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Building a brand story requires careful consideration of the journey that a brand wants to take its audience on, as every company wants to provide them with an experience they won’t soon forget.

Here are seven of the most popular tale structures that are used by storytellers to generate various kinds of stories.

1. Monomyth: Also referred to as the Hero’s Journey, this story model is probably the most popular because we simply love heroes and their remarkable journeys. Many of our favorite childhood stories as well as religious accounts have been built around this structure. This story archetype introduces the character as someone who lives an ordinary life but then through some unforeseen circumstance or conflict, they undergo a deep personal transformation that brings a fresh perspective to them and those around them.

In brand storytelling, this structure is often used to showcase the customer as the hero as they share testimonials on how they were ‘transformed’ by the brand’s product or service. We are also seeing that brands are leveraging this approach internally to drive employee advocacy by turning employees into the heroes in their brand story and giving them an open platform to share the ‘transformation’ they’ve experienced while being part of the company.

At any rate, this model is very effective in inspiring audiences. Remember, you want to take your audience through an unforgettable journey, so taking the time to assess what the journey will look like is a critical part of building the brand story.

2. The Mountain: This story structure centers on building up the narrative conflict or tension to its high climactic point. Just as a mountain visually escalates in nature and then descends after reaching the summit, the plot in this story model exposes one challenge after the other, leading to a dramatic point and then to an equally sensational conclusion.

In the Mountain structure, the ending of the story is not necessarily a happy one. Many people confuse this structure with the basic story arc because visually they look relatively the same. But the story arc is a general guidance on how stories should be crafted end-to-end. The Mountain structure, on the other hand, is an actual plot design that strategically and deliberately takes the audience through an intense experience immediately after the story begins.

This structure can be used to capture and keep your audience’s attention in a very emotional way. Because it is intense in nature, it’s important to measure how the story might land with your audience in the testing phase and be extra analytical of the responses you get when landing it to ensure it is successful as a technique.

3. Nested Loops: In this brand storytelling technique, you build a number of narratives (loops) to finally arrive at the central story. This technique is practical for large corporations that have hybrid audiences because they can ‘layer up’ the brand narrative to eventually reach general audiences. At Microsoft, my team was able to use this model to accomplish the task of creating a technical story and matching it with one showcasing a personal angle in order to expand our audience base.

In this case, we knew that our core audience (IT professionals, business decision-makers, and developers) wanted their content to be specific and not ‘watered down’. They enjoyed reading technical white papers and case studies because this content delineated specific steps they were looking to employ within their own corporations. Clearly, we couldn’t reach a general consumer audience with a white paper or case study, and of course, we did not want to take content away from our main audience. So we set out to create other narratives (or loops) that pointed to that main content.

These other narratives were people-focused stories – stories about those engineers or team members who contributed to that specific task or project mentioned in the case study. But the narratives also served as stand-alone stories that highlighted a person or team and could be marketed all by themselves as feel-good stories. This proved to be a very successful tactic for us, directly contributing to a significant increase in content consumption year over year.

4. Sparklines: In this narrative, the audience is presented with a contrasting view of reality and a utopian world and taken through a journey of ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ to inspire the audience into action, often to help improve a specific situation. This structure is creative, dynamic and emotional in its essence and is often used to draw attention to social activism.

5. In medias res: From the Latin for ‘into the middle of things’. This narrative begins in the middle of the action, often the climax of the story, to invoke a shocked reaction from the audience, and then loops around to give context to the story. This technique is very successful in capturing your audience’s attention from the beginning, but you must be diligent in keeping their attention through the rest of the story by creatively bringing the beginning and conclusion together.

6. Converging Ideas: Just as the name indicates, converging ideas is an amalgamation of different angles of a story that together unearth the story’s main message. Similar to nested loops, converging ideas tell many stories (which may even seem disconnected if standing by themselves) that eventually come together cohesively. This technique is great for building stories from different areas or disciplines of a company.

Read Also: Understanding Experiential Marketing

As we can’t expect a finance lead to tell the same story as an operations analyst, both can build the brand story from their own angle, centered in the brand theme (mission) and showcasing the same universal truth. This allows for a bigger and more diverse audience reach while at the same time keeping the story inclusive. In the coming chapters, we will learn more about how to do this effectively with an integrated marketing plan…reimagined.

7. False Start: This story technique is primarily used to show a flexible approach to a story and keep the audience wondering what’s next. In this narrative, you begin by telling a story that can be easily foreshadowed (it’s predictable in nature), giving the audience a false sense of control, before abruptly starting over with another narrative. This surprise element forces the audience to ‘stay tuned’ and pay close attention to the rest of the story.

Petals: Similar to converging ideas, this structure brings together other stories, but differs in that the stories are all connected by a central narrative. In this technique, each individual ‘petal’ culminates in the main or center story. This technique is good for showing your audience how many interconnected stories can be told from one main narrative.

A meaningful story lands well because it considers the audience’s needs. While anyone can tell a story by introducing the basic elements of character, plot, and conclusion, building an effective brand story structure intentionally contemplates how the storytelling will be received by the audience.

Brand Storytelling On Social Media

At some point, brands will need to master the craft of storytelling if they hope to get the most out of social media. This is essential to a brand’s existence on a variety of channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you can effectively explain your narrative, you will attract more consumers to your brand.

