How to avoid brand storytelling myths

Brand storytelling is one of our industry’s most misunderstood concepts. Here’s three of the biggest pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Brand storytelling is one of our industry’s most misunderstood concepts. Here’s three of the biggest pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The art of telling stories dates back to the dawn of humanity. How else to explain the potential danger of the sabre-tooth tiger to your children? We’ve seen storytelling develop from cave paintings to Homer’s Odyssey to The Simpsons.

While great storytelling has always been central to brand development, it’s only in recent years that the concept of “brand storytelling” has become one of our industry’s most talked about, and misunderstood, concepts.

Today, we see it in many ways every day, adorning agency websites, corporate presentations and media articles. Despite this, it’s hard to argue there has been any improvement in the quality of stories brands are telling.

We live in an age of ‘content overload’ where 88% of B2B marketers are engaged with content marketing.  Without compelling, engaging stories you won’t get heard above the noise. No matter how much paid budget you throw into the mix.

Creating great stories isn’t easy. It takes time, endeavour and creativity. But a great start is to avoid some of the most common traps brands fall into when crafting their stories. Here are three of the storytelling myths that we encounter most often.

Myth #1: Always be the hero of your story

The most common brand storytelling myth in our industry is that you – the brand – should always be the hero of your own story. This is like being the guy at the party who only ever wants to talk about himself. Brands that insist on being at the centre of every story do not create interesting content; they don’t inspire or engage their audiences.

Instead, the hero of your story is the person, or the people, that you are enabling to take on the world. Take Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey framework as an example – brands should play the role of the ‘mentor’. That way they meet the hero near the start of the journey, showing them what’s possible and setting them on their way.

With your help, your hero is enabled to go on a journey, overcome challenges, and return wiser with a great story to tell.

Apple didn’t change the personal computing industry by talking about itself. It built up convincing stories about its users, and the kind of people they are. It focused on showing how real people use Apple products to do creative things, and challenge perceived norms. These relatable, human stories did far more to shape perception about Apple’s brand than any of its hardware.

Myth #2: B2B brand storytelling can’t be emotional

Another common misconception is that emotional, personal stories are purely the preserve of B2C campaigns. By tapping into emotions, you create memorable stories and sway how prospects and customers feel and act.

Yet B2B marketers often forget that they are trying to reach and engage with real people, with hopes, dreams and regrets. Thinking about your audience as just ‘IT managers’ or ‘heads of marketing’ can result in the creation of stories that are too vanilla.

People connect with other people. Thinking about your audience as real people – Eunice, Mike and Jaime – rather than generic personas will help you craft more human, engaging and impactful stories. This isn’t a new concept. IBM has been adding emotion to its B2B brand storytelling for more than 25 years.

Myth #3: Follow a standard formula

While there are certain structural templates around storytelling, avoid being formulaic. The most memorable stories are those which surprise and delight you (“Luke, I am your father….”). Twists and new perspectives provide great ways to stand out from the crowd and capture attention.

Some of the best brand storytelling examples are those which don’t necessarily follow standard chronologies. Bank of America’s “Portraits” campaign created emotional impact by starting at the end – an elderly couple taking a portrait together – before looking back at all the scenes in their lives that preceded it.

One of Pixar’s “Rules on Storytelling” is focused on the importance of this kind of creativity:

Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

You might not create the next Toy Story. But by adding surprise, emotion and a human element to your brand stories you will certainly be able to create a bigger impact. And today, that’s worth a lot.

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