If you’re a marketer accustomed to promoting your company, products or services through a conventional emphasis on product attributes, you may be tempted to dismiss “brand story” as the latest marketing fad du jour. But you do so at your own peril.
Consumers–especially younger consumers weaned on social media–are becoming resistant to bald-faced advertising and marketing messages, and are instead responding to engaging content, with compelling digital assets such as photos or video, that tells a unique brand story.
Remember, facts and product attributes are not a brand story!
So, how does one go about telling a brand story? We believe that every marketing message your company delivers–from blog posts to white papers to social media feeds and video– should attempt to define and follow our Happily Ever After brand storytelling model.
The Magical Setting
It all starts with a Magical Setting, your company’s headquarters, location or even the setting where your product or service is used. Think Ben ‘n Jerry’s, Pixar or Google, whose headquarters have taken on an almost mythological stature. But, we don’t make ice cream in the rolling hills of Vermont or beloved animated characters in Emeryville, you say. Understood. The point is simply to identify a location associated with your business and “romance” it: depict employees and/or customers having a positive experience there.
Of course, when we produced a series of Grower Interviews for Herbalife, the rolling plains of the mid-Western corn and soy farmers we profiled became a magical setting for Herbalife. Naturally, the beautiful winery in Glen Ellen is the magical setting for Lasseter Family Winery, whose introductory video we created:
But likewise, when we did a series of profiles on visual effects artists for O’Reilly Media, we “romanced” the effects houses and portrayed them as magical settings where super smart people were creating amazing visual effects for film and television.
For mobile event app maker Bloodhound its magical settings are its clients’ event sites, like the Village at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, California, home of the Wanderlust Yoga Festival for whom Bloodhound created its mobile event app.
So, where is your magical setting? Remember, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, necessarily. The magical setting is simply “where the magic happens.”
Next come Characters: your company’s founders, employees, and even suppliers. Engaging brand stories are always crafted around the people who make a company great, and not the company itself. And remember, your characters must be active participants in their brand stories, taking decisive action at appropriate opportunities.
The characters featured in our series of articles on the visual effects industry for O’Reilly Media are the VFX professionals. Rather than simply profiling these characters, we told their stories, saw them actively engaging in problem-solving and overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals. When we produced internal communications including newsletters for Gelson’s Markets, a chain of upscale supermarkets in Southern California, store employees were the main characters and content depicted them solving problems and overcoming challenges to serve customers (or “damsels in distress,” more on that in a moment).
For client Riverwalk Jazz, the scripts we helped create were not simply facts about the songs (time signature, style, players), but stories about the songwriters, who became the characters. Parents became featured characters in a video we produced to promote giving to Sonoma Academy’s (an independent high school located in Northern California) Annual Fund.
One of the most inspiring brand stories featuring a company’s founders is the incredible origin of the Bacardi Rum Company (stories about a company’s founding are called “origin stories”). Way back in the 1860’s, when Cuba was in the grip of Colonial Spain, founder Facundo’s son, revolutionary firebrand, Emilio, helped the tiny island eventually achieve its independence by smuggling rifles in rum shipments and using company profits to fund rebel soldiers!
This astonishing true story is recounted in the acclaimed book “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by veteran NPR reporter, Tom Gjelten. Circle of Content founder Susan Boyer worked on an adaptation of the book for a proposed mini-series along with Emilio’s great, great, great granddaughter, Mari Aixalá Dawson. “This is such an incredible brand story,” says Susan, “but understandably, the modern-day company has been grappling with exactly how to tell this politically-charged tale.” Wisely, they have decided to let the narrative project develop independently and will more directly connect the brand story when the narrative project nears completion.
Who are you company’s characters? Do you have a charismatic founder with an interesting “origin story”? Or, are your characters your employees, sales reps, distributors or even customers?
Damsels in Distress, Dragons & Heroes
Your customers, meanwhile, are Damsels in Distress to whose rescue your Hero–your company or product–will come. More on the product-as-hero in a moment.
The problem or “pain point” your product solves is the Dragon your Hero will slay. (Or, the Dragon could be an obstacle your founder/employee/supplier overcome to help the Damsel in Distress and/or support the Hero.)
Event and conference organizers were the Damsels in Distress that Bloodhound’s mobile app (the Hero) helped rescue from the Dragon of a time-consuming, wasteful paper guide or expensive custom app (the standard mobile app available on the Bloodhound platform is free). Instead of merely listing the app’s product attributes (schedules and maps, speaker bios and social connect) we embedded these facts in a brand story video featuring customers successfully using the app:
For Lasseter Family Winery, you might think of the Dragon as the discomfort many folks feel in choosing the “right” wine. The Heroes are its wines, with which their customers (Damsels in Distress) feel comfortable because of their connection to the winery’s main Characters, Nancy and John Lasseter.
Not surprisingly, Nancy is among the best and most intuitive brand storytellers we’ve ever seen. Not content to brand the generic product attributes of their wines, as many wineries do–promoting their “Chardonnay” or “Pint Noir” grapes–Nancy and John developed evocative and proprietary names for their wines such as Enjoué, Chemin de Fer, L’Ame du Sage, Paysage and Amoureux. Each wine, in turn, features “the story in the bottle” on the label.
For instance, the story behind Amoureux, which means “lovers” in French, is all about Nancy and John’s honeymoon in Sonoma, where they fell in love with the Malbec grape with which Amoureux is blended. We extended this brand “story in the bottle” into a blog post about Nancy and John’s crazy wedding day and near-mishap with Nancy’s wedding dress, into which we also incorporated a promotion for the wine.
Interestingly, Damsels, Dragons and Heroes get inverted when communication is internal and employee-directed. For the many internal communications we produced for clients such as In-N-Out Burger and Gelson’s Markets, the employees became the Heroes who came to the rescue of the company through exemplary performance of some sort. The Dragons were often business objectives such as satisfying customers. Both employee newsletters produced for In-N-Out Burger and Gelson’s Markets–two companies known for their world-class service–heralded the performance of their Heroes.
When we worked on the launch of an independent feature called “The Adventures of Power” for Phase 4 Films (including input on the re-designed web site, DVD launch campaign, social media and “Power Saves the Music” launch event), the Dragon tied in with the film’s theme: the void that comes from a life without music. We helped create an event that supported this theme and helped slay the Dragon: a combination DVD launch party/fundraiser for VH1’s Save the Music Foundation, during which rock memorabilia was auctioned off to save music programs in local schools.
The Power Saves the Music auction was the Hero that slayed the Dragon of life without music; school children whose music programs would have been cut were the Damsels in Distress. The children in this video definitely live “Happily Ever After” (we love this video, but can’t take credit for its production):
Of course, not every piece of content you generate will adhere to all of these principles. But, as you’ll see, the more you are able to incorporate, the better and more engaging your brand story will be. And always, always keep in mind: facts and product attributes do not tell a brand story!
Please contact us to learn more about how to tell your company’s unique and powerful brand story.