What is Brand Storytelling?

Advertising is an omnipresent feature of modern, Western society, but what is entailed in the term brand storytelling? How do companies use this uniquely human penchant for narrative to entrench their message, their product, and their existence in the minds of consumers? Perhaps Jonathan Gottschall said it best when he noted, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

The Advertising Narrative

A company’s brand is comprised of several complex features. First, and most simply, their product is a part of their advertisement. Then, there’s the way that product and the company producing or selling it is showcased within the marketplace. Finally, perhaps the factor most difficult to shape and which plays an enormous role in the success of a product, there is the public perception of the brand and the product that brand represents.

This is where storytelling comes into the picture. A company promotes its brand with a message, a discrete package of images and an easy-to-recall message that sums up an entire network of core values. This story plays on factors such as emotional impact, social mores, and personal image in order to appeal to consumers.

Rather than simply listing the properties and virtues of a product, a company displays those features within the context of a narrative. Humans retain information more completely and for longer periods in this way, perhaps because our species has used this form to both educate and entertain as long as we’ve possessed language.

Building a Story

Every memorable story, whether it’s a Greek epic or an advertising campaign for a major company, has several important features. Because we were, for many millennia, solely verbal and visual creatures, without a formalized system of writing, the story must be vivid.

• Memorable language can take the place of physical images, especially if the advertisements are broadcast with sound. In advertising, the message is often simple, but powerful. Easy to remember, and worth remembering.
• Emotional value is key. Studies have shown that, when we’re emotionally engaged, we recall information more readily.
• Real experiences or exceptional verisimilitude must be used. If consumers cannot identify with or believe that an ad has real value to people like them, they’ll dismiss the product irrespective of it’s actual merit.
• The brand should be showcased with legitimate experiences of consumers, which ties into the point above. This is a Brand Truth.
• Make it broadly appealing. A product that is reserved for only a small group of consumers will not receive broad-scale attention.

Successful companies that incorporate these features into their advertising narratives often need to put out ads with less volume. They seem to be everywhere not because they actually are, but because their stories are effective, they are associative with aspects of consumers’ experience, and they tie into legitimate life. Therefor, a simple logo becomes the moniker for an entire narrative. Examples of this success are Apple, Dove, Nike, Google, Subaru, and Maytag. They employ emotive symbols and narratives that evoke life experiences—whether sentimental or humorous.

Advertising narratives are a part of our everyday existence. The successful companies pursue campaigns that emote, that draw from consumers a legitimate response—think of Dove’s campaign to elevate self image or Subaru’s environmental commitment. Brand storytelling is appealing to humans, not because it encourages consuming, but because it offers individuals a rationale for consumption and an emotional or intellectual validation for purchase.