Why Does Storytelling Matter? (And How to Do It!)
This article was contributed by our exhibitor Liz Marie Strategy. Learn more about their business here!
In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton embarked on an ambitious journey to take 10,000 portraits of New Yorkers and plot them on a map of the city on his blog Humans of New York.
The project quickly transformed, however, when he began including brief quotes and stories from his subjects alongside their portrait. The public was transfixed and astonished by these profound glimpses into the real lives of those they pass by on the street without a second glance.
Since then, Brandon has traveled to dozens of countries and interviewed thousands of subjects. The posts juxtapose tales of heartbreak, tragedy, fear and despair with joy, kindness, generosity and love. They capture our utter humanity and remind us of our universal sameness.
Today, HONY has over 28 million followers across social media, has spawned two New York Times #1 best-selling books and has raised over $12M in donations to directly benefit the people whose stories are shared13.
Why is Humans of New York so powerful?
It showcases personal stories to which we all can relate. It captures people in a raw, authentic and vulnerable state. And as a result, it makes an emotional connection with its readers.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to build your brand. Here’s why.
Why does storytelling matter?
Storytelling is universal
Since the dawn of language, storytelling has been one of our most primal forms of communication. Stories connect us to centuries of ancient traditions, legends, myths, archetypes and symbols. They transcend age, culture, race, geography and time.
Stories are how we make meaning
We naturally use metaphors, narratives and plot structures throughout our daily life to make decisions, persuade others, build relationships, teach our children, create our identities and more.
Stories are memorable
Jerome Bruner, a pioneer in the field of cognitive psychology, found that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more effective at being memorable than those delivered just as facts.1
Storytelling builds emotional connections
Stories capture the most profound elements of the human experience. We tell stories to cope with heartbreak, to revel in romance, to dignify our tragedies and to uplift the downtrodden. As we share our experiences, we are building a connection with our audience. How? Because in the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences.2 So as your reader listens to your story, they experience the same exact emotions you felt in the moment.
Why does storytelling matter in branding?
You may wonder what emotions have to do with you and your customers. The answer is pretty much everything. Here’s why.
All brand decisions are emotional decisions
Neuro-imagery shows that customers use their emotional brain rather than their logical brain to evaluate brands. In fact, people are incapable of making even small decisions without the emotional brain.3
Emotion connections drive purchases
Emotional responses to ads have a 3x greater influence on intent to buy than the content of the ad.4 This means that facts and features will never measure up to the emotional power of a story.
Emotional connections drive value
Over a lifetime, emotionally connected customers are 52% more valuable than even highly satisfied customers.
How do you tell your brand story?
If you want to use storytelling in your branding, it starts with telling your brand story. A brand story is a cohesive narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings that are created by your brand. Most often, it tells the origin story of the brand.
Here’s one of my favorite examples from a brand called Dave’s Killer Bread:
15 years in prison.
That’s a tough way to find yourself. Dave Dahl realized he was in the wrong game and knew he had more to offer. His brother, Glenn, saw a change in him and gave Dave a second chance by welcoming him back to the family bakery. Dave set out to make a loaf like no other–the most nutritious, organic whole grain bread–and the result is what he called “killer” bread.
Dave’s Killer Bread is built on the belief that everyone is capable of greatness. What began as one man’s journey has turned into so much more. Today, one third of the employees at our Oregon bakery have a criminal background and we have witnessed first-hand how stable employment sparks personal transformation.
That story is just two paragraphs. Eight sentences. And it captures their why, their “it factor”, their personality and voice.Pretty much all of the components of a brand strategy are included in the story in some way. And the end result is that you probably see them way differently than any other bread company out there. Which is why they put their story right on the package.
So how do you go about writing your brand story? Here’s how to get started:
Do some self-discovery
Most brand stories start with their “origin” story. It describes how you got your started and why you chose to get into your specific business. If you need some help keying in on the right message, here are some self-discovery questions to get you started:
- What problems or challenges do you solve? What do you help people do?
- Describe a time when you/your company is at its best.
- Five years from now, there is an article written about you. What is the headline? Where is it published? What is the story about?
- If you could put up a huge billboard telling people one thing, what would it be?
- How do you think you touch other people’s lives? What stories do you want your customers to tell about you?
Use a simple structure
While they say that all stories ever told fall into one of seven basic plots, when it comes to brand stories, the most common structure is:
PROBLEM: Here’s the difficult thing that happened or the unmet need.
SOLUTION: Here’s how we overcame it or found a solution.
SUCCESS: Here’s where we’re at today, including why we’re here and who we do it for.
Put it out there
It may take a few passes to get your story just right, but remember, done is better than perfect.
How do you use storytelling to build your brand?
Create a storytelling strategy
There are countless ways to incorporate storytelling into your brand strategy. While many use it as part of their content marketing, that is only the beginning. Storytelling can draw on any and all types of media, including written word, photography, graphics, video and of course, music. Potential applications include:
- Blogs and articles
- Social media posts
- Case studies
- Success stories
- Employee stories
- Client stories
- Influencer stories
- Meetings, presentations and pitches
- Networking events
Keep it authentic
The most powerful moments of connection often come when people, and brands, are at their most authentic and vulnerable. Don’t be afraid! Your customers want to see you for who you really are.
Whether your stories are coming straight from your brand and marketing team or from everyone in the company, it may help to have some messaging guidelines. The goal is not to make all stories uniform, but to ensure that a few common themes or qualities shine through.
Highlight real people
Not sure where to source your stories? They’re all around you! Your employees, your partners and your customers all have stories to tell. Help them uncover the ones that align with your brand messaging.
Use your imagination
Brands have been using fictional narratives for decades. In fact, most television commercials are just bite-sized stories. Brainstorm creative ways to tell your brand story, whether grounded in reality or as fantastic as a made up creature. Just make sure that your approach align with your audience.
Train your team
If you want to get your employees in on the action, give them the skills to do it well! Storytelling workshops or courses are a great value-add that can benefit your team in and outside of the office.
Tips for writing successful stories
Write your story to someone
I’d recommend using your customer persona! But if it helps, imagine you’re telling someone you know.
Think about how you want to make them feel!
Is your story funny? Inspiring? Touching? Shocking? If you know how you want to make your audience feel once they hear your story, it makes it easier to stay on track as you write it.
Say it out loud and record it
If you’re having trouble putting a pen to paper, it may help to tell your story aloud and then transcribe it. This is a great way to keep it natural. When I’m writing a brand story, I like to imagine it being read out loud as the voiceover for a 60 second commercial. I always try to write as if I’m speaking. I believe that helps it sound more natural and conversational for the end user.
Keep it short and sweet.
Just a couple of brief paragraphs is usually enough to capture the high points. You want to find the right balance by including a few interesting details without getting too nitty-gritty.
Now that you understand the power of storytelling, it’s time to put it to work. The more you open up and share your story, the deeper connections you’ll make with your audience.
1. Bruner, Jerome. Actual Minds, Possible Words. The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures , 1986.
2. “Something Universal Occurs in the Brain When It Processes Stories, Regardless of Language.” ScienceDaily, University of Southern California. , 5 Oct. 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171005141710.htm.
3. Murray, Peter Noel. “How Emotions Influence What We Buy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Feb. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-the-consumer-mind/201302/how-emotionsinfluence-what-we-buy.
4. Magids, Scott, et al. The New Science of Customer Emotions. Harvard Business Review, 27 June 2019, hbr.org/2015/11/the-new-science-of-customer-emotions.