Marketing isn’t all what it used to be. Funny slogans, short commercials or catchy jingles may have ruled advertising in the 50s – but today we’re interested in brands with depth; with a history and a story to tell. In the age of information and globalized communication, we want a brand with an air of authenticity and approachability. Furthermore, with so much choice at our fingertips at any hour of the day, we as consumers have to be picky – so we choose the brands with a narrative we can appreciate and even relate to.
What does it mean to incorporate storytelling in your brand marketing? To answer that, we’ll look at the different types of stories businesses can communicate and the different ways through which to communicate them. We’ll also look at some examples of brands that have mastered the art of captivating storytelling which sells.
The types of stories in marketing
One type of storytelling that has become increasingly important in recent years is that of a businesses’ origins; its (preferably) humble beginning. Whereas in the past ‘modern’ brands that promised futuristic products may have been trendier, today’s normalization of constantly evolving technology and startup culture has removed the appeal of ‘new’. Instead, consumers have started to value ideas surrounding customer loyalty, brand integrity and business history. We see this most evidently in the so-called hipster movement. Self-proclaimed hipsters like to know where it all started, and how a business developed to become what it is today.
Ben & Jerry’s are a great example of this. A huge part of this brand’s appeal, besides its delicious and innovatively flavoured ice cream, comes from its charming background. The story goes that back in 1978, best friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took a $5 ice cream-making course and then opened their own ice cream scoop shop in a renovated gas station with a humble investment of $12,000. Ben Cohen has always had a very limited sense of smell and taste, hence why Ben & Jerry’s have focused on making ice cream with interesting textures.
Ben and Jerry celebrated their one-year business anniversary with a ‘free scoop’ day (a tradition which continues to this day). By the mid-80s, Ben and Jerry’s name had spread – as had their business. More shops opened across the US, and the two friends start donating part of their profit to charity. By the 1990s, Ben and Jerry had introduced policies to ensure their dairy cows were well treated and that their employees were fairly paid. Ever since, they’ve stayed consistent to their brand values of social equality, environmental sustainability and modesty through their business practices and ever-growing range of ice cream flavours.
It’s not difficult to see what is so appealing about Ben & Jerry’s story. Two guys with a dream make it to the top – without ever compromising their vision. It’s the underdog success story; an alluring narrative which is also what allowed Chris Moneymaker to become such an excellent marketing tool for poker brands in the early 2000s. Moneymaker was an amatuer poker player who, after depositing a few dollars to enter an online poker freeroll, won an entry to the World Series of Poker. He then went on to win the entire event for a cash prize of $2.2 million. Against all odds, Moneymaker made it from the bottom to the very top – showing that if he could make it, anyone could. Online poker – particularly Texas Hold’Em freerolls – boomed in popularity in the years following Moneymaker’s success, no doubt largely due to his story. PokerStars, the site through which Moneymaker was able to make his fortune, have done particularly well to base their brand image around the idea that ‘poker is for everyone’.
Of course, your brand story doesn’t have to focused exclusively on an origin story. You can have a young, new business which still incorporates traditional elements of storytelling in its marketing. Take LUSH, the artisan cosmetic brand famed for its hand-made bath bombs and heavenly scented soaps. Each perfume sold by LUSH has a name corresponding to the personal story that inspired one of the founders to create it. The scent ‘Dad’s Garden Lemon Tree’, for example, is based on one of the founder’s relationship with his Dad. Mark Constantine never knew his father, but visited his home after his death. While he walked through his deceased father’s lemon tree garden, he realized it was possible to miss something you’ve never known. With that in mind, he decided to capture the beautiful citrus scent in a LUSH product, in the knowledge that others could in that way experience his father’s legacy too. This story gives the product a personal touch that LUSH’s young consumer base appreciates.
Vat19, the quirky online store for unusual and humorous products, also has a way of telling stories. The small team behind the brand communicates directly with their audience through a personal and unique brand tone, lots of funny videos and excellent customer support. As such, one comes to feel as if they know the Vat19 team – almost wanting to be friends with them. Furthermore, the continuous themes and in-jokes present in their promotional videos encourage consumers to keep coming back to their website in hope of a new commercial clip. In other words – Vat19’s customers genuinely look forwards to the next product as presented by the bold and humorous brand, actively seeking out the product videos.
That element of gradual storytelling that keeps consumers coming back can also be found in stories featuring fictional characters. The insurance price comparison site Comparethemarket.com introduced a meerkat as its brand mascot after a few employees started joking that ‘market’ sounded like ‘meerkat’ in some accents. They then launched Comparethemeerkat.com, after which the company followed up with a series of TV commercials featuring stories about a fictional Russian meerkat. The meerkat quickly became an iconic character on British television, with TV watchers still looking forwards to the next Comparethemeerkat.com commercial several years later.
How to tell it
Clearly, some story formats work better in marketing than others. It is essential to understand what type of story will appeal to your market and why. It is also important to make sure your brand truly fits into the style of storytelling. Will your audience prefer a humble story about the exotic land in which the ingredients for your product are grown in environmentally sustainable ways? Or would they prefer to hear about the fascinating life of the jet-setting adventurer who came up with the idea behind your brilliant and luxurious product?
Above all, tell a natural and honest story. Don’t give everything away in your storytelling either – something such as a ‘secret ingredient’ in a brand’s chocolate, or an ‘anonymous lover’ who inspired a particular product, can be very appealing to consumers.
Tell the stories through any means available to you – however some mediums will be more appropriate for certain brands. Blog posts, product descriptions, sales assistants, emails, an ‘about’ page, social media, illustrations, videos – no matter what storytelling medium you employ, make sure that both your story and tone is consistent and personal.
Effective storytelling can have a hugely positive impact upon your marketing efforts. A story brings life and authenticity to your brand while building trust between you and your customers. Best of all? There’s not a single business without a story to tell. No matter how boring you might consider your business’ origins, each brand starts with a person, a vision, and a lot of hard work. That alone is enough to build your story around.