Storytelling: What this Buzzword Can Do For Your Brand

By Caitlin Boros, MPC2014

“There are two ways you can share knowledge. You can push information out, or you can pull them in with a story.” – Unknown

From job descriptions to boardroom conversations, the phrase ‘storytelling’ or ‘storyteller’ has become the notorious new euphemism for all things brand communication. While I would like to disown the term, throw it out like an old Nickleback song you hope to never hear again, the concept behind the buzzword has deep roots in interpersonal communication. In fact, the very way we think as humans is based in narratives. It is how we process the world around us and because of this, it is an incredibly valuable tool for companies and communicators.

Storytelling is anything but a new concept. In fact, it is the oldest tool humans have had at our disposal to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. Pictures, language and the printing press are all innovations that fostered the telling of stories that have collectively formed the history of our species. But how can we as modern communicators use narratives to break through the noise and have our messages resonate with audiences?

There are countless tactics that can be employed to tell powerful stories. Below are a few examples that can help shape the way you communicate about your brand.

Make the story personal

Stories always resonate on a deeper level when the audience can relate or empathize with at least one element, whether it be a character that they see themselves in or an act that they know all too well. For communicators and brand marketers, this means developing narratives that speak to certain universal truths or common experiences. A great example of this was Always’ Like a Girl ad released in 2015. In speaking with several young girls, a clear narrative was illuminated; the meaning of doing something ‘like a girl’ changed drastically depending on age. The personal stories woven together to highlight this message resonated with female viewers – the ad’s target audience – and its relatability created affinity for the brand.

Share the journey

Inviting audiences into the narrative is one of the most effective ways for brand marketers to ensure message retention. Smart storytellers share a journey – and have the audience follow along. A great demonstration of this form of storytelling is an ad from a few years ago by John Lewis Insurance. The video follows one main character through the most important events of her life. Viewers are captivated, attentively following the moments that make up a lifetime, leaving them open and receptive to the ad’s final message: John Lewis Insurance has you covered for life.

John Lewis – Always A Woman TV ad from Matt Woolner on Vimeo.

Shock and surprise

One final tactic for engaging audiences is to include elements of shock and surprise when sharing a brand story. By catching people off guard, communicators create an immediate reaction that can result in the narrative (and the brand associated with it!) being remembered for a longer period of time.

The Canadian charitable organization Raising the Roof did exactly this when they performed a stunt in a wealthy neighbourhood in Toronto. They installed a sign, indicating that a homeless shelter was being built in the neighbourhood. The stunt included two instances of shock/surprise: one, the reaction of local residents and two, finding out the shelter was in fact not being built. This built up to the final message: Raising the Roof works towards long-term solutions to end homelessness, so that one day shelters will be unnecessary.

Storytelling has always been and continues to be an art form, an intricate way of constructing narratives to influence the larger public consciousness. In shaping stories, we as communicators are contributing to our species’ shared knowledge base, informing the world around us on everything from politics to where to purchase insurance. For brands competing in an increasingly crowded messaging space, sharing meaningful stories with audiences is more important than ever — buzzword or not.