What’s your story?

For the past few months, the Shelton Group creative team has been engaged in a dialogue about telling a great story, particularly in respect to branding. Just this week, I read an article about storytelling in the April issue of Psychology Today, one of my favorite magazines. Hollywood producer and CEO Peter Gruber (Gorillas in the Mist, The Kids Are All Right) addressed some of the movies that made it through the system during his tenure—and some that didn’t. And usually the ones that were torpedoed failed to impart a meaningful story that Gruber believed would make moviegoers shell out $10 a pop.

Gruber dives into the work of neuroscientist Michael Gazziniga, professor of psychology at the University of California. Storytelling, Gazziniga explains, isn’t just a creative device—it’s a brain device. We literally process information and create ourselves, the article states, through narrative. And sometimes, stories help us understand the aspects of life that we’ve never experienced. And that’s a golden concept for a company introducing a brand or product.

But don’t just sell your product—tell them where your bright idea came from, share a funny anecdote, or parallel your story with their daily lives. In doing so, you’ll become more to your consumers than just a big corporation—and suddenly, using your product feels like a no-brainer, a natural choice. Think Ben & Jerry’s or Burt’s Bees—brands as beloved for the unique characters and the stories of how their companies and products were created as for their respective Chunky Monkey Ice Cream or Beeswax Lip Balm.

So how can you build a memorable brand story?

  • First, make it emotional—but don’t overwhelm. In the framework of cinema, 99% of all movies follow a specific structure—one that engages emotion. For example, there is almost always an inciting incidence or challenge to the hero’s happiness, a conflict and several turning points during the course of the movie. All of this is done to emotionally engage viewers and make them care. While emotional messages have greater resonance, they also require greater effort for the audience to process. Which leads to …
  • Keep your message simple. In a world starved for time, your message has to be easy to “get.” Use similes and metaphors to break big concepts into bite-sized chunks and make them relatable.
  • Be credible. Try telling stories the way you would tell them in person—but with a defined voice and narrative point-of view.
  • Offer support along the way. Notice how there’s always a supporting character to help the hero through his challenges? Let that be one of your roles.
  • Deliver a plot twist. Surprise your audience and give them something they didn’t expect.
  • Bring your audience full circle. Give them closure by providing a beginning, middle and end.

Start engaging consumers by pulling them into your story. You’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished when you stop selling and start telling—and you might just end up with a blockbuster brand on your hands.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.