What is Brand Storytelling?
By Gravity Group
Here at Gravity Group we consider ourselves “Brand Storytellers” for the companies and organizations we work with. To dig into what that means, I conducted interviews with team members Steve Gilman, President and Brand Strategist, and Mark Fenton, Media Specialist. Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.
: Hi Steve and Mark, thanks for joining me! Could each of you tell me what your title is here at Gravity Group, and in a nutshell, what that means?
: My title is President and Brand Strategist. I help organizations define their brand position and express it through marketing. I also help them refine their marketing strategies to fit their specific business growth goals.
: I am the media specialist here at Gravity Group, meaning I do photography and video and motion graphics. I wear a number of different hats but they all pertain to producing media for our clients.
Brand Story and the Role of Marketers
: So, we know that “brand,” generally speaking, is the promise and expectations that live inside customers’ mind about a company, product or service. What is a brand story?
: A great definition of brand story is: “the most human way to express the essence of a brand.” A brand story is a reflection of what a brand’s personality is. If you think of Ben & Jerry’s, you think of a very different personality than if you think of Exxon. A good brand story takes what the brand stands for, what it does, and what value it provides to consumers, and translates that into something that their intended customers can relate to in a human, honest, emotional way. So, a brand story is the emotional translation of a brand or brand position.
Ben & Jerry’s brand story feels human because it’s run by real guys, even though it’s a big business now. Their values and what they believe in are very clear, and their quirkiness–the way they express themselves–travels all the way through packaging, to social media and advertising, and every single thing they do. The way brand stories get expressed is very different from product to product; a brand story for an automobile company is going to be way different than a brand story for an ice cream company, or an oil conglomerate.
: A brand story is a narrative that communicates the core principles of the brand you’re working with. Whether it be a testimonial or an animation with voiceover – the medium itself can vary widely, from print to video to anything – it’s a story that really focuses on the parts of the brand that communicate with the audience. It’s not necessarily just “hey, this is who we are,” but “hey, this is who we are to you.” There’s a back and forth that goes on over time. A brand story is actually a conversation between you and the people you’re trying to reach.
: Jumping off from those stories – to what degree do we as marketers determine what the story is?
: Depending on the brand, a fairly significant degree. A lot of marketers try to impose a story that they think would work for a brand because they have certain stories they know people would connect with. However, I think the only right thing to do as marketers is to truly understand what a brand stands for and what they honestly care about, and then express that in the brand story so that the experience that anyone has with the brand absolutely matches the story you’re telling. Anytime it doesn’t, I think you get that feeling of being manipulated. You get mad because the story that’s told doesn’t fit what your experience is. The mistake that gets made is that the brand story gets built in the wrong direction: from the outside in. A good brand story is built from the inside out. It has to be genuine, it has to be part of the foundation of what a company believes. It has to be expressed every single day in every action a company makes, and then translated into messages that people can relate to. Any time you see marketing that you instantly disagree with, the brand story has been built the wrong way.
: I would say as marketers, we’re shining lights on things. Here at Gravity especially, we don’t spend time making stuff up. We shine lights on what is really cool about the companies that we work for and help them communicate that to new customers or current customers. We’re facilitators as much as anything else, especially here at Gravity Group – we work with companies we can believe in. That’s what allows us to do good work, partnering with our clients so they can tell their story in a good way, in a positive way.
Traits of Great Brand Stories
: What are some hallmarks of good brand stories? What are trends that we see across some of the best ones?
: Honesty – almost radical honesty. The best brand stories are the ones where you have no question whether they’re telling the truth, or whether you disagree or agree with it. A one-size-fits-all brand story tends to not have anybody that connects with it. But a story that’s somewhat fearless, and radically honest, connects more powerfully with the people who are ready to believe in it.
: Positive messaging is a common trait that I find. There may be an exception to that, but generally using fear or sex to sell is a bad idea. Our generation (millennials) sees through that. That’s why you see documentary and testimonial style stuff – really positive, honest messages often really grab you, because there’s an honesty about it. When you see the subtext “actor portrayal” in a commercial it’s like “oh well, whatever,” which is why I’ve really enjoyed the testimonial style work with our clients.
: So, when the rubber meets the road, what does it look like when a brand story is told well?
: There’s a simple answer to that – growth. A brand story told well means you’re repeating it often enough and coming back to the main themes often enough that people begin to catch on. They get curious, they experiment with the brand, they try it, they find out what they’ve been told is true. For me, the most gratifying thing is: when you tell a brand story correctly over time you will see growth. Whenever someone we work with starts to grow, that’s where I feel satisfied. Our creative team will be really jazzed when a campaign does really well, but I usually get really jazzed a year or two later when a company we’re working for is growing above the rate that they wanted to.
: In my job, it looks like refining and polishing. You want the communication of the brand story to be as seamless and streamlined as possible so that the video and audio don’t get in the way. That’s my goal, to find a way to get the technical stuff out of the way of the story, and then to take a step back and look at it from a higher view. So I’m going into the weeds, out of the weeds, into the weeds, out of the weeds all the time. It’s a really fun way to go about it.
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