The Story Behind Successful Brand Storytelling

Stories are an inherent part of the human experience and key to how we make and recall memories and brands.

So, what’s the story behind successful brand storytelling?

While there’s a small army of advertising agencies and freelancers claiming the title of “Brand Storytellers,” what is really meant by storytelling? How can the psychology of experience, memories, self, and stories themselves help you better understand that power storytelling holds for your business? And what are some of the best practices for brand storytelling?

To answer these questions, let’s start with how memories are made of stories we tell ourselves.

The Doctor Will See Your Two Selves Now

Dr. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and founder of behavioral economics, gives us insight into how we form the stories that make up our memories (memories are the stories we tell ourselves) and why these memories can be so different than our experiences.

Key to Dr. Kahneman’s work is his concept of the “Two Selves,” our “Experiencing Self,” and our “Remembering Self.”

Our Experiencing Self gets us through the day. We live in a world of continuous inputs and information from our environments. Most of these inputs don’t leave a trace. This filtering keeps us from being overwhelmed by the constant information we take in. Kahneman calculates the psychological presence of these experiences last three seconds.

Whoosh, that moment-to-moment input is gone.

Our stories are written into our minds by the Remembering Self, and Kahneman’s research shows this second self builds stories from experiences that are new, novel, and have great significance.

And, as with all good stories, endings matter. A lot.

Getting Into Some Hot Water Endings

To illustrate the power of memories and brand story endings, let’s look, of course, to the online reviews of a local plumber.

Our unnamed plumber has a perfect five-star review from a customer who says the plumber, “installed a faulty water heater in a rental property, but did everything in his power to fix it and, after nine months, replaced the water heater at no cost.”

This example isn’t just about customer service. It’s about endings. What this landlord doesn’t remember in her review the nine months of angry calls from a renter who’s facing another cold shower.

The property owner remembers the ending, and she remembers it strongly enough to post a glowing review.

Now For Stories Without Endings

As marketers, we know our brand’s story is continuous. It builds with every ad, social media post, piece of content, customer interaction, and so on.

So, how can understanding memories and brand storytelling shape and add to this story in meaningful ways, ways that will shape consumer behavior?

For starters, we can speak to our audience’s Experiencing Self with the ingredients that build memories and self-stories: the new, the novel, and the significant.

But the new, novel, and significant can only go so far.

And this is where authenticity, cultural relevance, and craft come into play.

How Burger King Out-Stories McDonald’s

Few businesses rely as much on advertising and marketing as global fast-food chains. In fast-food, volume is king, margins are slim, and loyalties are fleeting.

So, what three ingredients are helping Burger King out-story Ronald’s empire? These ingredients are the new, the novel, and the flame-grilled.

Burger King tells its story with flaming VR coupons that activate by taking a picture of McDonald’s signs. Ads showing flame grills in the backyards of McDonald’s franchisees. The Impossible Whopper, the first mass-market, plant-based-meat burger. And the world’s most-liked tweet, which was a quippy response to Kanye West tweeting his love for the Golden Arches.

When you look at BK’s global advertising and content marketing, it’s clear the brand understands that it has to go beyond food product shots and special offers to keep its story front-of-mind for fast food consumers.

Now it’s up to the franchisees and their employees to make sure that the story ends well with each visit.

Growing Your Brand’s Story In 2020

As we’ve covered, your brand is everything your company does, says, and is. But how do you get to its story and make sure you tell it in ways your customers will care about?

You start with the beginning.

Why was the business created? What was its original mission? How has this mission and the brand evolved over the years? What core values define the company?

Once you answer those questions, switch gears and consider that your brand story isn’t all about your company. It’s a story about your consumer and what he or she gains from being part of your brand.

Research shows that consumers perceive the same personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. These perceptions are based on emotions, experiences, and memories, which gets us back to our Remembering Self and its desire for the novel, new, and significant.

But, unlike the stories we tell ourselves, our goal in brand storytelling should be one of truth and authenticity. Brands with products, services, and stories that aren’t built on these two core foundations will disappear as fast as those things our Experiencing Self filters out every day.

5 Best Practices to Help Shape Your Brand Storytelling:

  1. Remember, the story is about what you do for consumers, not you.
  2. Like life experiences, advertising with stories that aren’t new, novel, or of significance are instantly forgotten.
  3. Good brand stories are told over and over again by consumers who believe in them.
  4. Stories that don’t ring true or aren’t authentic to your brand are just noise.
  5. Endings in your stories matter, so ensure the benefits you are proclaiming and the promises you are making are kept.
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About The Author

Not being the smartest guy in the room or on this side of the room serves Steve well. It forces him to listen carefully and simplify the complex into ideas even he can understand. When Steve’s not working on ads or blogs about ads, he’s probably surfing, fly-fishing, golfing, or reading about the stoic principles he hopes to one day apply to his thinking.

Steve Elliott
Associate Creative Director

2020-02-06T16:45:30-08:00January 28th, 2020|

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