Classic principles of story will keep your brand evolving, and converting. See how you can begin to use narrative structure to create a better brand experience.

Setting the Scene for Brand Story

Most great stories start with exposition to pique interest. It sets the scene and gives backstory while establishing tone, character, and point of view, and inviting the reader into a rich story world. 

A company's mission statement, usually stated in the "About Us" section of a company's website, serves the same purpose. It grounds the reader. It's your "Once upon a time." But it's never the first touch point. If someone ends up on your About Us page, chances are they've come across your brand at least twice -- at minimum -- through search, if not through word of mouth, in store, ads, etc.

One of the biggest storytelling opportunities in branding, in fact, is that your story is nonlinear. People dive in at different points. Each instance contains a part of the whole and is a chance to drive audiences further into the brand and reasons to believe.

Your mission statement might not be the first touch point, but it's the HQ of the story. The groundwork you lay there can echo out through mini audience interventions like your 100-160 character profile on social, the "back of the cereal box," your brand video, your shirt label, or any inventive way you can think of to tie your audience back to your unique personality and reason for being.

Getting Into the Action of Brand Story

Where exposition orients the audience, the inciting incident is where the real excitement begins. It's the conflict or crisis that occurs that sparks a journey of transformation for a protagonist. 

For a company or product, the inciting incident is the big, urgent problem you are solving. Ever since Simon Sinek's break out book, people have been calling this their "why," but it's more dynamic than that. It should be an active call to arms that hooks your audience over and over.

For example, it's all well and good that your loving family farm has been passed down through generations, but a story isn't a story without stakes. Your inciting incident is the problem you are solving, one you want to shout out loud and clear. Family farms are dying! Nutrient rich produce is dwindling! The corporate farm is closing in! There's a lot of content that can come out of an impassioned reason for existence. 

The conflict that ignites your brand story is the beginning of a hero's journey. It's urgent, it's dynamic, and it makes your content a story and not just a static, one-off explanation.

And this doesn't just hold true for cause related stories.

3 scenarios illustrating the difference between a dynamic and static go-to-market message:

  1. You're inventing a makeup app or makeup line. Your "why" is that you help people look better on video calls. An inciting incident, though, is that video meetings make people look fuzzy or sickly, and that makes meetings uninspiring and cold, especially one that was a turning point for you. Meanwhile, it's become clear WFH is not going away any time soon. People miss getting dressed for work. Here's a makeup line or an app that makes everyone look their best in video meetings no matter what platform they use. Now you have fodder for content about all kinds of intersections with people's lives, fears, hopes, and creativity that make this makeup more timely and relevant.
  2. Inflation is skyrocketing. The supply chain is not righting itself. We need a domestic manufacturing solution that competes. After yet another missed order that shuttered one of our city's most thriving businesses, we found a way to fix it.
  3. People are out of sorts and traumatized by so many global changes. Here's a mental health solution that makes sense for today's world, and that reason is continuously evolving in these big ways (e.g. alienation caused by WFH, distrust of systems, global uncertainty, etc.).

And so on.

Now we've been thrown into the action and it's rising. You have a reason to believe -- and a reason to believe this is necessary right now. As things evolve, you react and push the action forward just as the best characters do in great movies and books as the stakes increase.

Creating Heroes and Villains of Substance in Your Brand

Your characters can range from your line of products and services to the enemy pain points you are here to conquer.

If you've ever watched a movie with one-dimensional characters past the age of 6, you know it can be pretty dull. Even  Disney is making their villains more complex. (Think Bruno from Disney's Encanto, the one "we don't talk about." I found this article discussing his complexity.) Even if you want a clear enemy in branding, that enemy and its solution can be nuanced and textured to show thought leadership and real insight. 

It's the specificity that makes you stand apart.

The Brand Story Resolution Is a Continuous Story

Your "characters" are always interacting with a real world context and this is fodder for content strategy that takes into account seasonal events, launches, pivots, pitfalls, new legislation, partnerships, global events, and more.

All places you enter the story can lead you back to product benefits, useful information, or thought leadership. All of these pieces are part of a journey that you can bolster trust and sales.

How can you transform this into everything from language to in store experience to design?

Brands are a journey. They used to be about "the big idea" and now they are living breathing changing things. To get you started on a more dynamic brand content journey, start with curiosity and honest conversations with your team and build from there.

Some questions to ask as a brand or content leader to get started:

  • What is the setting where your brand story takes place? 

  • What is the atmosphere? What would the metaphorical land be like there? The people, the accents, the weather?

  • What point of view are you taking on the subject matter of your business?

  • How does your product intersect with cultural movements or social changes?

  • Who are the main characters (you'll be anthropomorphizing your products or services) interacting with the customer? What are their traits?

  • What are the conflicts you are facing? How do they keep coming up and how do you face them in the marketplace, in production, internally as a team, etc.?

There are a lot of ways to use classic principles of story to keep your brand evolving. These steps are the beginning of your journey toward a more impactful brand experience.