Stories bring brands to life and help reach audiences in a profound and enduring way.
Stories provide emotional contexts for our experiences, and having a strong brand story can cut though the noise and reach audiences in order to better influence them over the long term.
Good brand stories are powerful tools for emotional engagement with audiences: they make brands more memorable, and more likely to be discussed.
Global brands are increasingly coming to understand how they can adapt their stories to make them relevant to each market in which they operate, yet remain globally cohesive. Storytelling is a way to reach out to consumers sick of being promoted to, and keen for a deeper connection.
A good story can deliver a powerful competitive advantage. It can also be the basis for an emotional connection with your entire customer base. An authentic brand story helps demonstrate how your brand is unique, and is a good way to introduce a brand into a new market.
Key elements of storytelling
The most important factors of storytelling are conflict, authenticity and audience. Conflict is essential as it brings in some dynamic appeal and an element of excitement. The conflict should be relatable – perhaps it describes a particular struggle to which audiences can relate. One of the earliest and most enduring brand stories is from Penguin Books:
He just wanted a decent book to read…
Not too much to ask, was it? It was in 1935 when Allen Lane stood on a British railway platform looking for something good to read on his journey. His choice was limited to popular magazines and poor quality paperbacks. Lane’s disappointment and subsequent anger at the range of books available led him to found a company – and change the world.
The conflict in this narrative is based in frustration: the founder’s conflict with the publishing industry. It’s relatable because Penguin’s book-buying audience will undoubtedly have faced a similar situation when trying to buy books. These frustrations may be common to many types of consumer worldwide, meaning the basic storyline can be adapted to suit local markets whilst remaining familiar.
Stories express authenticity when they have a clear purpose. It’s important to consider exactly what you want to convey with your story, and which emotions you want to stimulate in its audience. When it comes to global brand storytelling, it’s important to understand how the storytelling will impact emotionally on your audience.
Building a platform for stories
Creating a framework of topics, or “pillars,” under which the stories will fall can help build balance into a brand’s global storytelling platform. Pillars also help content creators make smart decisions regarding which stories to tell, and they provide guidance for locations that are just starting out.
When you need to delivery consistency of brand messaging to a global audience, the same narrative needs to flow through your stories. L’Oréal carries the same message of “because you’re worth it” across all the territories in which it operates, and across all campaigns. This messaging might take place within a framework of topics under which the specific stories will fall, giving a global storytelling platform. This also helps to guide content creators as they try to reach their specific audiences, operating within a framework which gives them guidance but isn’t too restrictive.
It’s important to be aware of the specific audiences being reached by each part of the story, even if those audiences are in a variety of cultural contexts.
For example, are they new to your brand or familiar with it? This dictates the way they interact with your brand in a way that may be more significant than their specific cultural needs and requirements.
If you’re able to reach those audiences effectively — enabling them to participate in your brand story by contributing their own voices and experiences will enrich their relationship with your brand. This could include using social media to understand how the brand solves specific concerns in their lives.
Penguin might enhance its brand story of a frustrated book buyer by enabling readers to swap book recommendations in a social media space which they host. This would be a way to enhance consumer participation and engagement in Penguin’s brand story.
Elements of storytelling
Many brands are remembered for their origin story. Founders of Innocent smoothies tell a memorable story of how they started their company’s journey:
We started innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.
But brand storytelling isn’t confined to foundation myths. There are opportunities to take a storytelling approach in other aspects of communication. This includes describing how you grew and expanded internationally, sharing customer stories and experiences and describing the market conditions in all the countries in which your business operates.
Key elements of a successful story
International marketing agency Story Worldwide takes an approach to storytelling for international brands that it describes as ‘story platforms’. Rather than insisting that the brand narrative needs to be identical in all markets, the goal instead is to create the same audience impact by telling the story differently in each culture in which it is marketed. The platform is a way of expressing the core narrative in the simplest possible way. The story platform contains the brand’s authentic truth that’s at the heart of all other marketing activities.
One of the key features of a brand’s story platform is that it’s enduring and unchanging. The story should outlive any other marketing elements, such as campaigns.
Starting to develop this narrative core for a brand involves careful research, usually by a brand team. It’s vital to consider the audience, brand identity and competitive position very carefully in constructing the story platform. The story usually then emerges through workshop events through which the unique narrative and emotional pitch of the company emerges. A workshop approach is usually best because in order for any storytelling to be authentic, there needs to be buy-in from people across the whole business.
According to Headstream, video should be the preferred medium for communicating our story, followed by photos and then articles. This agency’s research identifies that customers identify themselves as being receptive to storytelling from brands; UK consumers aged 18-34 describe themselves as particularly receptive to this approach. Humour was described as a favoured approach from all UK consumers. The research found that older British consumers favoured a fictitious approach whilst younger ones valued authenticity.
However, when it comes to storytelling, one size doesn’t fit all. To ensure your brand succeeds in engaging with consumers in overseas markets, you should consider localising your storytelling approach to suit the needs and expectations of local consumers.