June 15, 2020


Taylor Rohwedder


Using storytelling as a tool for brands to motivate consumers is not a new concept, and it is usually not very convincing to get brand managers on board. After all, stories are how our brains understand the world. They show how we deal with each other, how we create meaning from our own experiences and how we humanize brands in order to create a more personal experience for consumers.

If you want to integrate more fascinating storytelling into your brand messaging this year, the following tools are a good place to start.

Concentrate on your purpose, not on your product

Founders are often shocked to hear that the products they have worked so hard to perfect should not really be the focus of their brand history. As hard as it is to hear, your product is not your story. Rather, your story is in your purpose – your reason to even exist. Your products are just part of your toolset that will get you there.

Nike is a great example of this concept in action. Nike's mission is to provide inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and if you have a body, you are an athlete). With this mission as the driver of their advertising campaigns and social content, they share stories like this and those that have little to do with their products and anything related to their purpose.

It is difficult to tell emotional stories about products, and it is much easier to evoke emotions from a mission. By telling stories that speak of their mission to inspire the athletes in all of us, Nike creates an emotional connection to their brand that engages consumers and creates space for them to sell pretty much anything as long as this nurtures that mission . Nike could bring out a pair of shoelaces to support this branding tomorrow, and we'd all certainly flock to the stores to buy them, not because we believe that shoelaces are essential for strong athletic performance, but because we believe that Nike supports us as athletes.

Name the hero (and the villain)

Your customers are the heroes of your story. Make this known by naming the villain they are up against. It could be global warming or toxic makeup or patriarchy. Whatever problem your brand wants to solve, it must be at the center of your story.

Not sure who to villain in your story? Think back on your purpose. What do you protect your customers from? What behavior is your brand trying to change with its existence? The enemy doesn't have to be your competitor. It can simply be the problem that your brand wants to solve through its products, mission and messaging.

Think of your brand as a kind of guide or mentor that guides your customers (the heroes) on the way to their goal. Your products are part of the villain defense toolkit.

Dove positions the brand excellently as a mentor for its mission to eliminate the low self-esteem of girls and women worldwide. Again and again, they fight the villain of low self-esteem through creative campaigns that pose its dangers, often due to unrealistic social expectations and dangerous stories that we tell ourselves or that have been told through media and pop culture. They portray their consumers as heroes of their own stories, with Dove acting as a guide to help these heroes get where they want to go (in this case, on the other side of the self-esteem scale).

Share breakdowns and mishaps

An engaging story arc is just that – an arc, not a straight line. As such, it needs to involve some trials along the way to keep things interesting. In addition, these experiences create trust between brands and consumers. Sharing vulnerable stories humanises your brand and creates a sense of shared experience.

I love to see Rachel Hollis in action as an example. Rachel Hollis is an independent brand whose goal is to promote the personal and professional growth of people who long for it. She supports this brand purpose by telling engaging stories about her own success and the details of how she got to where she is today.

However, she is not afraid to share microm moments of failure or setbacks with her audience to humanize her brand and engage her audience with a relatable story. She has shared the ebb and flow of her success in two of her NYT bestsellers and often goes to Instagram to highlight some of her more vulnerable moments, like this and this.

Don't feel compelled to create a fairytale ending

Finally, I leave you with what I think is one of the most important ingredients for successful storytelling. We have been trained to view a story as incomplete if it does not include a happy ending in which the villain is killed and the mission accomplished. Release the pressure to share your story, including a neatly wrapped end, and hug wherever you are on the road, whether you are winning or in the middle of a battle. Mission-driven branding usually means the beginning of an engaging story, not the end. If you stay loyal to your brand from day one, you will undoubtedly build a loyal customer base that builds you through difficult situations.

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