Humans are a storytelling species. We have always used story to express ourselves and to understand the world around us. So it comes as no surprise that the brands who get storytelling right are the ones that rise above the crowd. As consumers, we support brands that align with our values and inspire us to action. We engage with brands who inform and entertain us. And we are loyal to brands who make us the hero of the story.
In the age of social media and content marketing, brand storytelling has shifted from taglines and billboards to a dynamic, two-way conversation between brands and consumers. Understanding this shift is key to telling great stories and growing an authentic community.
Find Your Voice in Shared Values
For years, advertisers told consumers what they needed and why they needed it. But with newfound personal agency and increased access to choice, consumers are demanding transparency, sustainability and a higher purpose in brands. They are voting with their dollars and fundamentally shifting the world’s expectations of business. As a result, shared values have become the cornerstone of effective brand storytelling.
A shared value is a common belief, between brand and consumer or business, in something greater than both of them. This could be a social purpose, a collective cause, or a human value as simple as kindness or connectivity. Patagonia’s brand storytelling focuses on far more than outerwear products. The company stands for environmental stewardship and their stories about the planet, and the people protecting it, build authentic connection and lasting loyalty with a target audience.
To be great at brand storytelling, you must first find your voice in shared values. Stand for something. What does your community care about? What do you as a company care about? Where is the overlap? That’s a great place to start.
Tell Stories that Inspire Action
To keep the momentum going, brands must spark action around these shared values. This can be done through stories that inspire greatness, or stories that call your community to action.
Nike’s mission statement is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” They clarify the asterisk with a footnote that reads, “if you have a body, you are an athlete.” Their mission is rooted in powerful shared values of motion, ambition, human potential and breaking boundaries. But their storytelling soars when they put their mission into action. Their campaigns consistently highlight athletes (everyday humans and superheroes alike) breaking barriers and achieving the impossible, inspiring the rest of the Nike community to take action and do the same.
Purpose-driven companies, with giving at their core, take this storytelling technique a step further. TOMS introduced the One for One business model to the world: for every pair of shoes purchased, they give a pair to someone in need. TOMS shares stories about everyday change-makers making a difference in their community through simple actions, and invites customers to do the same through a purchase.
Storytelling is Showbiz
The best brand storytellers are not only inspiring action, they are consistently entertaining their audiences. Millennials and Gen Z experience the world in an interwoven stream of entertainment, news, politics, social media, advertising and memes – the lines have forever been blurred. Brand communications are no longer siloed to product descriptions and seasonal specials. Consumers engage with brands that make them laugh, speak their language, and consistently deliver entertaining content.
Memes and luxury retail don’t seem like a natural fit, but that made Gucci’s clever, meme-fueled storytelling campaign even more memorable. The #TFWGucci campaign lowered the brand’s luxury tone to millennial-speak by reimagining well-known memes and inserting Gucci watches into the photos. The internet was delighted.
Make the Consumer the Hero
Consumers engage with brands that make them laugh, but they are fiercely loyal to the brands that make them the hero of the story. This is arguably the most important shift in recent brand storytelling trends: a return to the human story. Brands are flipping the camera and celebrating the community behind them. This includes profiling everyday change-makers in campaigns and social posts, but it also means providing communities with a platform to share their own stories.
User-generated content not only increases engagement and trust, but it speaks directly to a generation of makers and content creators. Airbnb, a founding member of the user-economy, happens to also be a leader in user-generated storytelling. Their platform “Stories from the Airbnb Community” publishes a mix of stories from the people who share their homes and travel the world using the Airbnb app. The travel stories range from lust-worthy to heartwarming, but the ultimate effect is a feeling of universal belonging. By making their global community the hero of the story, they have invited the entire world in.
If you want to connect with your customers, build an authentic community, and rise to the top of your industry, powerful storytelling is essential. Brand storytelling is not only important these days, it’s more exciting and impactful than ever.