How storytelling drives brand growth

Telling and codifying stories can differentiate a similar-looking business and leader in the minds of people

Stories turned insignificant objects into significant ones and gave people a reason to pay more for them
Stories turned insignificant objects into significant ones and gave people a reason to pay more for them

By Harsh Pamnani

To drive brand growth, organisations spend millions of dollars in creating marketing collateral such as brochures, case studies, white papers, social media posts, videos, among others. Beyond marketing messages, people also receive emails and social media messages from their friends and office colleagues. Believe it or not, people are oversaturated with information. That’s why most of the content produced by organisations gets ignored by their target audience. You can imagine the wastage of money happening! But there is good news. People give attention to and remember one type of content.

Before we move ahead, let’s do a short experiment. You would have studied Pythagoras’ theorem, Archimedes’ principle, Newton’s laws of motion, and Darwin’s theory of evolution during childhood. And I am confident that you would have also listened to the story of hare and tortoise. Out of the 5 mentioned popular contents, which one can you recall from start to end immediately? My survey shows people remember the hare and tortoise story instantly. For others, they usually take some time to think and answer. The point I want to make here is that the human mind is tuned to listen and remember messages that are shared in the form of stories.

Interestingly, stories don’t get the kind of seriousness they should ideally get in the business world. Maybe because in the business world, people prefer to share hard facts and to-the-point information. Let me share a few advantages of storytelling in the business world :

Stories can inspire employees: Almost every organisation wants to align its employees with its purpose, vision, mission, and core values. However, many employees either don’t understand what these statements mean or interpret them differently based on their understanding level. One of the best ways to make these statements understandable is to continually share employees’ stories demonstrating traits related to these statements. As a case in point, The Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel chain, has a storytelling culture. Everyone in the company is encouraged to submit stories about employees going above and beyond to delight a guest. Selected ‘wow’ stories are shared in morning staff meetings. The key is, employees are recognised publicly for being the hero of these stories. These stories trigger a conversation among employees, help them realise how the company’s values apply to every-day reality, and inspire them to create their own ‘wow’ story. This leads to higher employee engagement, rising productivity, and increasing profits.

Stories create brand visibility: Visibility is an essential criterion of brand growth. Most often, a more visible brand is considered a leader in its respective category. Around the world, numerous brands sell sporting goods, but the most popular one is Nike. Whether people have used its products or not, most often they know the brand name. One of the reasons for Nike’s popularity is people like watching and sharing Nike Ads. These ads don’t focus on the product. Instead, they focus on the stories around athletes who push their limits and create their better version. For instance, the first “Just Do It” TV ad featured in 1988 showed a shirtless older man jogging across the USA’s Golden Gate Bridge. He says to the camera, “I run 17 miles every morning.” Then, a black screen appears with the white letters announcing, “Walt Stack. 80 years old.” Nike’s ads’ beauty is that their messages resonate with anyone who is up for a physical or mental challenge.

Stories can enhance products’ value: Stories can give an emotional frame of reference to an object and increase its perceived value. Around a decade back, two people Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, did an experiment called the Significant Objects project. They bought around 100 insignificant objects, such as unused boxes of birthday candles, plastic room keys, etc., for about $129. Then they asked creative writers to create short stories around these insignificant objects. To check whether the stories enhanced the value of the objects, they tried selling them on eBay. Despite posting the items with a caveat that the story attached was fictional, the objects’ total sale value came around $3,612. A 2,700 % increase in value! Proceeds went to the authors and non-profits. To sum up, stories turned insignificant objects into significant ones and gave people a reason to pay more for them.

Multiple stories can reinforce brand image: A group of stories provides more depth and impact than any single story. Founded in 1975, Blendtec was a small manufacturer of blenders in the USA. The company had great products but didn’t have a recognizable brand. Interestingly, things changed in 2006. Tom Dickson, the Blendtec founder, set up a shoot in which he would blend a bunch of things such as marbles, a can of Coke, Big Mac meal, iPod, etc. This idea became one of the most popular viral campaigns in history – Will It Blend? With Tom’s humor and outrageous experiment, each infomercial looks like a new story demonstrating Blendtec’s blenders’ power and versatility. Inspiringly, the Blendtec YouTube channel has millions of views, and of course, the brand has received a lot of free media coverage. Today, the brand is famous worldwide.

Stories can turn product launches into memorable experiences: Every year, millions of dollars are spent, and thousands of working hours are put by talented people to develop fascinating products. But only a few products become market leaders, while the rest just survive or die an unsung death. Perhaps, people don’t buy the best product. They buy the best-understood product. The product they believe will change their lives for the better. Steve Jobs did a great job in this direction by creating leading products in crowded categories. If you carefully watch videos of product launches by Steve Jobs, you will find that he used fundamental building blocks of a compelling story – tension and struggle, heroes and villains. That’s why his presentations had a mesmerizing experience.

Stories can create word of mouth about a brand: The biography of an entrepreneur, organisation, or brand often influences, motivates, or encourages people. People read biographies to learn from others’ adventures. Struggles, conflicts, setbacks, and comebacks in these biographies showcase aspirational role models as people with whom everyone can relate. Telling and codifying stories can also differentiate a similar-looking business and leader in the minds of people. Knowing that an organisation funded many social initiatives or its founder fought a tough health battle, or it was founded in a garage by a dropout makes the audience’s emotional connection much more resonant. Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs has been one of the most popular business leaders on this planet. Why is he so famous? Because people talk a lot about his journey. How do people know a lot about his journey? If you search, you will find that several books and articles have been written, and some movies have been made about him.

Storytelling is neither a buzzword nor a source of entertainment. According to renowned story expert Robert McKee “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” If your message wrapped in stories can create love, respect, and trust for your brand, growth is inevitable. But be mindful of the fact that your stories have to be authentic.

The writer is the author of the book ‘Booming Brands’. (Views expressed are personal and don’t necessarily represent any company’s opinions)

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