The Power of Storytelling for Your Brand
Nike started with a handshake between University of Oregon runner, Phil Knight, and his coach, Bill Bowerman, who believed they could do a better job designing shoes for runners. Two visionaries who vowed to take on the sports world and won. Or so the story goes… So much of what Nike and other major brands do to connect with customers is based on stories. And the research certainly backs up their significance. According to US marketing agency, Headstream, if people really love a brand story, more than half (55 percent) are more likely to buy the product in the future, 44 percent will share the story, and 15 percent will buy the product immediately.
The science behind stories
People have been using stories to pass on important information for centuries, through wall carvings, cave paintings, and later legends and folklore. So, what makes them so powerful? Neurologically speaking our brains thrive on stories. When we’re immersed in watching, listening or reading a good story, neural activity increases significantly as we’re swept away on a journey of narrative transportation. The experience makes us forget the real world and alters how we process information. The neuroscientist Paul Zak discovered that when we reach a point of tension in a narrative, the brain releases cortisol, mirroring the characters’ emotions. When the tension is resolved, our bodies release the ‘love’ chemical oxytocin.
Whereas people quickly forget facts, stories remain because they elicit an emotional response, painting a picture in people’s minds. A team from the London School of Business found that people retain only 5 - 10 percent of information if it consists of statistics alone. But, when they hear a story, they remember 65 – 70 percent. Therefore, it makes sense that we can harness the massive potential of storytelling in business to influence perceptions, bring a brand to life, and create a long-lasting impact – all of which helps to build loyalty and increase conversion.
Building believable brands
Marketing storytelling means using narratives to communicate a message and evoke feelings amongst your audience. One of the most important elements is your brand story. You might know what makes your business special, but other people don’t unless you tell them. That doesn’t mean taking them through a list of product features. It means developing a captivating story about your motivations as a founder, what problems you’re helping people to solve, and how what you offer makes lives better. Be authentic and let your personality shine through. Your customers should see what drives you and why you were inspired to do what you do. Also, don’t be afraid to share any obstacles in your path, hurdles you overcame, and improvements you made.
As you develop your communications strategy, the brand story will also inform your key messages i.e., why customers should choose you. These can then be used as the basis of other stories told through advertising, PR, social media, and sales pitches. In 2013, Airbnb came up with its new mantra “belong anywhere”. Since then, this primary message has remained at the heart of their communication across platforms, cementing their position as a community-focused brand.
When consumers develop an insight into your brand identity, it builds trust, which is invaluable during good times and bad. All companies have difficult periods, due to market conditions or even an issue with the product or service. You can’t always control how you’re perceived, but if you have established a strong enough relationship whereby consumers understand what you stand for, they’re more likely to stand by you.
Storytelling in public speaking
While there are plenty of effective ways to share your stories through written, audio, and video content, one of the biggest things most entrepreneurs (and up to 75 percent of the general population) need help with is speaking in front of an audience. Whether that audience is potential customers, investors, staff or industry colleagues, using the principles of storytelling in public speaking will let you engage them in your vision on a whole new level.
Telling a story creates a movie in your audience’s mind and you should think of yourself as the main actor, doing everything you can to keep them enthralled. For example:
Remember we saw how stories have the power to create a mirror reaction among the audience? If you are excited and enthusiastic, they will feel that excitement. They will cry if you cry, and if you express triumph they will share in the celebration.
The best stories are about you. Put yourself at the centre, rather than reporting as a bystander. When you talk about your life, others know they’re not alone. They can also see that anything is possible.
Let the story flow like a river. Use present tense to let listeners live the story with you now. Also add plenty of descriptive details about what you saw, heard, and felt.
When you spark curiosity, you have the audience hooked. One way is to highlight a gap in their knowledge so they need to find out the answer. Another is to turn a common belief on its head and justify your claim. Or share a plan that didn’t work; in that case, what did?
This is not about narrating the facts or giving a chronological look at how you got to where you are today. The point of a good story is to describe that transformation moment (otherwise known as “the five-second moment”), how it changed you, and the subsequent realisation that shaped your future.
The opportunities to enhance your brand through storytelling are endless. That said, it takes practice and much depends on trial and error as you establish what works for your target audience. Once you get it right, the art of storytelling is an excellent way to stand out from the competition for long-term success.
About the author
Saeed Alblooshi is a banker, business owner, entrepreneur, investor, innovator, public speaking coach and podcaster. Saeed Alblooshi has worn many professional hats across his impressive career. Having dealt with over 70 major companies to restructure their debt internally and internationally, Saaed is now focused on his role as a public speaking and personal performance coach for business leaders and entrepreneurs.