3 Ingredients Found in the Best Brand Storytelling

Feb 15, 2019

By Lauren Rader, Director of Strategy & Lindsey Hogan, Senior Strategist 

Time to Read: 4 minutes

You know more about captivating, curiosity-provoking brand storytelling than you think. At least you do if you’ve ever seen Star Wars. Or heard of a boy named Harry Potter, or a girl named Eleven. According to corporate storyteller Shane Meeker, we should look to books, movies, TV shows and plays if we want to tell better brand stories, the kind that can break through all the clutter in today’s feeds … and there’s a lot of clutter.

The Curious Case of Information Overload

Every minute there are 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 150,000 emails sent and 3.8 million Google searches made, says Meeker. And a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that in response to this information overload, we’ve built a resistance to new information. “We block out way more than we take in,” explains Nicola Brown.

But wait. That doesn’t mean your brand can’t still disrupt the endless cycle of mindless scrolling. Even though we filter out a lot of the clutter, we’re still humans, and humans are curious by nature. It’s our instinct to fill in missing information, or to close what researcher George Loewenstein calls “the curiosity gap.” And nothing demands your attention like a good story.

3 Things Every Good Brand Story Needs

So you need a good story that makes people curious about your brand. Meeker says every story has three main ingredients:

1. A Hero (Spoiler Alert: It’s Your Consumer)

If you don’t like the hero in a movie or TV show, what are the chances you’ll actually finish it, much less enjoy it? You’re probably more likely to keep watching if you can relate to the hero. In brand storytelling, your hero is your consumer. And they’re more likely to buy into your brand story if they can see themselves in it.

Take beauty brand Glossier, for example. The hero in their story isn’t skincare and makeup. It’s the modern millennial woman who has better things to do than spend hours applying makeup. By staying true to this hero, Glossier has garnered millions of followers, and millions in investment (in 2018, Glossier got a $52 million capital infusion).

2. An Obstacle (The Problem Your Brand Solves)

This is where the story starts to get interesting, starts to really tug at your curiosity. The obstacle, or conflict, gives us a reason to keep watching. We want to see how it ends … but only if we care enough about the problem to see it get solved. If consumers don’t care about the problem your brand solves, they won’t care about your brand. Just having an obstacle in your story isn’t enough. You also need to convey why someone should care.

Look at Adnan Masud Syed. He was first sentenced to life in prison in 2000. That was his problem until he became the hero of the first season of the Serial podcast in 2014. Then it became the whole country’s problem as 39 million Americans tuned in. Hearing Syed’s story made us care about his problem. Think about how your brand story can make consumers care that much about the problem your brand solves.

3. A Treasure (Why Your Consumer Cares)

The treasure is what motivates the hero in your story to overcome the obstacle. It isn’t your brand or service. If it was, you wouldn’t have competition. Why should someone choose your brand over a competitor? What’s in it for them? In the case of the rapidly growing direct-to-consumer retailer Grove Collaborative, cleaning products aren’t the treasure. The treasure is what their brand promises: “your best version of home.”

So you’ve got a hero, an obstacle and a treasure. Your brand story is complete, right? Not so fast.

There’s No Foolproof Recipe for a Good Story

Just because a story has these three ingredients doesn’t automatically make it a good story, Meeker warns. The ingredients have to come together in a way that balances the head and the heart. In his interview with Internal Comms Pro, Meeker explains that it’s very easy for brands to get focused--maybe too focused--on the data. “People hear statistics; they feel a story,” he says. “Use the story and the heart to pull their attention in, and back it up with some great data to help with the head part.”

It all goes back to that curiosity. As the story of your brand hero, obstacle and treasure unfold, it’s important to let it evolve slowly. In other words, don’t give it all away in the trailer. A great example of this is the way 19 Crimes wine slowly reveals their story. You want to pique the curiosity of your consumer and keep the coming back for more, and to do that, you need brand storytelling.

“Brand storytelling is no longer a nice to have,” Celinne de Costa points out in Forbes. “It is a need to have and what will ultimately maximize your business’s visibility, profit and impact.”

If you want your brand to break through the clutter, you need to start telling stories that provoke curiosity with the kind of heroes, obstacles and treasures that people can really relate to. So … what’s your story?