With many thanks to Alina Veselaya, MSc Brand Leadership Student, for contributing to the NBS Blog.
Once upon a time (actually, on the 29th of February), on the MSc Brand Leadership course, Nick Parker, writer, language strategist and simplifier of things, gave us a master class about storytelling, particularly in branding. As we’ve already learned by heart, branding is a combination of art and science, while storytelling is a well known and ancient art form with a scientific background behind it. Why do we tell stories and why do we want to listen to stories? What stories do we like? And finally, how can it be applied to branding?
In 1944 two psychologists Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel conducted an experiment to see how people interpret information and build a personal context around it. They created a simple animation – have a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9TWwG4SFWQ.
There is no audio – just two animated triangles, an animated circle and lines. But what is it about? After watching this video, people answer this question similarly: social situation, conflict, anxiety, domestic abuse, fight, escape, happy ending. Interestingly, for people with autism, lacking social interaction, it’s still just randomly moving shapes and lines.
Nick Parker says that we are storytelling animals. In the absence of information, we provide the context by creating stories about everything on a basis of our emotional attachments, judgements and given associations.
Whatever type of brand you are dealing with, storytelling is essential to successful branding. It is a way to create and strengthen a long-lasting emotional bond between a brand and a customer who can relate to brand’s values and identify with its behaviours.
Andrew Stanton, the filmmaker and writer behind “Toy Story” and “WALL-E”, says in his TED Talk: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone that you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story. And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment which is ‘Make me care’ – please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care”. I think he’s right – we love those stories that relate personally to ourselves, making us care.
One of such brand stories is Innocent Smoothies.
Stories that imply a human element create a link between a brand and customer, thus making a brand more meaningful the more closely it is linked to the customer’s nature. By creating and nurturing this connection, brands engage people to respond emotionally, attempting to take a secured place in people’s minds and hearts.
What matters first when writing a story is not a recipe, but an ingredient list provided by Nick Parker: character, challenge, action and transformation. However, it might be difficult for a brand to embrace all of them. Therefore, it’s important initially to define which ingredient is the most powerful one to concentrate on in storytelling. For Innocent, it is transformation.
Second, brands don’t necessarily need a strict guideline in storytelling. They should still be coherent, convincing and true. If a brand gets a story right, and people find it interesting and authentic, the story does the job for the brand, instinctively transferring consistency and confidence to tone of voice, communicating style and the overall way of thinking.
Once again, Innocent Smoothies’ example is shown below:
Finally, we asked Nick: should a great story always be true? He said: “It has to have a ring of truth. We want great stories to be true and authentic”. If a story is something that emotionally connects people with brands, engaging them to interact and establish a relationship, bearing in mind that every relationship is built on trust, once it is undermined, relationship is very difficult to recover.
Stories cross the barriers of time and geography, allowing us to experience the similarities between ourselves and others, real and imagined. Stories often deepen our understanding of who we are, while brands often show us who we want to be. Recognising and identifying ourselves with the brands we like and the stories they tell us, we also connect with each other, and that is what makes storytelling, especially from the branding perspective, so powerful.
Connect with Alina on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alina-veselaya-438887109