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Storytelling for Brands: How Blockbuster Should I Be?

  |  August 28, 2014   |  Comments   |  

Storytelling is an extremely important aspect of content marketing. This piece from ClickZ Training looks at what makes a good brand story and what effective storytelling will cost your business.

Authored by Ron Vining and Alex Shaida

Today, content strategists, media, and PR firms like to advise companies to start telling compelling stories as an effective way to truly engage a brand's customer base and to generate more revenue.

Good storytelling really is the key to an effective content marketing strategy. There is likely nothing more compelling and engaging than telling a great story. Whether they're spoken in a whisper and then passed on by word-of-mouth, written up eloquently in a book, or adapted for viewing on TV or on a cinema screen in a darkened room, stories are carefully designed to suspend your disbelief and draw you into their particular universe for a time.

At the heart of any good story there lies some kind of dramatic conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. And central to any great dramatic conflict is something that reveals an important aspect of the human condition. It is this "condition" that helps to drive your empathy with the protagonist; it is the fuel to drive your story.

Common human condition examples that show up in well-known (written and filmed) stories include: the need to save others from their impending doom, the ability to survive and overcome grave danger to oneself and/or to those that one is closest to, proving that one is truly worthy against overwhelming and unfair odds, resisting the temptation and corrupt rewards that play to one's greed and desires, romantic stories where our protagonist needs to convince Mr. or Ms. Right that they are the right person for them to walk through life with, despite an apparent lack of mutual interest, and last but not least the frequently used theme of making a strong comeback once others have written you off for good. These and others are heartfelt human conditions that serve to stir up our emotions.

The big question then, for modern marketers, is how to relate these proven strategies to your particular brand and business. To what scale and at what financial cost can one apply such storytelling techniques to successfully exploit these universal themes of the human condition that apply to us all for the purpose of engaging the consumer?

Storytelling may well date back to the days of the caveman, but applying these kinds of techniques to a series of products and/or services in our modern age is something that requires the cultural, social, marketing, and technological understanding of the 21st century and an appreciation of the art of modern-day communications, and how it is swiftly changing around us.

Brands increasingly need to resonate not only with relevant human condition themes that are truthful to them, but they also need to insert themselves into the settings and human issues that are pertinent to those around them.

To place one's brand in a modern cultural and social setting, the savvy digital marketer needs to be much more sensitive to the issues and challenges that we face each and every day, while also knowing what their brand story is really about and how to go about sharing this well in a digital way.

In terms of the likely cost implications of a marketing strategy like this, telling a story that has genuine depth to it is likely to be far less expensive than trying to broadcast a more superficial and sugar-coated tale about your brand that desperately seeks all the media attention it can find to get noticed. This does not mean that storytelling is going to be cheap to undertake, because even if broadcast across social media, it requires a sizable level of investment in order for it to be really noticed. A poorly created story will no doubt be much more costly, as it is likely to get lost without significant media investment, whereas a compelling story has a greater chance of being shared.

How can you produce a compelling story? The hero should rightly be the heart of any great story, even for a business. There are interesting stories to every business, whether it's a story on Steve Jobs, who founded and built Apple into what it is today, or Jack Ma, who turned Alibaba from a simple idea into one of the world's greatest e-commerce companies.

However, you don't need a modern-day superhero to tell a great story - there are many other tales out there to be told. Your brand may want to help enhance a person's financial security, it may be developing its products to be more eco-friendly, it may have ordinary people working in the company who are really dedicated and care immensely about the business and want to share their stories, or it may even want to reach out to a different audience due to ever-changing needs...there are numerous stories out there - you simply need to find them.

Great content marketing does require good storytelling abilities, which can be either learned or be purchased at a much greater cost by hiring and paying others. The art of using content marketing to tell a compelling brand story is not just about making up a good tale to tell everyone about your company and products. It is also about telling the truth in relation to your business and services by using effective storytelling techniques that help to generate greater interest, suspense, and also provide an engaging narrative that excites your audience and connects your brand with your customer base.

When storytelling techniques are carefully and closely aligned to your brand identity and purpose, this can help to build and reinforce powerful and engaging two-way communications that we can relate to and can never seem to get enough of.

There is no one magic wand or silver bullet that can change everything in storytelling terms - it is far more likely to be a combination of many smaller stories and initiatives, which feed into a much larger, overarching story with plots and sub-plots, that collectively become the driving force to develop genuine brand engagement and add power to your content strategy as well as your overall marketing.


ClickZ Training has recently launched its first course on "Content Strategy: The Hidden Power of Telling Omni-Channel Brand Stories," set to take place in Singapore on September 2 and 3, 2014.

Ronald C. Vining is managing partner at BrandInflux in Singapore, adjunct professor and fellow at the Global Center for Digital Marketing at The University of Massachusetts - College of Management, Boston, and former chief marketing officer and group marketing director at Aspire Lifestyles, an international SOS company. From Apple and the rock band Journey, to Google and the White House, Ron has advanced initiatives for more than 25 of the top 100 ranked iconic brands, delivering innovative experiences to more than 100 million users on behalf of 85 percent of Fortune 500 firms such as Microsoft, Samsung, Intel, Cisco, Disney, HP, SAP, Sony, Verizon, and others across the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

Alex is director, ClickZ Advisory & Training at ClickZ for Asia, and joined the company earlier in the year. Previously, he was vice president Asia for Econsultancy, and opened their first Asia office in Singapore for the region in 2012, after having worked as a senior client services advisor in London for three years providing training and consulting services for many leading U.K. and international companies including DuPont, Vodafone, Lloyd's Bank, Harper Collins, Hachette, Schneider Electric, UK Govt., Visa, Shure, TUI, Microsoft, and more. Alex has held several senior digital marketing and e-commerce roles in the U.K. prior to joining Econsultancy, and had a prior career in PR for leading tech and media brands including Microsoft, CSC, Cartoon Network, Carat, DTS, CIA Medianetwork, and more. He began his marketing career as a B2B marketer in the early ‘90s.

Image via Shutterstock.

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