Storytelling; What Does This Overused Buzzword Actually Mean for Your Brand?

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‘Storytelling’ is the marketing buzzword I would happily take a fly swatter to.

Done right; it’s a powerful and potentially lucrative tool for your brand.

Done wrong; it’s as pointless as a blue-bottle circling the room round…and round.

Have you ever been cornered at a work party by the guy who tells you a mind-numbingly long story? We’ve all been there.

But the thing is, if you listen between the awkward lines, the content of what he’s saying is actually interesting. He’s desperately trying to clamber the words together to tell you about his holiday in New York, where he met Obama, they went to a Nix game and then abseiled down the Empire State Building.

But he’s monotone, stopping and starting like a car on its last legs and sounds like he wants to go to sleep.

And by now, so do you.

Now whip round to the other side of the room. You’ve got Miss Charisma surrounded by a group of enthralled party-goers, regaling them with a wonderfully put together tale of her train journey to work that morning. But they’re hanging off her every word, eager and entertained.

The gist of it is, what you’re saying isn’t anywhere near as important as how you tell it.

Like a Russian doll of storytelling I just told you a story of two people telling stories and you didn’t cotton on because it was subtle.

The question is; how can you apply this to your brand without making the same mistake as New York Holiday Man? (What was his name again?)

Let’s take a look…

Tale as Old as Time

We cannot create a world we can’t imagine and stories are the engines of our imaginations.
~ Josh Stearns

Storytelling isn’t a new concept. It’s an ancient art form (with a little bit of science thrown into the mix). We’ve been telling stories since the beginning of time, because stories stick. Fables passed down through centuries, poetry from the Romantics told around campfires and world history passed down through word of mouth.

It’s very powerful stuff.

The big lesson here is that storytelling has the capacity to create a connection with your audience that resonates for a long time.

That’s why savvy marketers have been using storytelling as a tool for engagement for yonks (think of retro TV ads for example – Diet Coke break anyone?), but with the explosion of social media and content marketing the storytelling potential is immense.

It’s all about creating an emotional affinity with your audience. Product or service focused brochures, guides and adverts are no longer enough. You have to strike a chord and captivate your audience…and what better way to do this than with a story?

But before you try spinning some yarns to your customers, don’t fall foul of getting yourself in a muddle about when and how to use storytelling. It’s a minefield unless you know the tricks of the trade.

Let’s clear up the ambiguity together…

Brand Storytelling

According to marketing expert, Susan Gunelius: “Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.”

Take a look at all the channels we have at our disposal; blogs, vlogs, website, infographics, adverts, social media …the list continues. But just imagine that these are all little chapters of your brand story. It needs to be an ongoing day-to-day dialogue that emotionally engages your audience with your brand narrative that resonates with them.

According to Neil Patel, internet marketing genius, there are 3 different components of brand storytelling:

  • The reason your company came to be
  • What motivates you and your team to come to work each day
  • Giving your audience an inside look at your company

I know what you’re thinking: but our story just isn’t that interesting!

You’re wrong! Remember Miss Charisma’s success with her journey to work story? It’s the way  you tell something that’s important. And remember, no one has a story quite like yours because it’s unique.

This article by Adam Frankel gives you the lowdown on crafting a brand story that sings.

‘Storytelling’ the Copywriting Tool

The other side of the storytelling coin, is not telling your brand’s story, but actually using storytelling as a tool within your marketing to entice readers. Your brand isn’t a character or part of the story, but it’s the author who’s using a storytelling approach to make a point.

Be it a blog post that tells an enticing storyemail marketing with a serial story twist or an advert with a cliffhanger. Creative storytelling is the key to persuasion (and slyly underpinning your brand).

Content can spread in seconds and your brand reputation is at stake, so you need to make sure you’re reeling readers in and spurring them on to share.

Make them laugh, make them root for the protagonist and encourage their emotional investment. Then they’ll share it, their friends will share it and hey presto – you have a ton of exposure.

Storytelling Dos

  • Create a cohesive brand narrative. All your subsequent storytelling will hook off this piece of writing, it needs to be roughly 300-500 words and it will permeate through everything you do. Don’t deviate from it and use it across all your channels.                Few brands have a consistent brand narrative quite like ‘Just Do It’ inventors, Nike. Check out their approach in this article by Graeme Newell
  • Show, don’t tell. Every storyteller worth their salt knows that you need to show your reader/audience what you want to depict, rather than telling them. Use descriptive words that evoke emotion to set the scene, don’t just clump them over the head with a blunt sentence. This Ted-Ed short-talk by Nalo Hopkinson, will give you the skinny on writing descriptively.
  • Create characters people root for. Almost like a brand mascot, you’ll need to have intriguing characters in your brand story. The trick here is to use your customer buyer personas, so you create a protagonist that your audience easily connects to – because it’s based on their emotional responses!
  • Be true to your brand. The last thing you want to do is confuse your audience with a brand story that’s clearly a porkie. Artistic license is one thing, but flat out fibs is not the way to encourage loyalty.

Storytelling Don’ts

  • Jump the gun. If a customer asks you a simple question about a product feature, don’t launch into a long story. Keep your answer simple and engaging.
  • Cram with facts. Stories appeal to emotions so overloading it with factual info is just going to make your reader switch off super quick.
  • Ramble on and on. Keep it short and sweet. Set the scene, present the conflict, resolve it in an engaging way and get the hell outta there.
  • Be verbose. Flowery, complex language is the biggest barrier to creating an emotional connection. If the reader can’t understand you, there’s zero point in your story. Also, no one likes a show off! This handy article by Fast Company gives you tons of top tips on using compelling language.

Lastly, bear this in mind: you need to give your customers a story to tell. The bottom line is, you want them to talk about you, so give them something exciting to talk about!

Wow them with your wonderful words, but keep it tidy in a perfectly packaged brand narrative.

Your brand will live happily ever after, I promise.



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About the author

Konrad Sanders CEO & Lead Strategist at The Creative Copywriter
Hey you. I’m Konrad. A full-funnel content strategist and CEO with a pretty darn creative noggin on my shoulders. I run a team of word-slinging cowboys and strategists who blend science with art to help bold brands get their words right at every step of the customer journey. Which means? They sell more stuff and grow predictable revenue. Brands like AECOM, Thomson Reuters, TikTok, Panasonic, Adidas, Mercedes-Benz, plus shedloads of tech scale-ups...and you? Let's connect.

Leave a reply

Thanks, Helen! Some great tips on how to use storytelling in marketing. My favorite is the reminder to use those customer personas (or reader profiles if you’re a blogger) to identify who you’re really writing for. One of the biggest mistakes I see, as an instructor teaching people to write for the Web, is the idea that you’re writing for everyone — when in fact, Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science still apply 80 years after he wrote them: To every book [or blog] its reader.

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