Why brands need good stories in and out of recovery
Editorial

Why brands need good stories in and out of recovery

As brands worldwide adjust to new trading conditions, they have to be careful to communicate their messaging in a unique and intriguing way. To do that, they’ll need to consider their brand story, argues CIM course director Anthony Tasgal.

Did you know that three, in storytelling, is indeed the magic number? Psychologists, grammarians, musicians, and comedians all bear witness to the importance of the number 3; think about tv programmes such as ‘Location, Location, Location’, stories such as ‘Three blind mice’, movies such as ‘The Good, the Bad and The Ugly’ or music (the number of times you are a lady).

It’s an age-old storytelling technique that appeals to us on a base level, and marketers should take note. Storytelling can help brands stand out now, not just in times of crisis, but also as we embrace recovery and in the future, as we aim for stability and growth. And I will tell you why, suitably, in three chapters (with a prologue).

Prologue: Why brands endure

There is copious and consistent evidence on the importance of brands supporting themselves when economic times are dark and unpredictable. The IPA databank has multiple case studies, for example, detailing the need to keep advertising even- especially- when times are tough in order to consolidate the brand’s reputation, authority, and trust.

Time and time again, it goes back to this 'trust issue; despite cynicism, we inherently trust big brands. This is shown with Edelman’s 2021 trust barometer revealing that trust in brands during the crisis has risen yet again. To top it off, a recent report by market research agency Ipsos-Mori, “Brand Growth in Times of Crisis” (April 2020) argued that “building emotional closeness and identifying with the personal goals of consumers will play an even more prominent role in impacting brand choice”.

The same need goes for internal communications, and presentations, if we want to become effective persuaders. Whilst it’s tempting to cut costs, it’s finding an effective story that translates; that’s what the good brands do well, and what great marketers strive for.

But why is storytelling vital to brands, especially now?

Chapter 1: Because brands gain trust and embody meaning

Brands work in many ways. They act as mental short-cuts and trust editors, and this human need for trust -along with consistency and reliability- is something that we see in times of economic and social change. In uncertain times, we have a need for stability and will turn to what we know best: brands that have been with us, helped and supported us through the pandemic will benefit as we emerge from our shells.

But I also like to think of a brand as ‘a tribe of shared meaning”: brands thrive when they are based on something meaningful in our lives, and they create and sustain a bond amongst a community (or tribe).

This should also be seen as an antidote to the (hopefully outdated) concept that the brand is just synonymous with the product, rationally expressed via a barrage of messages and facts.

Chapter 2: …and brands thrive on stories

One of the most prominent ways brands can create attachment is by building themselves around a story. This brings inherent meaning, in that a story is designed to trigger universal human emotions (something beyond the power of mere facts), and, at its best, should be involving, captivating, and embracing.

Whether it’s the history (“creation myth”) of the brand or company or finding the deep personality and character of your brand, this is the best guarantee of creating a meaningful brand built on a story. I can testify to this having worked on the personality of the Royal Albert Hall in anticipation of its 150th birthday this year; not all brands have that rich history, but they should all have some element unique to them within their narrative.

Chapter 3: So, use storytelling to cut through “attention spam”

Whether we are brand seeking to capture hearts or minds to navigate the recovery, or a team seeking to tell the brand story through internal or external comms, we have a single overriding goal: to capture attention.

Our brain is an energy-efficient, ignoring mechanism: it doesn’t have the capacity to keep everything in our conscious system, so it keeps a lot in our unconscious system in order to save time and energy. This means you will do things almost automatically. If you used to take a commute, or still do, how much do you remember of your daily journey? I’d argue rarely all that much because it became an automatic impulse, which is a relatable example of how that process works.

We are living in what I call the DRIP world (data rich, insight poor) and our brains are bombarded and saturated with information. Combined with this, we have an expectation that everything we say in our comms is processed thoroughly by our audience; this doesn’t happen in reality. I think of this as “attention spam”, where the majority of what we are trying to convey gets filtered and abandoned as mental detritus.  If your message doesn’t stand out, it will get ignored.

So, how do we, as marketers, infiltrate attention spam?

The answer is -spoiler alert- by storytelling. Storytelling is our universal software for simplifying information and amplifying emotion, for sharing socially useful information with other people, and for creating empathy. Storytelling is universal- there is yet to be discovered a culture, religion or tribe that prefers spreadsheets to stories, as useful as they are sometimes.

Finally, we all depend on stories: think of your sense of self, your identity- what is it if not the sum of all the stories you tell about yourself (and that others tell about you). Which, incidentally, is not a bad definition of a brand itself.

So, if you want a strong personal or business brand, one that can endure social and economic buffeting and demonstrate resilience, build meaning and embody that meaning in a story. That is not just my advice for the recovery, it’s my advice full stop.

 

Tas runs a number of courses for CIM focusing on how storytelling can embolden marketers. These include courses in Brand Storytelling and Behavioural Economics. Places are available for upcoming sessions.

Members can hear his in depth thoughts on the importance of telling a good brand story in our exclusive webinar on the critical role of storytelling in brand recovery.

 

Anthony Tasgal Course director CIM
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