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Happily ever after: How story makes brands more powerful

Stories are important. They help us to feel, and to make sense of the world. Recently, neuroscience has confirmed what writers and artists have known instinctively for eons… that when we connect emotionally to something, we’re more likely to remember it.

A great story stays with us for weeks – sometimes years. Many of us, on hearing just a few notes of a certain piece of music, can remember the terror we first felt watching a film about a man-eating shark closing in on Amity Island, or a TV show about a time-travelling Doctor.

Stories come in many forms, but they all derive from a few archetypal narratives. These narratives often revolve around a quest or voyage (think Finding Nemo, or Lord of the Rings), or the vanquishing of a monster (think Star Wars, or The Hunger Games).

When we share a great story, we take a shortcut to the parts of our brain that are hardwired to respond with emotion. For brands, this makes stories a powerful way to create loyalty and value.

A great story gives your brand meaning and prominence, and makes people consider it. Once you’ve got their attention, if you can then give people an amazing experience, so much the better. You’ll create fans.

To share an effective brand story, we have to forget about selling. We’re aiming to elicit a gasp, a chuckle, a shiver of recognition, a sense of fraternity. In short, we’re aiming for goosebumps.

To have power, stories need authenticity. A brand story should be intrinsically linked to the reason the brand exists; to its fundamental purpose. There’s a cool Ted talk on this idea by Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’.

Think of Apple, Nike, Innocent Drinks. Each brand has a clear, simple story that speaks of the values and beliefs of the organisation. This story forms the basis of every message, every piece of content, on every channel.

For Apple, it’s ‘think different’ – this is a brand that was on a mission to challenge the status quo from the outset, and encourages us to do the same.

For Nike, it’s ‘just do it’ – a simple story where we’re the hero, and the monster we’re beating is whatever’s stopping us going for a run.

For Innocent, it’s a quest to make sure that what tastes good, does good.

It doesn’t matter how complex the content, a brand story should shine through with clarity and consistency. This doesn’t mean speaking in the same way in your annual report as you do on your Twitter feed, of course. Content, and the way we deploy it, varies from channel to channel. But with a strong story, a brand will be recognisable, memorable and meaningful.

Written by Sarah Shepherd

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