You’ve got to tug the heartstrings to make marketing most actionable.
Actionable: Include elements that trigger an emotional responses: small unique details that bring a story to life are a must. But emotional stories also revolve around conflict, challenge and solutions. And render the emotions of your brand characters visible–people will feel what you want them to feel if you spell it out and use words that align with the emotions you’re aiming to provoke.
Make it accessible:
Quick quiz (you didn’t see this coming, did you?): what reading level is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea written at? If you’re thinking its a college age thing, you’re wrong. It is, like most great pieces of literature, written at a grade school level, grade 4 to be exact. The truth is, most of us don’t read at super high reading levels (sorry to break it to you). But if you want to speak to a broad audience, writing at an accessible reading level is a must. The familiar is also more accessible: archetypes, memes, personas, acronyms, three-part story structures…these familiar story elements are easier for us to understand and connect with.
Actionable: Write in a real, human, might-even-want-to-share-a-beer, voice. Use the Flesch-Kincaid readability index to test your work if you’re not sure what reading level you’re at. And try sticking with the familiar beginning-middle-end story structure. Incorporate anecdotes, familiar personas, archtypes and other story elements your audience will be familiar with so they can plug into your story more quickly and easily. Oh, and stay away from jargon (acronyms, buzzwords, boring corp speak).
Make it human:
Great stories can trigger “neural coupling,” activating parts of the brain that allows the audience to turn the story into their own ideas and experiences. Enabling your audience to share your story, to personalize it, is a great way to make your brand stories stick. This is easiest when you stay focus on the basics of human needs and human problems.. Because when you get right down to it, whoever your audience is — journalists, bloggers, influencers, consumers, the C-suite, employees, even search engines — ultimately you’re trying to communicate and connect with people. (Not a lot of consumer robots around yet!) And people are fascinated by people, by human challenges and pain and joy and triumph.
Actionable: Craft your story around actual people–your founders, customers, people who benefit from whatever your brand does for the world. Align these stories with your audience (and yes, you need a clear understanding of audience in order to do this). Be explicit about the pain, learnings, disappointments, joy, fear and other emotions the humans in your story experience.
Make it interactive:
People like stuff they can see, touch and use in some way. Interactive is fun and tangible. And various surveys indicate that interactive pieces drive engagement. Why? Because these kinds of customer-centric digital experiences enable two-way communications. It’s akin to having a friendly conversation with a customer rather than watch them stroll through your store from afar. And stories are even more powerful when the audience has some control over how the story unfolds.
Actionable: think about incorporating games or simulations that enable an audience to experience a story in a self-guided fashion. Let an audience choose how they interact with a story’s details. And reusing brand stories for platform-friendly social engagement is a great way to get the most bang for your social media buck.
Don’t forget the call-to-action:
One thing that differentiates brand stories from other stories is the value of casting your brand as a superhero. Brand stories can establish credibility and connection by casting your organization in the role of hero, rather than sloppy salesperson droning on and on about your products or services in isolation. A hero tale trumps a sales pitch any day of the week because sharing and solving is good, but shilling is bad. The real meaning of brand stories is to convey an “I want some of that” response in your audience. And it’s a whole lot easier to do that if you’re explicit about the action you want them to take.
Actionable: This one is simple: include a call-to-action. Oh and btw, there really is no rule that CTAs must be a button with text! Consider incorporating images or unexpected elements. And be specific: studies show explicit words–download, sign up, donate, share–are more likely to be acted upon.