The Science Behind Storytelling for Brands

Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories, you tell.” – Seth Godin. As Seth Godin succinctly put it, storytelling plays an enormous roll in branding. With more and more competition for the consumer’s attention, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to stand out. At Semeon, we have worked with hundreds of brands providing them with the tools necessary to build data-driven stories that resonate with their customers. Over the course of this article, we have distilled the key takeaways from these experiences pairing them with the science of storytelling.

Why Learn Storytelling

What do Budweiser and Shakespeare have in common? Not a whole lot, except that they both understerstand a core truth: stories are an amazing medium to convey a message. Shakespeare is known as a master of storytelling but Budweiser could be seen the same for the modern age. For instance, in 2014, Budweiser made waves with their compelling super bowl named, Puppy Love:

This ad is acclaimed by Time Magazine as one of the top 25 most influential super bowl ads of all time. Why? Because it has all the components of a great story. Some people would argue that there could be puppies into any commercial and it would be successful, but a study published in the Fall 2014 issue, of Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, disproves that statement. In the study, the researchers focused on brands’ different strategies to sell products, such as featuring cute animals and plot development. In the end, they concluded that regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success. The argument is that people are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures.
Stories are important for every brand. They help convey messages that leave a lasting imprint on the audience’s mind. In our attention economy, attention is not cheap. The most successful brands nowadays tell stories and keep their audiences engaged and emotionally connected.  

The Role of Stories for Brands

If you’ve read this far it probably means you recognize the importance that storytelling can bring to your company. But where exactly can storytelling play a roll? The answer is everywhere! As Simon Sinek is famous for saying, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

A brands’ story goes far beyond the ‘about us’ page on their website, or the presentation used to pitch to investors. Each contact point you have with customers is a point where they are forming a mental story of your brand. From the colours and texture of your packaging and the business cards, you give out, all the way to the staff you hire. Make sure you know how to tell a story before you actually try.

How to Tell A Story

Ah yes… The part we have all been waiting for: the structure of a good story. First, a disclaimer is necessary. It’s easy to read directions on forming a good story, but it is very difficult to tell a good story. It’s an art form that needs to be perfected over time and through experience. In order to truly understand this, you should read, Creativity by Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar. If there is one organization who knows how to tell a good story, it is Pixar. That being said, according to science, the way to tell a good story is as follows:

  1. Start with the message. To do this, it helps if you start with an exercise: ask yourself who your audience is and what message you want to share with them. Everything else should stem from those questions and if the answers aren’t crystal clear, then you should think a bit harder before putting ink to paper.
  2. Mine your own experiences. Showing vulnerability is scientifically proven to make people resonate more with what you are saying and the best storytellers and organizations look to their own memories and life experiences to illustrate their message. You may think that failure or struggle isn’t something you want to attach to your brand but it will make you appear authentic and accessible.
  3. Don’t make yourself the hero. The focus should not be centered around you unless it comes from a place of vulnerability. No one wants to hear a story about a perfect human. The focus should be on the people around you, the lessons you’ve learned, or the mistakes you’ve made. This leads to the next point.
  4. Highlight a struggle. There has never been an amazing story without a challenge. Did you or your organization struggle, in the beginning, due to barriers to entry? Were your days away from running out of funding? Or perhaps your culture was off balance? How did you overcome these challenges? Highlight the struggle and allow the audience to draw conclusions.
  5. Keep it simple. There is no room for superfluous information in stories. The attention span of the viewer, listener, or reader is extremely valuable and should be treated as such. The key is to know the message you want to get across and don’t stray from it.

Conclusion

Storytelling for brands is about building something that people care about and want to buy into. It’s about dictating your value in a way that resonates. It goes far beyond what most consider to be in the normal realm of storytelling and has an impact that is far reaching comparably to other marketing techniques.

Over at Semeon, we would love to work with you to create a compelling brand story and a unique marketing strategy based on data. We have already empowered hundreds of brands take control their data, structured and unstructured, in order to tell stories that will resonate with customers.

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