Telling stories is a terrific way for brands to communicate their values, forge emotional connections and create shared visions of the future with target audiences.
Brand stories are effective, in part, because people are wired to hear stories and hug them tight. Our brains instinctively organize information into categories and narrative formats so that we can make sense of the world. We love stories and the brands that tell them.
But storytelling has its own rules, which are seldom taught in standard communications courses. To make the most of your brand stories, keep these six tips in mind:
1. Remember the basics.
Stories bombard us — from books, movies, TV, and even commercials and online ads. To make your brand’s story stand out, remember that good stories revolve around conflict, challenge and, ultimately, resolution. They feature small numbers of protagonists who often fit traditional archetypes. Good stories are structured with a clear beginning, middle and end, and come alive through details.
Consider these basics when crafting brand stories. And don’t forget to tie your brand to the resolution. (Yes, you get to be the superhero!)
2. Make it visual.
People respond quickly to visual information. Ninety percent of the information transmitted to our brains is visual, a fact reflected by human history: People have been drawing for tens of thousands of years but writing for only about five thousand. Contrary to what traditional educational systems sometimes suggest, images are not silly or inconsequential. They’re powerful and essential for understanding.
To help audiences see and engage with your stories, include images, illustrations, infographics, quote cards, visually engaging stats and even maps.
3. Turn up the emotion.
Stories stimulate the parts of the brain associated with emotions. While facts activate two areas of our brains, stories activate many — including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex. That’s why telling emotive stories about your brand can forge connections with audiences and influence their behavior. Emotions make marketing more actionable.
Show readers the emotions of your brand characters. Words that evoke emotions make people feel what you want them to feel.
4. Tell stories about people.
Great stories have been shown to trigger a phenomenon called “neural coupling,” in which neurons in the brain of the reader or listener fire in similar patterns as those of the writer or speaker. Audiences experience the story as if it were their own, making the tale more memorable.
To achieve this shared connection with your audience, keep your brand story focused on basic human needs and problems. Whoever your audience is, you’re trying to communicate and connect with people — and people are interested in one another.
Craft your story around real people — your organization’s founders and customers, for example, or those who benefit from your brand.
5. Write for your audience.
Of course, nothing ruins a good story like bad writing. Good stories and good writing are easy to understand. Most of us read at a basic level, which is perhaps why many great authors write at a low reading level. Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella “The Old Man and the Sea,” for example, was written at a fourth-grade reading level, and the book won the Pulitzer Prize.
When trying to reach a broad audience, accessible writing is a must. Write in a real, human, sharing-a-beer voice. Use the Flesch-Kincaid readability index to test your work. Stay away from jargon such as abbreviations, acronyms and buzzwords. Remember that gray, boring corporate-speak is a turnoff to readers and listeners.
6. Consider interactivity and different media.
People are drawn to content they can hear, see and interactive with, such as customer-centric digital experiences that allow two-way communication. Such interactivity is akin to having a friendly conversation with a customer rather than just watching the person stroll through your store from afar.
Narratives become even more powerful when the audience has some control over how the story unfolds. Incorporate games, simulations, video, or sharable content so audiences can guide your story or choose mediums they prefer.
Crafting terrific brand stories might sound challenging, but it can also be fun, rewarding, and above all, effective. Be creative and brave.
Malayna Evans, Ph.D., is a managing partner at Chicago-based PWR New Media, specializing in helping communications professionals craft digital content and tell brand stories. Connect with her on Twitter @Malayna
This story originally appeared in the Winter issue of Strategies and Tactics
Would you like to learn more? Register now for Malayna’s Sept. 21 “Visual Content and Media Relations” PRSA workshop in Washington, D.C. http://bit.ly/vismedia