Creating a strong brand positioning strategy is not an easy task in today’s highly saturated markets. People’s attention spans are shorter than ever before and running a company website is not enough anymore to stand out from the crowd. The art of storytelling has been used for millennia to win and influence people. Therefore, it’s not surprising that marketers also frequently use it to create an appealing brand identity that differentiates them from their competition and engages their target audience on an emotional level.
The Art of Storytelling
The art of storytelling is the oldest cultural activity in human history. People have been telling and sharing stories for entertainment and educational reasons since the beginning of times. In fact, storytelling is much more ancient than writing. Well before written text, people had conveyed their stories through cave painting, rock art, ritual chanting, and oral narration. It seems human beings have an inherent need to weave narratives to understand the surrounding world and their own lives.
The first written story was the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, written around 2100 B.C. in the Sumerian language. The story was carved on several stone tablets and this way it could have spread to different parts of Asia and even Europe relatively quickly. In fact, every culture is based on a set of stories we commonly refer to as mythology—Greek and Roman mythology being the most famous ones. Religions also use the art of storytelling to make morality accessible and appealing to ordinary people.
But, why are people so attracted to stories? According to a research published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, stories do affect the human mind. As they are able to bring us to a different place mentally, their narratives influence our existing beliefs and make us embrace ideas we would reject otherwise. The mental shift in the perceptions and beliefs of the research participants wasn’t solely triggered by the plot and narrative, but also by the manner in which the stories were told. What’s even more interesting: it didn’t matter if the stories were labeled as fact or fiction, emotional responses were similar in both cases. The art of storytelling is a powerful thing, indeed.
Brand Positioning and Storytelling
It’s not just writers and religious leaders who make use of the art of storytelling. The most successful brands and companies approach their audience through well-thought-out stories as well. Brand positioning aims to construct the story of a brand or product, with all the necessary elements from the narrative to imagery. If you want to position a brand in a market niche efficiently, you need to create a brand story that sticks to the mind of consumers and engages them on the emotional level.
According to the most well-known definition penned by Philip Kotler, brand positioning is “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”. Or, in other words, marketers need to differentiate a brand from its competitors so that customers can instantly recognize it.
The goal of brand positioning is not only to make the audience know how a brand is different from the competition but also to make them perceive it in a specific way. The art of storytelling can greatly help you achieve that objective. If you properly design the narrative, plot, and characters of a brand story, it will trigger an emotional response from the audience and make them engage with the product. The emotion you need to target depends on the nature of the brand—purchasing a bank loan is usually preceded by a different kind of emotion than ordering from a French restaurant.
Before you embark on building up a brand story, it’s crucial to make a brand positioning statement. It’s a direct and concise declaration that summarizes the unique value of the brand in comparison to the competition. A brand positioning statement is not a slogan or a tagline; it’s only for internal use. It shouldn’t be more than one or two sentences and it needs to clearly define how you wish to establish the brand in the mind of the audience.
In his bestselling book entitled “Crossing the Chasm”, Geoffrey Moore offers an excellent formula to help marketers create a brand positioning statement:
“For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).”
Essential Elements of Storytelling
Before anything else, you need to decide which emotion the story intends to trigger. It can be either a positive emotion such as joy, interest, amusement, freedom or passion. Alternatively, a negative one such as worry, anxiety, jealousy, or anger to which the brand provides a solution. You can also target a complex set of emotions instead of just one or two. For instance, fair trade products frequently make their customers emotionally identify with a specific, well-defined goal.
When you have the brand positioning statement and the key emotion you want to target, you can begin to build up the story. Don’t only think of written stories but also audiovisual content such as music, video, imagery, animations, 3D graphics, or infographics. Even graphical elements such as the logo and website typography will become parts of the brand story.
In this day and age, marketers have more tools and resources at hand to unfold a story than ever before. However, most brands don’t require a complicated story, especially because too much complexity can make it hard to follow the storyline. Below, you can find five proven storytelling formulas you can successfully incorporate into a branding strategy.
Before: First, you present the audience with the problem the brand intends to solve.
After: Then, you show them how their lives will improve after the brand solved their problem.
Bridge: After they saw both the “Before” and “After” scenarios, you demonstrate how the brand can help them get to the solution.
Features: First, you show the main characteristics of the brand, using facts and data.
Advantages: Then, you present the advantages customers can achieve by making use of the features of the brand.
Benefits: Finally, you demonstrate why the audience should care about the advantages offered by the brand.
Problem: First, you present a problem the audience frequently encounters.
Agitate: Then, you unfold the problem by showing its different aspects. The goal here is to intensify the problem so that the audience gets into an emotional state.
Solve: Finally, you show how the brand can provide a solution to the problem.
It’s also known as Dale Carnegie’s Magic Formula.
Incident: First, you tell an authentic story with which the audience can identify on an emotional level.
