Brand Storytelling – An Essential Element of Digital PR

Consumers select your product because you stand out, not because you blend in. If your brand is indistinguishable from others in your sector; if your company lacks its own unique voice and personality; if your identity is faceless and corporate – then how can your build a sense of connection and loyalty between yourself and your customers?

The strongest and best-loved brands are the ones that use digital marketing to explain why they are needed, and why their audience should care about them. This form of self-actualization involves several key ingredients.

Keys to a Good Story

  1. Create a unique narrative. How did you get here? What are your goals and values? How are you acting along the way? Do you give back to the community, or do your products themselves help people’s lives in a way that you can describe?

Nike has used spokespeople brilliantly to get this effect. From the famous silhouette of Michael Jordan that has appeared on its shoes since the 1990s, to the company’s recent bold choice to make athlete / political protester Colin Kaepernick the face of its brand, Nike has successfully linked its shoe brand to a set of compelling attitudes towards sports.

No recent American athlete has achieved more success than Michael Jordan, and none in the current era has shown more courage than Colin Kaepernick, whose protests against racial injustice set him on a collision course with conservative America, the National Football League, and the President of the United States. Kaepernick won, though it likely cost him the rest of his career as an athlete.

Thus, in the spirit of these social justice-themed times, Nike realized that the new legend in American sports was a person no longer wearing a uniform. The company had everything to lose, but believed in him anyway – and the campaign has been a huge success.

  1. Know your audience. Nike’s endorsement of public courage would have looked very different if it had been aimed at an audience of, say, conservative women. It’s far easier for a company to say “We’re one of you” if it has a good feel for the cultural background of its customer base.

Old Spice realized that men buying deodorant want two things above all: The confidence to talk to women, and the ability to be cool while doing it. Men want to be the man in the commercial below, and women want to have that man.

As you watch, consider that what Old Spice really is – office buildings and factories – is very far from your mind. Instead, you see the company on an entirely personal level. This is the essence of good storytelling, and the way Old Spice has been able to stand apart from other deodorant companies.

As a counter-example, consider the ill-fated Gillette advertisement, which – although made for men – actually criticizes many men for being bad people, essentially lecturing them about their bad behavior. Its 1:2 like-to-dislike ratio on YouTube actually masks how strongly this ad was rejected by many of its own customers, who never expected one of their own favorite brands to openly turn against them.

  1. Give your brand a face. Even if you can’t afford a celebrity spokesperson, there are plenty of people you can put in front of the camera, to help people identify with you. Many companies use their CEO; others hire an actor to appear in extended ad campaigns. Still others use a cartoon such as KFC’s Colonel Sanders, McDonald’s Ronald McDonald, Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, and plenty of others.

The trick is that whichever mascot you choose, it needs to be recognizable and have a genuinely likeable personality. Virgin is an excellent example of this approach, using the larger-than-life Richard Branson as a stand-in for the type of carefree, playboy attitude the company likes to associate itself with.

Branson resonates with people because they look up to him, or want to be him. To use Virgin products and services is to partake in the same active and exciting lifestyle that Branson does – even if just for a moment. For his part, Branson plays up his adventurous persona, perfectly aware that it is the most effective marketing technique available for his business.

  1. Connect with people’s emotions. Consider a company like Google. It has no recognizable spokesperson or brand identity beyond its famous white screen and colorful logo. And yet the company makes an extra effort to differentiate itself by getting personal. From its Google Doodles to its annual digital storytelling commercials like the one below, the company shows its inner heart to surprisingly good effect.

As we’ve explored at length in an earlier article, the importance of connecting with people is on full display when you consider the widely diverging fates of brands like Marvel and DC Comics. One understands the power of a good story and is riding a 10-year wave of sensational success, and the other is DC.

  1. Follow the rules of storytelling. It is tempting to always show yourself in a perfect light, and never admit an error, but such efforts tend not to make for compelling stories. Some companies may decide that this polished and gleaming image is right for them – and they may indeed have a point, in limited circumstances – but when your company makes a public mistake, it is time indeed to reveal that you are all too human.

As the hero of your own story, though, it is okay to have faults, as long as they don’t reveal a fundamental weakness of character. It shows strength to admit that you are not always strong. It shows confidence to not always take yourself too seriously. Your About Us page can be full of the times you tried and failed in the early days of your business. In fact, people are more likely to read to the end of that page if you do exactly that.

Years ago we published our own story in the Bangkok Post. It was a 5-part article, and well received by readers. The series humanized us as individuals, and as the headline suggests, it showed that we didn’t always know everything.

You don’t need to know everything, either. You may not be able to shoot a basketball like Jordan, or jump from an airplane like Branson. You may be geeky or socially awkward. If so – and if you can admit it – so much the better. Because admitting your faults marks you as a trustworthy voice, making you much more believable when you extol your strengths. It also makes you much easier for your audience to relate to, and to cheer for.

Good storytelling can have other ingredients as well – such as using statistics to support your claims, and involving your audience in your own storytelling process. As long as you’re recognizable, entertaining and relatable, you will stick in the minds of your target audience. Now add a positive message that inspires confidence in your product, and you’ve got everything you need to begin attracting new customers and building loyalty among your existing ones.

And that’s the kind of story that ends well for your company.

Lexicon is a full-service digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We specialize in corporate storytelling and produce all of our content in-house, including branding,  copywritingvideo production and graphic design. We bring all of our services together and use Digital PR and social media marketing storytelling to connect our clients with the ideal target audience.

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