5 aspects of storytelling brands often miss

Do the stories you’re telling on behalf of your brand show your real passion? Do they have a protagonist and antagonist? They should.


This story was originally published on PR Daily in November 2014. When I read “The Bedtime Test of Content Marketing and PR” by Shift Communications Vice President Christopher Penn, I laughed out loud.

The quote that got me was, “No child will ever ask you to read them a press release at bedtime.”

His point was the corporate story you tell has to be engaging. If a child doesn’t want to watch, listen to, or read your story, neither will your customer.

We all complain about how bad some of the messaging is from organizations, yet many of us get behind our computer screens and pump out crap no one wants to read. We know it’s crap. We know no one wants to read it.

I get it. Bosses or clients insist it be full of corporate speak and jargon, but it’s our jobs to change the thinking around this. In my book “Spin Sucks,” I write about how important it is to think about your brand storytelling like you would a novel.

In that vein, here are five essential parts to brand storytelling.

1. Passion

What is it your audience really cares about?

Mailchimp’s PR team tells customers stories in interesting ways. The team doesn’t ask customers to talk about how they use MailChimp. They ask them to talk about their restaurants, their fashion design companies, or their business cartoons.

These aren’t customer quotes or testimonials. These are customer stories.

Your passion lies in how your product is created, your office culture, the one thing your organization truly cares about that makes valuable to the world around you.

2. The protagonist

The protagonist is you, your company, your product, or your service.

To figure out who your protagonist is (the leader of the organization, a social media rock star within your ranks, a spokesperson, the cartoon superhero in your logo), ask a handful of people in various roles to share five adjectives they’d use to describe the company and two aspects of the organization that are unique or valuable.

Ask people inside your organization and your customers to contribute. Look for themes or strong responses, and combine them into a clearly defined description of your protagonist’s attributes.

When someone posted on their Facebook wall of U.K.-based Bodyform that a woman’s period is nothing like a tampon ad, the company responded with a very funny video that made the CEO the protagonist in the story.

It was interesting, it had a great sense of humor, and it brought more awareness to the brand.

3. The antagonist

The antagonist is the villain. It’s often the most overlooked part of an organization’s story.

What is the enemy of your success? Think about it as an issue or challenge you solve.

What keeps your customers awake at night? Is it a cultural issue? Is it an industry concern? Perhaps you work in print distribution and the products you make are becoming extinct because everything is going online. Maybe it’s a problem like the hassle of setting up payroll or email overload.

The founders of Chicago-based Basecamp discovered there was a problem for small-and medium-sized businesses in using customer relationship and project management software because what existed was far too expensive and was built only for very large companies. They argued the Web should empower, not frustrate.

Their antagonist, then, became big, enterprise software solutions for customer relationship and project management.

4. The revelation

Unexpected twists and turns help make fiction compelling. Readers enjoy the surprise, even if the revelation is sad, because they like to feel like they’re being let in on a secret.

Likewise, your organization’s story should share something unexpected with customers and prospects.

A company called FoldIt creates games as a way to solve real issues, such as new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients. The company is billed as an online gaming firm, but the big revelation is the games serve the purpose of finding a needle in a haystack; something scientists may miss by not being able to see the forest for the trees.

5. The transformation

The final part to your story is the transformation: the thing that is different about the way you do business.

Think about how your organization has evolved. Think about the problem you solve and how it connects with both emotional and practical needs. What is your value proposition? What can customers get only from you?

It might be intellectual property or a new way of doing things or a super-cool new widget. People want to know how you arrived there.

The argument many business leaders make at this point is, “Why would I want to give away our secret sauce? Then our competitors would do what we do.”

Here’s the thing: Your competitors may know the exact recipe to your secret sauce, but can’t make it the same way you do. t’s your secret sauce. It was created with your people, your thinking, your culture, your passion, and your vision.

Tell the story from your point of view, and no one can copy it.

Pulling it all together

For your story to really gel, you must have an idea, theme, or concept. Going out and telling the company’s history isn’t going to fly. Choose one interesting tidbit and start there.

It’s rare to find an organization that tells its story well. Choose your passion, protagonist, antagonist, revelation, and transformation.

If you do those five things, every child in the world is going to want you to read them your story at bedtime.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and blogs at Spin Sucks, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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