How 5 Aspects of Storytelling Influence Your Brand

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.


Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Over time, the ways we tell stories may have changed, but the reason why we tell stories remains the same. We all want to hear and feel something meaningful and emotionally true.

The good news for brands is that we’re all hard-wired to respond to storytelling devices.

MRI studies show that the human brain literally lights up when confronted with information told in story form.

Most of us have seen reports and studies about the number of marketing messages we receive each day — some peg it between 4,000 and 10,000. If that range is accurate, then directly connecting with your audience is harder than ever. And if it’s harder to reach your audience, then using a technique that’s faster, more effective and more powerful seems like the easy choice. That’s where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling for Marketing

The technology to make an accessible video — a very compelling way to quickly tell emotional stories — has enabled brands to touch the heartstrings of their customers. Beyond video, however, is a host of marketing communications techniques that brands need to access so they can best resonate with their audiences.

When building a messaging framework to write the copy for a web page, landing page, mailer, email, etc., businesses have numerous options and resources. Just Google “Messaging Frameworks,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Marketing firms and agencies have done a good job sharing their approaches to garner more web traffic and authority, so the secret sauce of how to build a good framework is not-so-secret anymore. It’s just how your marketing team best fits its skills and talents into an approach that works for your business.

For a storytelling approach to messaging, there are tons of resources to help with this, ranging from Donald Miller’s business StoryBrand, to Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars,” to all of the on-line videos about how to tell a good marketing story. What I’ve outlined below isn’t new. But what I hope it does is challenge your team to better understand how to meaningfully engage with your audience.

The 5 Universal Aspects of a Story

  1. The Hero: From Gilgamesh, to Elizabeth Bennett, to Luke Skywalker, to Carol Danvers, the hero is to whom we attach ourselves. We follow heroes through their struggles, hopes, and their desires to somehow transform their lives. Your hero is your customer. What does s/he struggle with? What is s/he motivated by? What kind of transformation is your customer looking for?
  2. The Villain: The best villains represent something bigger than themselves. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the villains were shown as police, farmland holders …and most importantly, the system. It was The System that uprooted the Midwestern grasslands. The System planted nutrient-draining cotton, which depleted the soil, and helped cause the great Dust Bowl. The System ended up forcing the share-cropping farmers to migrate. The villain is what your customer/hero has to overcome. Is it high prices for poor service? Is it lack of confidence? Inconvenience? The gap between the increase of the cost of education vs. the increase in wages? This is your team’s hard work. You need to deeply dig into who or what the villain is.
  3. The Mentor: All stories have a guide or mentor, some kind of facilitator who steps in to help the hero. The guide helps lay out the path. The hero has to do the actual work. It’s the independent work of the hero that makes the journey worthwhile. As every parent knows, children learn and grow and gain confidence when they do it themselves. You and your business are the mentor. You help show the customer-hero how to overcome obstacles and get to a place they want to go.
  4. The Journey: This is how the hero actually transforms. In fiction, the journey could be physical, psychological, emotional or all of the above. It’s the path the hero takes that results in a transformed state of living … happier, healthier, stronger, wiser … all of the things we want to be. Every human wants to become more than they are. We have an innate desire to improve and grow. Your customer-journey is the plan, the path, that you lay out for them. You, as both mentor and business, show the customer what the journey looks like, and so facilitate his or her growth.
  5. The Transformation: This is the golden reward, the place the customer wants to go. Like I explained in “3 Types of Brand Stories,” this can be a functional, emotional or moral transformation. It is a clear and hopeful resolution, when confronting and besting the villain. As a business, you need to make the transformation extremely clear for the customer, so s/he can see how life will be better because of trusting you as a mentor and following your suggested path.

I recommend you Google “Storytelling for Marketing” and explore two or three pages deep into the rich set of helpful resources and firms that have outstanding advice. You become their hero, they become your mentor, and these resources help you best the villain of audience attrition on your journey to transform into a stronger storyteller and brand professional.

I hope this helps, and as always, I welcome your feedback.

storytelling secondary art

Author: Chris Foster

Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.

For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.

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