- Old school: Punting a product or service.
- New School: Telling your business and brand story to humanise who you are, the solution you offer, and how you can impact your customers’ lives and businesses.
Do you remember the ‘glu-glug-glug’ TV commercial that stole South Africa’s heart two decades ago? Brand story telling has become an essential element of today’s marketing strategy, but Sasol had the right idea, even then.
What was so special about that ad? Maybe it was the cute boy and his dog; maybe it was just such a magical story. Or perhaps it was the glug-glug-glug that became national code.
I’m talking about the Sasol ad featuring a little red car that glug-glug-glugged the petroleum before it spectacularly raced straight through the wall.
I have no doubt that many of us wouldn’t be able to recall other advertisements on TV during this period, because they contained facts, such as what fuel is made of, or what it does to an engine. Sasol’s ad told a story, and won hearts and minds in the process.
If you don’t remember the advert or are looking for a flashback – watch it here:
The science behind story telling
Few people can resist the lure of ‘once upon a time’. Story researchers, like Cron, Gottschall and Pink, believe that the human brain is uniquely wired to understand stories, and we will literally become undone without stories.
Stories help us understand others and make sense of the world. While facts engage only the language and numerical sides of our brains, stories grab hold of both brain hemispheres.
Experts call this ‘neural coupling’. It happens organically as a result of good communication — when the communicator and listener literally get on the same ‘wavelength’.
In the best stories, the teller and the listener — the communicator and receiver’s brain activities start to synchronise.
When a person gets hooked by an emotional story, there is understanding, comprehension, empathy, anticipation and receptivity between the communicator and audiences or receivers.
This is effective and successful communication — and the result is trust. Oxytocin, also called the ‘moral molecule’, is released when we ‘get’ a story. That is why stories give us inspiration and solutions.
A brand that has a good narrative is already a winning brand. Coca Cola, Disney, Louis Vuitton and a host of other brands have long implemented the story approach to advertising and marketing.
In this manner, the benefits of the brand are being sold to the consumers, but it compares directly to the experience of real people.
Stories cut through clutter
In today’s 24/7 mediated world, consumers struggle to cut through all the facts, numbers and statistics coming at them every minute. The only way intangible merits of a brand can be sold then, would have to be through story.
We, the users and consumers, need to experience the emotional difference a brand can make for people. And we need visual content to ease our understanding of life.
Many economic marketing professionals argue that facts lead to branding success. The theory is that if I tell you that 663 million people in Africa have no access to clean, safe water, and six million children die annually as a result, it will move you to engage. But, hundreds of other studies state that we live in a time of empathy fatigue, and want to avoid bad news. Because we do not see or know any of those thirsty or dying millions, it means nothing — and we are safe.
Failed nightclub promoter Scott Harrison was horror-struck when he started working in Liberia and found out that 663 million people have no drinking water. He was jolted into action and started Charity: Water.
To appreciate the best examples of brand storytelling, watch The Spring — Ten Years of Charity: Water on Youtube. Within ten years, Charity: Water has saved millions of lives, primarily through donations from brand followers.
The 2015 film, Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a true story about the brand inventor of Miracle Mops. Joy’s life was a misery of cleaning up after her entire family, which resulted in a personal attempt to make life easier. Against many odds, she started selling her Miracle Mop on cable television, and earned a personal net worth of $50 million. She not only believed in her product, but told her own desperate story with which most women could identify.
Estimations are that we receive around 200 000 bits of information daily. The one-directional communication model from brand to consumers became outdated with the rise of social media.
Today, consumers have tremendous power in their hands through connections with brands via websites, social media and sites like HelloPeter. Once brands realised that this power of the consumer could be re-used in their branding and marketing, advertising and marketing specialists had to adapt.
How clients can tell your story
GoPro is one of the finest examples of brand storytelling, and has proved that a brand can become a force when you care for your consumers. Unemployed Nick Woodman wanted to capture his new surf enterprise, and designed a small, water-resistant camera that captured film in HD.
This was what thousands of adventurers and film companies needed to shoot their experiences. While the brand is now worth $1,4 billion, the remarkable fact is that the advertising budget runs to $50 000 per year. This is because GoPro uses a host of free, accessible and untapped content generated by its brand users.
The GoPro brand simply says: “We’re not just a camera anymore. We’re an enjoyment platform for people around the world to view.” The brand invites all GoPro owners to post their ‘self-adventures’.
GoPro takes ownership of these videos, and polishes and posts them on its own channel. The channel with more than
3,2 million subscribers, now has more than 6 000 videos uploaded on one single day of GoProing adventures. The brand sponsors about 388 professional athletes, who film their adventures with GoPros. These films generate more than 50 million views on Youtube. GoPro’s thousands of filmographers post different stories, but they are all adventurers who share their experiences through their GoPro cameras.
Ah, so what can be easier than telling a story, you think? One brand academic, Neumeier, argues that any brand should answer three ‘little questions’: “Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter (when there are others like your brand)?” Can you answer the third one?
Let’s imagine someone is in the market for a new car. A brand could supply any number of valuable statistics here: Consumption, speed, comfort and price. Or it could show a group of potential buyers that it understands their problems and lives. This is what Fiat: The Motherhood (500L) does, as a mom with three kids raps her way through a complicated day, followed by a frazzled dad who takes a Fiat 500L drive to get the babies to sleep.
The art of story telling
All stories have a beginning, middle and end. You also need a person or personality. Usually, there is a problem that needs solving. If you understand why people need your brand, you are close to the solution. Take a memorable person with a problem, bring in the brand, save the day with the story.
Does your brand story exist? If not, you should rethink your branding to give your followers a tangible reason to identify with your product, service or personality. It’s easy to say that about Coke, the Rolling Stones, or Mastercard. But how did ‘baby’ brands like Uber, Airbnb, Spotify and YouTube get to be the brands so quickly?
Airbnb not only caused and used stories, but also disrupted branding and marketing. Nine years ago, two designers, Chesky and Gebbia, were so broke that they rented out their loft. They immediately got bookings from other cities for a similar service. Now, their value of $30 billion outstrips that of hotel chains. Through a direct link between owner and renters, the personal touch has become the hallmark of the brand.
Weave the story around your brand’s personality. Write it, film it, post it. Always stick to the same story and relate to your target consumers and audiences. Figure out how your brand will help shift your consumers from a place of need to one of satisfaction. Since once upon a time, story has never ever disappointed us. So write your brand’s story.