Stories are captivating. We're eager to read and watch stories as they unfold and aren't satisfied until we reach a conclusion.

Every storyteller has their favorite medium of choice when it comes to sharing their story. Some like to write their visions down; others prefer to paint; and some storytellers use visual media like movies to tell their story. It's not just the content that's important. How you package and sell the story makes a difference on how many people tune in to listen.

Companies use stories in their brand messaging to resonate and engage with their audience, and it resulted in an influx of branded content. But there's a difference between using stories to sell your products and using stories to connect on a deeper level with your consumers.

You can hire the best writers to craft the best stories but what good is it if no one is reading your content? The trick is in identifying how to get your consumer's attentions without explicitly asking them to buy your products or visit your websites. Consider this: by nurturing a positive relationship with a customer who can associate your brand with entertaining content, your business can benefit in the long run.

Branded content is ripe for innovation, and that's what GE did with their hit podcast, The Message. Instead of broadcasting reviews about their products and services, General Electric created a science-fiction eight-part series that has garnered over four million downloads since launching. We've seen brands sponsor blog posts and videos across the Internet, but this fictional podcast series is the first of its kind.

And The Message succeeded. Not only did it debut in the top 50 on iTunes, it also garnered over 300 million impressions and organically created an active subreddit thread run by fans of the podcast. GE took a chance on podcasts, a space predominantly championed by Serial-esque series, and found a way to engage with a slightly different audience.

Stories are how brands communicate their beliefs. Forget taglines and catchy sayings; it's about sharing your brand purpose and seeing who it resonates with. It's marketing but in reverse - you capture the audience with a compelling story first, and then they come to the realization that it was created or sponsored by a well-known brand. GE is known for producing creative and innovative content to bring attention to their services and they're setting a high bar for other brands to follow. If a brand, rather than a network, is capable of producing popular storylines and fictional content, virtually all modes of communication can be expressed via storytelling by big brands. GE is changing how brands can access new consumer markets without deviating from their core values and creating different associations with their company that don't involve their product line.

Incorporating fictional stories and alternative methods of messaging create a holistic branding plan that reaches people from all walks of life. There is no rule book in place that states only networks and entertainers can create fictional stories for consumption. "The impact and value of creating a great story, one that really resonates, is immeasurable. Audiences are looking well beyond what you sell. They want to know who you are and what you stand for," says Linda Boff, CMO at General Electric. "Sometimes that means being the main character in your own play and sometimes it means showing up subtly as to not distract the audience from the enjoyment of the narrative. That is the art of storytelling with branded content, and for GE, navigating that is where the real magic happens." It's time for brands to get onboard with storytelling.

The world of marketing and brand messaging has become super-congested. You really can't go anywhere nowadays without seeing a sponsored ad or a paid promotion - really, how do expect your brand to stand out from the crowd? Companies think about innovating their product and service lines all the time and now they need to consider applying those same processes to their brand messaging. Look to engage your core audience through a new medium, like how GE utilized podcasts. Create an engaging storyline that has nothing to do with your services, but still provides entertainment value to millions of people around the world. Get out there with your content and see what works and what doesn't. It's about innovating and changing a necessary component to every brand's growth, and investing in creative brand messaging today to impact tomorrow.

Published on: Apr 29, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.