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Why it has become essential to tell your brand’s story in the information age

The deluge of information in the digital era has changed the way we engage with brands, yet why do some brands seem to flourish in these conditions while others have become outdated? Stories are the oldest human technology, and we’d like to argue that in the digital age they are becoming the most powerful tool for brands to make a connection with their desired audience.

While the digital age has changed many of the rules of branding, human nature has remained the same, and the best brands are countering the flood of information by creating an emotional bond with consumers. Think Nike, Dove or Nandos, chances are these brands evoke some images, feelings or stories in your mind thanks to their brilliant use of storytelling.

Brands and storytelling

Good stories are not just entertaining, neuroeconomists have found that they have a powerful effect on us. Compelling narratives result in the production of two powerful chemicals, oxytocin and cortisol, which are linked to connection, trust, empathy and action.

As a consequence of the qualities inherent in stories, storytelling has moved from being primarily used in advertising, to being viewed as an essential element in developing and managing brand strategy.

A brand story is a cohesive narrative that encompasses the facts about a brand and the feelings it evokes. In a sense, it’s what gives the brand a heart.

All businesses are entangled in a web of stories, and according to Jeff Bezos, two of these stories shape their brand narrative:

  • The stories a business tells about itself
  • The stories others tell about a business when it is not in the room

The stories a business tells about itself

The brand stories that matter, and that stick, are the aspirational ones that usher people into a future where they are a more ideal version of themselves. It has nothing to do with the brand, and everything to do with the customer as a human being.

S.W.E.A.T. 1000 has created a brand that isn’t focused solely on exercise, but rather about belonging to an exclusive tribe. The founders have tapped into the current health zeitgeist of people wanting to become strong in a short amount of time, while belonging to a community and being able to broadcast their healthy lifestyle. The fitness brand has entirely exalted these virtues into their brand story. They don’t talk about cardiovascular health, or even weight loss. Instead they talk about digging deeper, exhilaration and invigoration. They appeal to the human need to persevere and to be part of an elite group who push themselves to rise above the average. Their story is of strength and connection, to ones own body and to the community.

Rovos Rail recently managed to reimage its legend, through its work with local and international influencers. As little as a year ago, the brand was predominantly associated with older travelers and perceived as somewhat stale. Through its collaboration with influencers, a series of jaw dropping Instagram posts and short videos were produced. This content has generated conversation about the brand on platforms where it didn’t previously exist. Furthermore, it has introduced a new generation to the brand. Rovos Rail’s brand narrative is both forward-looking and backward-looking. By telling a story of the past, it is also providing a glimpse into a future we aspire to – where we have the luxury of being able to step outside the ordinary and to appreciate the finer things. It is a narrative that calls on us to reflect on who we once were, in order to better discern who we want to become.

Rovos Rail’s work with influencers highlights the opportunity brands have to manage their narrative through collaboration.

The stories others tell about a business

Empowered through their access to information, through an abundance of choices, as well as the ability to contribute and tap into social networks, consumers seek out relationships with brands that extend beyond the transactional.

As John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison, argue in the The Power of Pull, a brand should listen to its audiences and the stories they are telling, so it can genuinely understand their desires and concerns, their beliefs and attitudes. Today’s leading global brands adapt their storytelling to different cultural contexts in order to facilitate authentic engagement. McDonalds, for example, has been well-known for their subtle localisation strategies across the globe with the creation of regional menu items for each of their markets.  In South Africa the fast-food giant introduced the Jalapeño chicken triple burger to appeal to the spicy local palette. When Spotify recently launched in South Africa, it paired up with Black Coffee, Kwesta and Jeremy Loops, to generate conversation about the brand.

Brands are not the only authors of their story, but they can gain influence by proactively managing their engagement with consumers, on- and offline.

Own your story, own your brand

Today a business has to be about something more than products or services – it needs to touch the heart of consumers.

A business without a strong story is an empty shell. It evokes no feeling and brand without a narrative runs the risk of taking a reactive route, without purpose, meaning or direction – one where they have no control of their brand or how it is perceived.