He told me he was moderating a brand storytelling panel, which he thinks is the most over-blown buzzword today.
He said, “Even my 65-year-old dad used “storytelling” in casual conversation last month when he wasn’t even drunk.”
Which made me laugh out loud.
(Granted, I’m easily amused.)
To be fair, the quote that made me laugh was, “No child will ever ask you to read them a press release at bedtime.”
You don’t say?
His point was the corporate story you tell has to be engaging. If a child doesn’t want to watch, listen to, or read your story, neither will your customer.
It means you’re doing it wrong.
Five Parts to Brand Storytelling
I’m always amused that we all complain about how bad some of the messaging is from organizations, yet many of us get behind our computer screens and pump out crap no one wants to read.
We know it’s crap. We know no one wants to read it. And yet.
I get it. I do. You have bosses or clients who insist it be full of corporate speak and jargon. But it’s our jobs to change the thinking around this.
In Spin Sucks, I talk about how important it is to think about your brand storytelling like you would a novel.
There are five essential parts to brand storytelling.
They include: Passion, a protagonist, an antagonist, a revelation, and the transformation.
What is it your audience really cares about?
Mailchimp tells their customers stories in interesting ways.
They don’t have their customers talk about how they use MailChimp. They have them talk about their restaurant or their fashion design company or their business cartoons.
These aren’t customer quotes or testimonials; these are customer stories.
The passion lies in how your product is created, your office culture, the one thing your organization truly cares about that makes you unique and valuable to the world around you.
The protagonist is you, your company, your product, or your service.
This is typically where stories begin and end, but in the brand storytelling process, this is just the beginning.
To figure out who your protagonist is—the leader of the organization, a social media rockstar within your ranks, a spokesperson, a cartoon superhero of your logo—ask a handful of people in various roles to share five adjectives they’d use to describe the company and two aspects of the organization that are unique or valuable.
Ask people inside your organization and your customers to contribute. Look for themes or strong responses and combine them into a clearly defined description of your protagonist’s attributes.
Remember when U.K.-based Bodyform—the maker of women’s products—went on the defensive when someone posted on their Facebook wall that a woman’s period is nothing like a tampon ad?
They responded with a very funny video that made the CEO the protagonist in their story.
It was interesting, it had a great sense of humor, and it brought more awareness to their brand.
Heck, I’m fairly certain we shared the video in Gin and Topics a few years ago.
The antagonist is the villain and is often the most overlooked part of an organization’s story.
What is the enemy of your success?
Think about it as an issue or challenge you solve.
What keeps your customers awake at night? Is it a cultural issue? Is it an industry concern; perhaps you work in print distribution and the products you make are becoming extinct because everything is going online and you no longer have something to distribute?
Maybe it’s a real problem like the hassle of setting up payroll, or you have email overload.
Chicago-based 37 Signals, now known as Basecamp, discovered there was a problem for small-and medium-sized businesses in using customer relationship and project management software because what existed was far too expensive and was built only for very large companies.
They also knew the web should empower, not frustrate.
Their antagonist, then, became the big enterprise software solutions for both customer relationship and project management.
Part of what makes fiction so compelling are twists or turns you weren’t expecting.
We enjoy the surprise and delight, even if the revelation is sad, because we like to feel like we’re being let in on a secret.
Likewise, your organization’s story should share something unexpected with customers and prospects.
There is an interesting company called FoldIt that creates games as a way to solve real issues, such as new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients.
The company is billed as online gaming, but the big revelation is the games serve the purpose of finding a needle in a haystack—something scientists may miss by not being able to see the forest for the trees.
The final part to your story is the transformation, or the thing (or things) that is different about the way you do business.
Think about how your company has evolved. Think about the problem you solve and how it connects with both emotional and practical needs.
What is your value proposition? What can customers get only from you?
It might be intellectual property or a new way of doing things or a super duper cool new widget.
People want to know how you arrived there.
The argument many business leaders make at this point is, “Why would I want to give away our secret sauce? Then our competitors would do what we do.”
Here’s the thing: Your competitors may know the exact recipe to your secret sauce, but no one does it as well as you do.
It’s your secret sauce.
It was created with your people, your thinking, your culture, your passion, and your vision.
Tell the story from your point-of-view and no one can copy it.
Pulling it All Together
You also need to start with an idea, theme, or concept.
Going out and telling the company’s history isn’t going to fly. Choose one interesting tidbit and start there.
To Patrick’s point, “brand storytelling” is overhyped. Not because we shouldn’t be doing it, but because it’s rare to find an organization that does it well.
Choose your passion, protagonist, antagonist, revelation, and transformation.
If you do those five things, every child in the world is going to want you to read them your story at bedtime.