Every brand has a story – but the ones who are strategic about how they share their story will do a better job of connecting with their audience.
So, let’s unpack the theory behind why stories work, how to incorporate narrative into brand experiences, and how to maximise audience connection through stories.
Once upon a time…
Stories are based on memories – think of them as being the format memories are stored and retrieved in. Because memories and storytelling are closely linked, make sure you read our previous blog, memorable brand experiences that build momentum.
Stories are how humans have communicated from the very beginning. Each person has stories that they’ve been told and accepted (both consciously and unconsciously) and these stories inform their beliefs. Stories are powerful.
The power of a good story
There are so many powerful ways to use stories with brands:
- Get personal – build a stronger connection and relationship
- Inspire and inform – help people embrace a change or even change their own behaviour
- Keep people receptive – the alternative to storytelling is lecturing people, which has been found to trigger argumentative forms of thinking
- Make information easier to understand – stories can simplify big ideas because of the emotions they invoke
- Increase participation – stories draw people in so that they can’t help but participate
Stories are more engaging and memorable than other types of communication. Sharing a story is a lot like creating a shared moment together. Which brings us to a plot twist…
Storytelling meets brand experience
When brands combine storytelling and brand experience things can get really interesting, because they start to involve their audience in their narrative. It’s where story meets experience…
And while we love storytelling, storydoing is much more powerful. This concept is a strong emerging trend that you can expect to see a lot more of in the next few years. Storydoing invites the audience to participate in telling the brand story, takes them behind the scenes, and encourages openness and transparency. It embraces two-way conversations and allows the brand to continually evolve.
Because telling your brand story is one thing, but you’re not the only storyteller in the room – your customers and your audience are storytellers too. If you let them, they can play a part in shaping your brand’s story as much as anyone else.
Build your narrative with your audience
As we move into an increasingly interactive world, customer participation in brand narratives is becoming more common. Here are four ways we’re seeing this happen:
1. Product creation
Some businesses are forming their entire product line and the brand from customer participation. They’re literally writing their brand narrative before their customers’ eyes, and in some cases, letting them write a page or two.
Thanks to new technologies, brands can include customers as active participants throughout the marketing process, and even get their input on pricing, promoting and distributing products.
Increased participation means more audience members are open to sharing their data with brands to personalise and influence their brand experience.
4. Community building
When communities contribute information and feedback they can take on a life of their own. They:
- Shape products and services
- Become a source of information and entertainment
- Offer a means to gather insight on customer preferences
- Create a forum to generate ideas for the brand
Communities build loyalty, collaboration, and trust, along with feelings of connection and shared interests between members.
Share a Coke with Aesthetic
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign that started in Australia in 2011 fit perfectly with their objectives for brand narrative, with their product as a “character in the story with a credible role to play.”
Most people who experienced “Share a Coke” won’t forget it any time soon. The campaign encouraged consumers to become a part of the Coke story, and share the experience with a friend. Many consumers purchased extra Cokes for friends if they spotted their name, and pictures of the bottles were widely shared on social media.
It was a highly successful example of personalising a marketing campaign and narrative on a global scale. It won awards, boosted sales, and rolled out to 80 other countries. And in 2018, Coca-Cola built on their campaign, introducing a live experience component with the “Share Chair”.
The Share Chair was a large couch that worked like a vending machine, dispensing personalised mini cans of Coke and Coke Zero Sugar through the arms – but only when two people sat together. The Share Chair travelled to summer events across the USA, including:
- The FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour in L.A.
- The BET Experience in L.A.
- Special Olympics USA Games
- The Major League Baseball All Star Game in Washington, D.C.
Coca-Cola got significant brand exposure thanks to plenty of well-known sports stars posing in the seat and sharing their experience. But not only that — with space for two on the chair, it reinforced Coca-Cola’s campaign brand narrative, that Coke is all about a shared experience.
Coming together for a cause
Google was giving away $5.5m to nonprofits in the Bay Area and they wanted the public to decide where the money would go. While people could vote online (it was Google, after all), they wanted to encourage the community to get involved offline, too. So, Google installed large, interactive posters in community areas (restaurants, food trucks, and bus shelters) where locals could cast a vote by touching a button on the poster.
In just 3.5 weeks the overall campaign got 400,000 votes. The top 10 organisations received between $250,000-$500,000 in donations.
Google was successful in becoming a part of the local community narrative. But more than that, the community was empowered by Google to participate and have a real impact on their own future stories. Google could have simply selected organisations to donate to, then relied on the press to share the story. But they didn’t. This approach meant that participants were more emotionally invested in the outcomes, creating a deeper connection with Google and their broader community through the campaign.
Plus, it was a powerful opportunity for a positive brand interaction that had very little direct benefits for Google (nothing to do with their products) to build longer-term connection and trust with locals.
Local really does matter
Grill’d have an ongoing charity donation system called Local Matters that operates with a similar system to Google’s. Every month, stores pick three local community groups to support, splitting a $500 donation between them. With 125 restaurants Australia-wide, this adds up to $62,500 donated every month.
Customers get a token with each burger purchase that they can use to vote for a cause. The group with the most tokens gets the largest donation.
This ongoing campaign means Grill’d customers get another layer to their brand experience when they buy a burger:
- They’re learning about community groups they may not have been exposed to
- They can feel good about their purchase
- They’re playing a role in helping their community support these groups
At the same time, Grill’d is pulling other brands into their narrative – influential local brands who do a lot of good in the community.
Invite your audience in and live happily ever after
Brand experience moves beyond brand storytelling to story making. Like the above examples, the best brand experiences will give your audience the sense of being behind-the-scenes, watching your brand story unfold. And while they’re there, hand them a pen and let them write their own line.
Storytelling and story making are our specialty at Aesthetic – we can help you develop a unique narrative and get participation to create deeper and more authentic connections between your customers and your brand.