Social storytelling can be described as taking information that is not that exciting and making it feel important, impassioned, and relevant. For example, we can take the idea of someone marketing a car that is pretty much the same kind of saloon car as the one that everyone else has driven for years. A company that sells this car may focus on a few features and benefits for a while before it becomes obvious that people aren’t really buying into that kind of behavior.

But if it tells a story behind how the car is made, makes it feel real, exciting, and somehow more compelling, there is much more meat on the bone. Brands that tell stories and excite audiences in this way see a huge return on their investment, as customers start to feel involved, and more likely to buy.

Stories have a narrative structure that our brain follows very easily. This narrative structure is something that we see every day. Think about how you talk to your colleagues at work, and how your anecdote becomes something that leads them to an ending. You telling a story is powerful because it has excitement and tension built in (even if you are just talking about last night’s TV). The human brain loves it and waits to the end if it is done well enough.

Take any powerful brand today that is using storytelling and you will see that the ideas and concepts it conveys in its storytelling marketing make the audience feel something. They feel an emotion, and anyone who has spent even ten minutes on a course about advertising will know that emotions sell, pure and simple.

The more emotional we feel about a product, the less likely we are going to feel cynical. And cynicism needs to be stripped away before we are ready to buy.

Here are some examples:

  • Dove and the Men thing

Dove sells soap, that stuff we use every day, and that arguably has absolutely no story behind it whatsoever. Seriously. Soap?

But Dove doesn’t care about what other people think. A couple of years ago, the company decided to include men in its frankly quite awesome storytelling approach to marketing. For years now Dove has focused on real people and their stories, specifically women who are ‘real’, as in not supermodels. This focus has meant that women have identified with, liked, and followed the company all over the Web.

They feel cared for by Dove and recognized as being worthy of feeling beautiful. This has all been done by telling stories about beauty, whether it’s the beauty of a mother and daughter relationship or the beauty of a face and body that is generally viewed as being ‘average’.

All of this has been freed up by a focus on real people. This campaign went even further and told a real, compelling story about a father simply wishing to see his child. It works because we have a story here, a video that tells us about something that stirs up emotions (remember what we said about emotions earlier). And it links those emotions to the healing, reuniting power of soap.

To understand this, understand that Dove sells soap that it feels takes care of the people who use it. It is a simple soap that helps you look after your skin. Link that idea to a dad coming home from service to see his child, and you have a compelling story.

If you’re a brand and you engineer happiness with your product, show how you do this. Tap into the emotions you create, and then use that insight in your content. Dove has done it well, and they’ve kept it very simple at the same time.

  • Always and #LikeAGirl

Always has a way of sending its message across loud and clear. And with #LikeAGirl they decided to do just that, while also empowering young girls around the world.

Done in 2014, Always started a hashtag campaign #LikeAGirl promoting the fact that women and girls should not be influenced by society’s expectations. Started with a video on YouTube, the campaign told the story of young girls who were breaking the mold of what is “girl” -ish and what is not. The video initially starts with people who are expressing the common expectations of what is to “throw like a girl,” “run like a girl,” and so on. Then the video goes in to show what real young girls think of these phrases and that “like a girl” shouldn’t be a phrase used to symbolize weakness, but instead strength.

The campaign was highly successful and while it is difficult to see this ad for the empowering message it is through the lens of our 2018 politically segregated and divided society, it definitely shows that our core we should all be #LikeAGirl – treating everyone equally and doing our best to succeed.

  • TOMS Shoes: a story that resonates with everyone

TOMS shoes make shoes. Now, we aren’t struggling with this as much as we would have done (initially) with soap. Shoes can tell a story because they are part of a journey every single day. So there’s mileage there.

In April 2011 the founder of the company asked everyone to go barefoot for a day. This mushroomed into the One Day Without Shoes campaign which is now an annual event and has made TOMS shoes a bit of an icon. But the whole thing is done through the kind of storytelling that simply means something to everyone. You can’t fail to be touched by the central idea behind the story: children in poorer countries need shoes to stay alive.

Basically, shoes were given out, lots of them. Every time a customer purchased a pair, TOMS donated a pair to a needy child. This had a tremendous impact and set up the kind of storytelling that other brands would kill to have. But the good heart behind the idea really helped to make sure that the central message stayed clear.

And then TOMS took it even further and changed things up a little. This year, every photo of bare feet that was tagged by anyone as part of the newest campaign, meant that a free pair of shoes was given to a child who needed them. There was no purchase required, just the tagging of bare feet on Instagram photos.

This works on so many levels but the basic idea of trying to help those less fortunate than yourself is a powerful and compelling thing. It’s a story. Emotions are stirred because people don’t like to see others in dire need. With this campaign, the emotions were all about caring, a mixture of sadness and hope. People wanted to get involved and were happy to know that when they chose to buy the shoes this showed they cared. TOMS pulled it up a step when they made it ‘no purchase necessary’ for two weeks.

The result? A brand that has a story to tell, and a brand that tells it well.

For your brand, it’s important to have principles, an approach to your business that is also an approach to life. TOMS don’t want to sell shoes here, they want to help make lives better. How can you show your principles?

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