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The Importance of brand storytelling

Author's avatar By Jonathan Gabay 25 Jun, 2018
Essential Essential topic

Both brands and consumers are stories in progress - such stories not only simplify what could otherwise be complex facts; they unite everyone in a commonly recognized purpose

Storytelling is as old as gathering beneath the evening skies around a campfire to listen to tales, which make people laugh, cry and even question themselves. People think narratively. Filmmakers like the Coen Brothers or Steven Spielberg vividly illustrate the point.

Jungian Archetypes

As a brand psychologist, I often equate the story’s ‘hero’ to the classical ‘hero’ as explained in Jungian archetypes.

Jungian archetypes are prototypes in the human mind.  Whilst they are developed, they are neither learned nor acquired.  Their core is embedded in our DNA.

Often people mistake that the hero’s purpose is to make the brand the story’s champion.  Whilst certainly gallant, like all great heroic leaders, the brand’s true purpose is to help others (consumers, employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders…) realise their full potential, rather than crow about their own greatness.  (A bit like the Yoda character in the Star Wars movies).

In a humdrum, daily existence, people instinctively look for life narratives that make them happy. Brands enable consumers to enact archetypal stories that assist in providing meaning and purpose

Consumers often use products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story constructions that reflect archetypal myths.  Portrayals include conversations between consumers and brands, on both unconscious and conscious levels.

The story of you

Every story, whether allied to retail, business-to-business... services or draw on personal lives… is an anecdote as well as lesson.  It could be about consumers, partners, employees, students, parents, lovers, explorers, business owners, explorers, employers … all hoping to realise ambitions, fill in empty holes and reach destinies.

As mentioned, once upon a time, small gatherings of people sat around fires listening to the storyteller’s tales of magic and fantasy. Now potentially the entire world gathers at multiplexes or watches smartphones, TVs, tablets and so on.

Technology drives digital omni channels that make contextual narratives feel especially immersive, person-centric… and so authentic. Together, the message and media create a mind-space that sets the stage for a cohesive brand story to unfold.

The Smart Insights’ Brand Storytelling Primer helps you explore the fundamentals of developing powerful authentic brand stories. Narratives demonstrate product or service applications, strengthen loyalty, and establish your brand as a trusted ‘thought- leader’.

People relate to each other in terms of stories.  Here is where products and brands can play central as well as supporting roles within narratives.

Through brand storytelling, consumers often project themselves onto the imagery and character that a brand portrays.

Rebel, rebel

One of the most provocative styles of imagery is that of the rebel.  Consider Harley Davidson and maverick bikers, or Apple with cyberpunks and fashionistas … all heroes within their own category (who in their cases, would rather pursue quixotic activities than conform to the average).

To help make sense of the world – and themselves – more than ever people seek clarity by telling and listening to stories. “How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”  Repetition of a story’s drama, illustrates architypes of rebellion, mother-of-goodness, little trickster, ultimate strength, the hero…which help consumers achieve deep satisfying levels of sense making.

A great deal of information stored in and retrieved from memory is episodic.  Stories provoke incidents, experiences, outcomes/evaluations, and nuances of person-to- person and person-and-brand relationships, within specific contexts.

Proper pleasure

Retrieving, reliving, or repeat watching/reading/hearing stories results in what Aristotle referred to as “proper pleasure”, telling stories enables a person to experience one or more archetypal myths.

Specific brands and products play pivotal roles enabling consumers to achieve the “proper pleasure” that manifests itself conceptually and/or physically enacting a specific archetype—reliving the experience by regularly recalling and retelling a given story. This poses a challenge as well as opportunity for brands.

The challenge comes from retelling stories.  All too easily facts could turn into myths.  (Although some brand myths such as the origins of Coca-Cola or KFC, can boost the brand’s persona).

The opportunity comes from judiciously using online and offline media to reiterate the story’s essential message through variations of the story’s theme, as told through various channels.

Consumers often feel compelled to tell stories via social media about brand experiences.  But why would anyone want to share or read such stories?

First, telling stories is incredibly satisfying.  Authors can assume the role of a protagonist venting anger, or perhaps praising events through reliving experiences.

Second, mostly unconsciously, storytelling offers a sense of emotional and practical completion.

Third, telling stories makes sense of the meaning of events. The story implies not only connotation related to those hearing the story, but also implies insights about the storyteller (brand).

Stories in the mind – the greatest virtual reality technology of all

The mind is far more potent than any virtual reality technology – especially when it comes to self-narratives.  In fact, stories are so compelling that through the power of the imagination, people conceive stories with meaning - even when such import is not immediately apparent.

For example, in 1944, Massachusetts college students watched a film featuring two triangles and a circle dashing across the entering and leaving a rectangular box. They were asked to describe the scene. All but one described the movements with intricate, human narratives, including:

  • The two triangles represented men fighting as well as a woman (the circle) who attempted to escape.
  • The circle was “worried.”
  • The circle and the little triangle were “innocent young things.”
  • The big triangle felt “rage and frustration.”

The study highlights the very human tendency to personify abstract shapes and seek self-identity in everyday occurrences and things. This is called pareidolia, or “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist.”

It’s what happens when someone recognizes a face in an electric power outlet or sees shapes in the clouds.  It is said to have also led to the origins or astrology.

Stories are a bit like listening to love or sad songs – they activate sensory parts of the brain that help influence the meaning and purpose of what is seen and heard – helping provide a greater personal insight into life and events.

You will find the Primer is especially useful if you currently work in: Public Relations, marketing, advertising, branding, reputation management, content creation or create omnichannel customer experiences.

Author's avatar

By Jonathan Gabay

Jonathan Gabay is one of Europe’s premier creative branding authorities. He is author of 15 books including university textbooks on copywriting. His latest title is Brand Psychology. Jonathan is a regular keynote speaker for major brands around the world. News organizations including: CNN, BBC, Sky and many more trust Jonathan to explain the stories behind the biggest brand news headlines.

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