The Art of Storytelling to Create Powerful Brands

“To connect to people at the deepest level, you need stories.” Rob McKee

Stories are like viruses.

They are ubiquitous – we all ‘get’ stories, no matter where we’re from. They are contagious – tell a story to someone, and if it resonates it’ll spread; the most powerful stories demand to be retold, again and again. And they stick – through the re-telling, they embed themselves in our own and our shared memory.

Anthropologists believe that we’ve been telling stories for as long as we could speak – they’re hard-wired into our brains. They bring communities together, and are our primary way to share understanding and transfer knowledge; that’s why they work with children – they intuitively seem to realize their importance, which is why children are so transfixed by them.

We are surrounded by stories – in the media, on TV, the books on our shelves, the memories we share. We tell our friends what happened yesterday or last week, or when we were on holiday, and we’re telling a story. Anyone who has put a child to bed at night will know how much they beg for a bedtime story, even one they have heard a hundred times; they are drawn to them, mesmerised by them, feeling that there is something intuitively important about them.

There’s an obvious link here with branding. Marketing is essentially about telling stories about the products that we make. Consumers have always subconsciously told stories about the brands they interact with – you just have to sit in a focus group, and it’s all around you: listen to the way they recount what a product does, how they describe when they last used it, what a brand means to them or what it has told them about itself.

It’s a buzz word now to talk about ‘brand storytelling’, but look below the hype, and you’ll see that it’s often simply lip-service, sprayed on; scratch too hard and it’ll come off. Since the invention of the brand positioning model, we have created brands in rational and rigid semantic structures, focusing on adjectives and adverbs, most of which are the product of hours of argument over Roget’s Thesaurus. Stories take you on an emotional journey, and if we want a consumer to connect emotionally to a brand, a story will resonate more deeply than a set of out-of-context words.

Let’s look more closely at what the experts on stories and storytelling have to say about how you create great stories and see what we can learn about making great brand stories.

A critical element of a story is the ‘plot’. Clearly, things happen in stories. As you watch, read or listen, the story unfolds through a series of actions and events, which drive the story forwards to its conclusion. My old Improv teacher used to make us walk forwards when we were improvising a story in order for us to physically feel the story progressing. ‘Story is a metaphor for life, and life is lived in time,’ says Rob McKee. Joseph Campbell studied myths around the world, and distilled to their most basic elements. A story consists of: Order, Chaos, Resolution: everything is fine in the world of the protagonist; something happens to throw things out of kilter; then, after trials and tribulations, things get (relatively) back to normal again.

Written by 

Alex Wilson: Alex, a former tech industry executive, writes about the intersection of business and technology, covering everything from AI to digital transformation.