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Old style advertisements were a mashup of product descriptions, lists of advantages derivable from product use, and a plea (veiled or obvious) to the advert’s recipient – viewer or listener – to purchase the product. Pretty straightforward. If you’re still doing that today, there’s a big chance that your spending on advertising will deliver less than satisfactory results for you. The world is awash with information, and the content glut is cutting attention spans quite rapidly. The oldies were patient with simple, sometimes bland advertising and marketing messages, partly because there wasn’t that much information for their eyes and ears to feast on. Now, we can’t stand a bland ad. If it’s too dull or tacky, we’ll skip it and move on to something else (enabled by television remote controls or the swipe of a smartphone’s screen or even the “Skip Ad” option on platforms like YouTube). These tools have punished millions of businesses across the world, and sent not a few to their graves. But there’s something that works exceptionally well in our world of cutthroat competition: storytelling. Once spoken by the ancients in their tribal gatherings around the night fire, stories are today’s surefire way for businesses to connect with a very picky audience. Brands adept at telling their stories are able to tap into people’s hard wired preference for narratives over blunt, “matter-of-factly” morsels of information.

What is brand storytelling?

Perhaps you typically wouldn’t associate storytelling with businesses. Perhaps what you’re used to is hearing stories about people, places and things. Well, brand storytelling isn’t very different from the story that a person would tell about other persons, places or things. The whole idea of brand storytelling is to humanize brands, to make them more appealing to people’s emotions and sentiments, and less robotic and detached.
Telling a brand story is essentially to present a problem, say how your company’s product or service was designed to be (as well as exists and functions as) a solution to that problem, and speak of the ongoing success being achieved in tackling the problem through your product.
It could be an inspiring account of your company’s founding and growth, driven by an ideal you want to make a reality; it might be a short explanation of the services your enterprise renders, crafted in a way that paints a picture of a wonderful user experience or the solving of a customer’s problems; it could also be your satisfied customers’ recount of their encounter with your product and how it’s helped improve their lives. Whatever it is, it always has the human element; it’s this human element that makes it more popular with customers than other marketing communication approaches. Brand stories can be told through videos and written marketing content, on traditional and digital media. They can also be spoken in physical conversations.

Why brand storytelling works

Studies in consumer psychology and marketing have shown that people are considerably more receptive to companies that present their brands through stories. One research found that people who were exposed to a brand story were more likely to have a positive view of that brand and to pay more for its product than those who merely got regular information about the company’s offerings. There’s a science behind this. In 2006, neuroscientists in Spain published research which showed that the brain’s smell processing centres were active when words associated with certain types of smells were mentioned. Usually, we would expect this to happen if something was actually smelt. But it turns out that we ‘experience’ things in our subconscious even when we only just hear about them. Other studies on words related to sounds and touch have produced similar results. Here’s how this research ties in with the success of storytelling:
When you tell a brand story, your audience experiences that brand.  They might not realise it at the time, but they experience your brand through that narrative.
This means you have more leeway over how potential clients regard your brand when you tell a story. You contribute to shaping their perception of it from the start. What’s more, there’s a bigger chance that they’ll trust your brand, because they can connect with the human feel of the brand story.

How to create a brand story that spurs growth

You know what your business is and does, along with the problems it exists to solve. And your product is wonderful – at least your customers say so. How do you put these things together in a brand story that captures the public’s attention, sends many more interested clients your way, and helps your business grow? Here are five things you should do:
  1. Understand the needs of your target market
  2. Know the sentiments, cultural ideals, and motivations of your typical customer, and learn to leverage these in your communication with them. This helps to build trust between you and your customer. They’ll feel that you identify with them; as a result, they will believe that you’re likely to give them what they need.
  3. Keep your story simple. Let it have the basic elements: the problem, your product as its remedy, and the progress you’re making in solving the problem for people through your product.
  4. Let your narrative voice tone (spoken or written), imagery (picture or video) and entire layout or construct appeal to your target audience by deploying the factors mentioned in point 2.
  5. Have other people tell your story. Customers who are happy with the service you’re giving them could make great storytellers for your brand. Their experiences may come across as more convincing for many, since they probably don’t have anything to lose from giving your business negative reviews.

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This article was first published on 13th March 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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