April 8, 2018

Stuck With Your Brand Storytelling? Here’s How to Get Started

According to AdAge, storytelling was among the worst buzzwords in 2017.
Storytelling is everywhere as brand frantically try to connect with finicky, mile-a-minute consumers.
As much as brands want to tell stories, they struggle to create stories that make an impact. It’s frustrating because brands have plenty of stories to tell…if they do it properly.
If you’re scrambling to tell better stories, here’s how to get started:

Ask your customers.

One of the keys is telling stories the audience wants to hear. Sounds straightforward, right? Unfortunately, many brands aren’t doing it. Instead, they tell stories focused on driving marketing and campaigns.
To tell stories that resonate, ask your customers about their interests, needs, problems, aspirations, and goals. Get a handle on their favorite stories and who tells them. Maybe, they’re fans of tear-inducing videos made by companies such as Harry’s. Maybe they like seeing beautiful images such as what National Geographic posts on Instagram.


Buffer’s Alfred Lua says companies can also use social media to ask customers about the content they like.
The stories you want to tell don’t matter. What matters is the stories your audience wants to see and hear. And the best way to discover these stories is talking to customers. Call them on the phone. Take them out for dinner or coffee. Sending out surveys. Do whatever it takes to solicit and collect their ideas.

Identify and nurture your storytellers.

Within most companies, the marketing department develops, creates, and distributes stories. Much of it happens without input from other departments. Unfortunately, it means a lot of potential storytellers are left out of the mix.
Instead, build a storytelling team that taps into the creativity and energy of people across the organization. This includes senior executives, and people within marketing, sales, customer service, and account management.
In this video, Algolia’s Liam Booger talks about how the company has internal training programs with a goal to get 50% of employees to speak or publish content.
Intercom is another example of a company using a variety of storytellers. Its blog includes posts from designers, product marketers, and software developers who really know the product and have expertise and insight to share.


To discover storytellers, ask your employees about their ideas and skills. You may learn there are people with terrific writing, graphic design or video skills. if an employee expresses interest in storytelling, see what they can offer and encourage them to get involved.

Brainstorm ideas.

Good stories emerge from having lots of ideas and involves a series of editorial filters and choices. The more ideas, the better. Some ideas are winners, Some ideas have potential, and some ideas are non-starters. But there’s no such thing as a bad idea.
There are many ways to do brainstorming. Marcus Sheridan, for example, talks about the value of getting everyone from across the organization in a room and then coming up with 100 questions asked by customers.
CoSchedule’s Ben Sailer suggests a brainstorming session to create 30 content ideas in 30 minutes. It consists of three segments: 10-minutes to write down as many ideas as possible, 10 minutes to rank these ideas on a three-point scale, and 10 minutes to select the best content ideas.
It doesn’t matter how brainstorming happens as long as a lot of ideas are sparked.

Create a storytelling system.

To consistently generate good stories, you need a system. Here is a five-step process to create an efficient system: discover, capture, review, approve and create.
Ideas for stories are everywhere. There are brainstorming sessions. Ideas can happen in the shower, the coffee shop, the gym, the car or while reading content. To tell good stories, you need to be in discovery mode at all times. It’s a 24/7 activity.
As important, story ideas need to be captured, otherwise, they disappear. Some good tools include notebooks, Trello, Evernote, Pocket, screenshots, Google Keep, Remember the Milk, text messages, sticky notes, etc.  It doesn’t matter how ideas are captured as long as they’re captured.
After ideas are captured, the next step is reviewing them. Ideas are scored using different criteria. It could be a simple sniff-test to see if they would appeal to different types of consumers. Ideas can be rated on how similar stories have performed.
The bottom line is every idea must be scrutinized to ensure it delivers value, as well as engages, educates or entertains.
When story ideas are reviewed, the next step is approving the best ones. It’s like boiling down the ocean. For every 10 ideas, one or two become good stories. Finally, stories need to be created.

Pick your channels. 

Again, it goes back to target audiences. Where do they consume content? What type of content gets them into and down the funnel. It makes no sense to tell stories if no one’s listening.
Talk to your customers about the channels they use and then leverage those channels. If one or two channels are fertile territory for storytelling, focus on those them…and don’t worry about other channels that may not be as effective.

Experiment and take risks.

Stories are creative exercises, not scientific experiments (apologies to data geeks). It’s difficult to if a story is successful stories will it is released into the wild. Every brand has its own personality so their stories will be different.
Finding the right formula happens when a brand is willing to experiment, embrace risk, and take creative leaps of faith. The best brand storytelling happens a company is willing to put a foot just over the line to create a reaction.
For example, it could be something like Ikea’s “Start Something New” video:

As someone who has been telling stories as a journalist and marketer for more than 20 years, storytelling is not hard to do. It’s a frame of mind, having the right approach and always being open to new ideas and concepts. The world is oozing with ideas so there’s no excuse to not be telling good stories.

I make marketing work for fast-growing companies..and companies looking to grow faster.
Through strategic and tactical services, I optimize marketing to drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and sales growth. My approach to marketing is underpinned by storytelling, creativity, and proven frameworks.

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