Using narrative to engage your audience: three steps to successful brand storytelling

Everybody loves a great story.

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The distinctive style of Hemingway, the mean-spirited wit of Wilde or the romantic scripts of Shakespeare – storytelling has always been a cherished British pastime.

As the UK celebrates National Storytelling Week, we explore how the age-old practice has moved beyond bedtime reads and into the marketing plans of branding experts hoping to breathe some literary delight into their marketing campaigns.

Already, there is a rich history of inspiring and powerful storytelling in the design and advertising industries.

However, there is still some uncertainty surrounding the real definition of brand storytelling. Immediately, we think of television campaigns with linear, narrative-driven plots, taking the viewer from the beginning to the end of a story, while advertising a brand at the same time.

Successful brand storytelling shouldn’t start and finish with one single campaign.

#1 Consistent narrative

Take American sportswear giant, Nike. The famous “Just do it” tagline was created in 1988 and has continued to play a core role in its campaigns for 28 years.

Following the same core literary archetype of “overcoming the monster”, Nike is able to release campaigns with completely different tones, characters and storylines that remain recognisable as they hold the same core message: just do it.

#2 Attention to detail

As well as a story with longevity, like Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign, there are more subtle ways to communicate brand values through marketing.

Jack Daniel’s is a perfect example. Focusing deeply on its American heritage and rock ‘n’ roll roots, any Jack Daniel’s marketing material automatically oozes of barbeque-glaze, warmth and southern hospitality.

In 2014, Jack Daniel’s took narrative advertising back to its grass roots with its Bar stories series. The campaign raised a glass to the stories of real establishments from across the US, with a series of fascinating short documentaries celebrating the folklore and characters surrounding the chosen venues.

#3 Entertainment and honesty

Jack Daniel’s Bar stories series owes its success to interesting and quirky content. Even if you aren’t a fan of Old No. 7, you have to admit the stories are intriguing.

Let’s face it, nobody has ever bored people into buying. However, if you can make your audience feel some kind of emotion, you’re already halfway to persuading it to make a purchase.

A captivating story will help gain an audience, but maintaining integrity and honesty is just as vital. For established organisations, it’s unlikely that launching a new brand image will shed the reputation it has already gained.

If Jack Daniel’s, for example, decided to adopt a new image celebrating the joy of canapés and cocktails at British garden parties, we’d probably all be a little sceptical of the brand’s integrity. Thankfully, they have left that job to Pimms.

For the literary fanatics among us, storytelling will always be defined as bounded paper, parchment and ink. But today, this age-old practice is escaping the walls of the library and creeping onto our billboards, televisions and computers. All brands have a story to tell, it’s getting the story right that is the tricky part.

By Laura England, account executive at technical PR agency, Stone Junction