Action: Then, you show them the specific action they need to take to resolve the incident. They can take that action with the help of the brand.
Benefit: Finally, you demonstrate the benefits customers can gain if they take the action you recommended.
Hero’s Journey is the most ancient storytelling formula, used by religious scriptures such as the Bible and ancient epic stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. This formula has different versions based on the complexity of the hero’s journey. However, all follow a similar script: a hero embarks on a journey, encounters a crisis, solves the crisis, and finally wins a prize or becomes a better person.
How to Incorporate Storytelling into the Marketing Strategy
These days, successful inbound marketing is unimaginable without making use of the art of storytelling. It’s not only important because of brand positioning but it can also help marketers directly increase conversion rates. You don’t necessarily need to use the same story across all marketing channels. However, the stories need to be coherent, for instance, they shouldn’t claim contradictory things. In fact, you can incorporate storytelling into any type of digital marketing—it all depends on which marketing channels you use and what goals you aim to achieve.
The art of storytelling can greatly help marketers create a brand story consumers happily interact with. The most important thing is to use diverse content types (text, imagery, audio, video, memes, polls, etc.) where each functions as a pillar of the story. Strong, interesting headlines and first sentences can hook in customers and move them emotionally—which is the ultimate goal of storytelling. You can also strengthen the narrative by using local stories, stories about famous people, and supporting the stories with figures and facts.
Social Media Marketing
According to ;The Power of Storytelling’ research by Facebook IQ, storytelling on social media has a direct impact on purchases. The Refinery29 brand, as a participant in the experiment, experienced a 10% increase in online purchases and a 7% increase in in-store purchases when they sequenced their Facebook ads like stories. If you add call-to-actions and high-impact visuals to a story you can further increase view-through rates on social media sites.
Viral marketing is all about storytelling. Essentially, you need to create a short-form content piece such as a blog post, meme, or video that you spread across as many marketing channels as possible within a short period of time. The goal is to make the content spread like a virus across the internet. As for most people, emotional engagement is the sole motivation for sharing viral content. A well-crafted story can do wonders for the success of a viral marketing campaign.
Examples of Successful Brand Stories
The art of storytelling can help both smaller and larger brands position themselves on the market. Here are some examples of successful brand stories you can use as an inspiration to create a winning brand positioning strategy for any kind of business.
Airbnb, the number one online vacation rental marketplace, heavily uses of the art of storytelling to position its brand across all marketing channels, from its website to its quite popular Youtube channel. In the stories, the hosts and holidaymakers are the main characters who interact with each other through Airbnb’s services. The stories follow the Features-Advantages-Benefits formula and intend to gain customers’ trust so that they won’t be afraid of staying at a stranger’s home while traveling.
Family brands can excellently use the art of storytelling for brand positioning as well. Silver Oak, a family-owned winery in California tells the personal story of the brand, with the founders being the protagonists. The intimate narrative humanizes the brand and evokes the emotions of familiarity and togetherness from the audience. The story also vividly describes the hardships the founders encountered and shows how their struggles helped them improve the quality of their products.
The Evernote note-taking app combines the art of storytelling with cartoon stories to establish its brand identity. In fact, well-designed cartoons work very well when the target audience is the younger, tech-savvy generation. On Evernote’s homepage, each feature is linked to an embedded Youtube video in which an animated character shows how that feature helps them out with their everyday problems. The problems are typical and well-selected so that the target audience can easily identify with them.
Travelocity Roaming Gnome
The Travelocity online travel agency chose a unique way to make use of the art of storytelling in their social media strategy. They created a small mascot called the Roaming Gnome and made a profile for him on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and even the Tinder dating app. The stories are told by the Roaming Gnome himself. They follow a complex version of the Hero’s Journey storytelling formula. The friendly Gnome has been traveling around the world for more than 10 years; he started his social media journey on MySpace back in 2007.
Threads 4 Thought
Threads 4 Thought is a sustainable, eco-friendly fashion brand that targets socially conscious customers. They use the art of storytelling in numerous ways on their website, with the models being the characters of the stories. When visitors first land on the site, they are presented with a “Letter from the Founder” that highlights a current social issue and describes how customers can help solve the problem by using the brand (e.g. 10% of their purchase will be donated for the cause). Threads 4 Thought’s narrative is an excellent example of the Incident-Action-Benefit storytelling formula and resonates very well with the audience of the brand.
The art of storytelling can be a great help in creating a successful brand positioning strategy for any business. Well-crafted stories don’t only engage first-time visitors but can also make them fall in love with the brand and become loyal and long-term customers. Thanks to the advance of technology, these days marketers can spread stories through a plethora of marketing channels from blogs to newsletters to social media sites. Using the art of storytelling in brand positioning is one of the best techniques to create and implement a successful inbound marketing campaign.