Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to attend a course in Brand Storytelling with Andy Green and the PRCA. Andy is a leading international expert in brand story and creativity, founder of storytelling training consultancy Story Stars Here and author of 7 books on brand communications which have been translated into 8 languages.
The course explored how brand storytelling can be used to make communication more distinctive, compelling and authentic. It provided practical, useful and illuminating tips on how to identify a brand’s story and bring it to life, and ultimately underlined how important it is for us as PR professionals to create compelling brand stories which help clients and companies stay ahead of the competition.
Emotion and narrative vs information in isolation
Attracting, maintaining and persuading an audience depends on tapping into emotion. The reason for this is simply that audiences are made up of people, and we are all pre-programmed to make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. Once a decision is made, our brain then simply searches for rational reasons to justify it.
With this in mind, brands must identify and communicate their emotional and human story, rather than information, statistics and products in isolation. This must be communicated via a ‘narrative’, which should run like a golden thread through everything and is the bridge between a brand and the wider world.
As Andy Green said during the course: ‘The best brands capture some aspect of your humanity and reflect it back to you – it creates an emotional bridge.’
The Search for a Story
You may be reading this thinking ‘this all sounds brilliant, but it won’t work for the brand I have in mind’. Something I have always believed and which was only reinforced during the course however, was that all brands really do have a story to tell - we simply need to eek it out. This is how the rest of the team at Ceres work too – getting under the skin of a brand’s story and narrative is central to everything we do, as well as simply being one of our favourite activities!
Throughout the course Andy shared a number of techniques and ideas on ways to identify a brand’s story. All were illuminating and I have shared three below.
We typically think of a story being told from the teller to listener, but why not turn this round? Brands do not exist in isolation and as Andy reminded us; ‘a brand is the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities and gossip that exists in a marketplace about a certain place, group, company , product, service, idea or even a person.’ Listening to what existing or potential customers are already saying can be incredibly useful and leveraging what audiences already know, can be an incredibly useful route to engagement.
- Again, when we think of a ‘narrative’ we generally focus on the past, present and then the future, typically running out of steam when we reach the latter. By focusing on the beginning, future and then present however, we are forced to visualise the future and work it into the story of now, which in turn becomes more active and alive.
- Andy reiterated that a brand is made up of three primary elements; icons, values and information but highlighted how up until now PR has tended to prioritise the latter.
- Icons trigger a picture in your head and are full of associations and implications. To identify icons associated with words, and brands, Andy suggested saying them out loud and thinking of the first thing to come into your head. For London for example, this could be Big Ben, a cup of tea, or even an umbrella. When identifying values, Andy suggested asking different people in the same organisation to share their top in five in order of importance. This can provide an illuminating insight into how opinions differ within organisations and an interesting starting point for discussion.
Telling the Tale
These ‘big story’ ideas, based on emotions and with authentic and strong narratives, are not only able to attract and maintain audiences, but have the capacity to work across all communication channels - from e-mail footers to phone calls, and from straplines to social media. Once it is identified it is therefore important to work it into all communication outlets – not only to ensure consistency, but to make everything work as hard as it can in telling the brand’s story and attracting interest and engagement.
The course really confirmed for me how much more effective and exciting communication can be once a brand story is invoked. Although I am sure the definition of brand storytelling and people's takes on it will change over time - as they already are and is inevitable - I think the fundamentals will always stay the same – stories attract people, and people are driven to make decisions based on their emotions.