"We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others." —Frank Rose, Wired
Since the beginning of our existence as social creatures, humans have used storytelling to translate meaning into our lives. Many anthropologists believe storytelling emerged as a means of survival and evolved to share values socially.
Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that people remember information when it is weaved into narratives “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”
In fact, storytelling is such a strong drive within us that we tend to create stories where none exist.
In a 1944 study conducted by Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel at Smith College, 34 college students were shown a short film in which two triangles and a circle moved across the screen and a rectangle remained stationary on one side of the screen. When asked what they saw, 33 of the 34 students anthropomorphized the shapes and created a narrative: The circle was “worried,” the “little triangle” was an “innocent young thing,” the big triangle was “blinded by rage and frustration.” Only one student recorded that all he saw were geometric shapes on a screen.
Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives, a form of existential problem-solving. —The Atlantic
So it is a logical connection that the greatest brands harness the power of storytelling. Close your eyes and think about a brand that you really enjoy using.
Okay now open your eyes. Hopefully you are still reading. Why is that brand one of your favorites? I bet if you dig deep into the "why", it's because it tells a story that reflects something that is important to you. You want to be part of their narrative. Maybe you want to be a hero and triumph over your workouts in Nike shoes. Or maybe you like that Blue Apron makes you take time out of your hectic day to cook a meal, reflecting your chef-like skills while you get to partake in a sustainable lifestyle. No matter what brand you thought of, it's meaningful to you because you identify with the values of the narrative and it brings meaning to your life when you use that brand.
Looking at brand through the lens of storytelling can help give you a north star to guide you. Just knowing that each touchpoint is part of a larger narrative will help you weave a story your customers will want to be part of. But what are some tangible steps you can take to start telling a story with your brand?
One exercise I like to use when I am running a brand workshop is choosing a brand Archetype. In storytelling, there are 12 character Archetypes that every character can be distilled into.
The Creator - creative, imaginative, compelled to innovate or create, like to express their creativity, deep desire to exert aesthetic control & create something new
The Ruler - the leader, do not trust others to protect them, avoid chaos (their worst fear), want to be successful & important, but also want to protect their groups
The Hero - triumphs over challenges, energetic passion, courageous, skillful, agile, attracted to anything that will help them perform at their peak
The Outlaw - finds identity outside the current social structure, want to change the world to be a better place, okay with being feared, often young, the establishment is the enemy
The Sage - interested in growing knowledge to better the world, enjoy the process of research, delight in discovering any new wisdom, desire is to be an expert
The Innocent - interested in finding a life that can be simple, uncomplicated and good, believe that doing things right and by following their values, they can achieve a fulfilling life
The Magician - at the basis of innovation, an entrepreneur or a spiritual being, charismatic leader and a visionary
The Regular Guy/Gal - simply an ordinary person, just like the others, prefer simple facts, no fluff, desire is to quietly fit in
The Lover - constantly in search of the relationship that will be their “happily ever after”, highly concerned with relationships they are involved in
The Jester - just looking to lighten up the situation, plays for their own sake, completely secure with who they are, experimental and lively
The Caregiver - altruist, moved by compassion, generosity and a desire to help others, want to stay connected and care for others
Much more in-depth descriptions can be found in this book.
Once you've decided on which Archetype your brand best fits within, write down some of the major touchpoints your brand has with customers. It helps to put them on a whiteboard and a few others to help brainstorm. Now take post-its and write down ideas of ways to reflect your brand archetype during those touchpoints. It could be through the visual language, the tone of the copy you use, or even the medium you choose.
I'd love to hear from you: what ways have you told a brand narrative successfully? What didn't work well? Let me know in the comments below.