The greatest teachers and influencers use story as one of their main modes of communication. By sharing stories, we wield the power to change things. Story gives the reader the ability to envision an alternate future. They distill complex truths into simple narratives. Despite all the power that is in a story, we as marketers and brand evangelists often fail to integrate it into our work.
I know this firsthand. Eight years ago, my wife and I adopted our son from Ethiopia. Like many others, he had come from some of the most difficult situations that you can imagine. Despite the adversity he has faced, he remains the most vibrant and optimistic young man that you could ever meet. After only a few months home with us, he started telling his story so that other children could hopefully be protected from some of the hardships that he had to face.
I’ll let you hear it in his own words:
He took a risk. He told a story. As a result of telling his story, Tariku is making the world a better place. In addition to all of the people across the globe that now have access to clean water, this video is now being used in a school program across the United States that focuses on building empathy. And this is just the beginning of his story. Remember…. he’s only 13.
I know this sounds a lot like a proud papa that just wants other people to see how amazing their child is. Guilty. But that is not really why I am sharing this story. We need to better use the principles of story in how we communicate about our brands.
It’s not about you:
The reason my son’s story has had the reach that it has, is he isn’t the hero. The listener is given the chance to be the hero. He is inviting people to help others, not himself. The theme (the message behind the message) is that you can be the solution to the problem that some children face.
For our brands, we have to remember that people don’t really give a crap about YOUR story. They are too involved in their own story. So if you start with their story and build from there, you have their attention.
Know your audience:
If it’s about them, you better know who THEY are. What motivates your audience? What fears do they have? What makes them tick? I wish there was a shortcut to get to this information, but there simply isn't. The best way to gain this knowledge is to talk to your current customers. Ask them about themselves. The upside is they are likely their favorite subject and they are experts on it. Look for the patterns and the connection points and use that information to develop your buyer personas.
Keep it simple:
The best stories, the ones that stick with us, are fairly simple. Resist the temptation over-explain. Many brands get super confusing because they don’t focus on the one main problem they are trying to help their customers solve. Your company may be able to do 53 different and amazing things for your customers, but that is more than they can process, so lead with the ONE THING that you do better than anyone else. Take the time to identify your core brand promise and make sure it is woven into every story.
Appeal to their hopes:
We buy, give or act because we want something better or are afraid of missing out. No one has ever purchased something thinking that the item would make their life worse. In some cases, we are appealing to people’s hopes that the world is a different place. We ask them to give to a campaign, make a sacrifice, or give of their time. Other times, we are solving a problem for them. They may have a problem or condition they want resolved. Either way, when telling brand stories you should be stories of hope.
If you try to force a story it can blow up in your face. Remember the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad? In a summer marked by protests across the US, this ad shows Jenner in full movie star makeup walking with protesters and giving an officer a Pepsi. They were trying to tell a story of peace and unity and how the world can bond over a soda, but instead, it looked like an out-of-step company using the news of the day to try to advance their product. If you don’t believe in your story, neither will your audience. People can smell a manipulation a mile away. Only tell a story of how your product or service made a difference in someone's life if you believe it.
A better story results in a growing brand. Let’s tell a better story.