Sales & Marketing

Want the key to storytelling success? Learn from these four brands

9 min read

04 October 2016

We have an insatiable curiosity for “what happens next”, be it in the real world or the boundless fictional realm – and it’s one of the key reasons why brands should be looking to hook us with stories.

Storytelling is about more than talking at people; it’s about cultivating a community that becomes invested in the higher message of a brand. By developing a better understanding of storytelling, you will be able to start implementing a more effective business strategy. And there’s no better way to gain insight than to learn from the greats.

In the words of director and producer Tim Burton, “every story has a beginning, a middle and an end – not necessarily in that order.” His statement echoes true of the approach used by each brand dominating Aesop Agency’s annual “Brand Storytelling” poll. So focusing on the best of the selected crop, we look at what makes these firms wielders of the imagination.

(1) Apple – Telling a literal story

The tech firm is pretty persuasive and it comes down to one man: Steve Jobs. He was an amazing storyteller, an ability that enabled him to create excitement behind the brand. It’s why so many queued up to hear him unveil products, waiting for the moment he would utter that one famous line: “One more thing…”

It’s also been well-documented how he first introduced the Macintosh. When PowerPoint had yet to be created he took to the stage and quoted musician Bob Dylan to create an immediate lasting impression: “The loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a changin’.”

Some four years later he struck again, making a product launch sound like a call for war. “It is 1958. IBM passes up the chance to buy a fledgling company that has just invented a new technology,” he began. A few tension-driven paragraphs later, he revealed: “It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money.”

But even without Jobs leading the storytelling charge, Apple is going from strength to strength, landing first spot in Aesop’s poll. That’s because despite being a giant, it sticks to one key message. Essentially, it doesn’t go out of its way to deliver flowery prose. Rather, it keeps coming back to its beginning story and builds on its cultural message – and it’s this simplicity of its brand story that we adore. After all, less is more.

(2) Amazon – Changing perception

There’s one thing Amazon truly excels at: putting the customer first. It’s been summed up by founder Jeff Bezos many times: “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”

This particular sentence, author Simon Sinek has suggested, is a recipe for success – prosperous firms define a reason for existing (the “why”) before defining the “how” and “what” of the business model. This is in order to evoke sincerity. And according to James Rubec, content strategist for Cision, what sets Amazon apart is its ability to add value to existing perceptions. He said: “Since 1997, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has released a letter to shareholders which forecasts the next year’s innovations and reviews the past.

“It gives him a new opportunity to sell his investors on the value that Amazon provides. To accentuate his point, Bezos includes a copy of the 1997 shareholder letter at the end of the current year’s as a way to connect the past with the present. Or reminding why people invested in the first place.”

What’s more, Amazon is in the business of making promises: to improve an ancient process through innovation.

From choosing the right story to being incredibly personal, continue reading for tips from the BBC and Facebook.

Image: Shutterstock

(3) BBC – Choosing the perfect story

The BBC came third in Aesop’s poll, and it certainly has advice aplenty on how firms can seek the ultimate story. But what principle has the BBC itself been following? After all, if there’s one thing the BBC knows is the abundance of stories out there, be it corporate message or novel-turned TV inspiration – and how to get out on top.

Giles Wilson, features editor for BBC News, once said: “It’s very hard to give a clear definition of what works and what doesn’t.” But a good starting point was to look for a “character or situation that is in flux”. Not to mention, it is vital to decide how much effort you would be putting in your storytelling endeavour given that the possibilities for it are limitless – and thus it is easy to drift from your original intent.

“You need to arm yourself with all the facts about what’s the right thing for your own site’s audience,” he said. “And my hunch is that those you target aren’t always the ones driving sales.”

More importantly, however, he stressed the need for the right team. For example, Apple’s storytelling excellence could be chalked down to Jobs, but it wouldn’t still be at the top of Aesop’s ranking if the current team didn’t know what they were doing. Everyone should know the values of the firm well enough to spin a story whenever it comes down to it. In a sense, your staff aren’t just brand ambassadors – they’re all storytellers.

(4) Facebook – Create a personal brand

The social media platform taps into a growing trend: associating with positive emotions. It’s also one of the reasons why Coca-Cola does so well – “happiness” is at the core of everything it does. But you’ll only be deemed an emotional brand if you go out of your way to make bold moves – founder Mark Zuckerberg specialises in this, having recently announced his intent to create a version of Iron Man’s digital assistant, Jarvis. He’s skilled at connecting with a wide range of people and balances openness, informality  with structure and ambition.

It highlights how personal he’s made the brand. He uses the platform frequently, from letting users know what his goals in life are to responding to posts, telling traditional grandmothers to think bigger for their grandchildren. Not all entrepreneurs are that bold. Jon Colgan, who suggested he had been compared to Zuckerberg unveiled this quote from David Ogden in terms of boldness.

“Trying to build a business valued in the billions is not for everyone. The chances of success are basically zero, so you have to be pretty crazy to try it. And ideas that can change the world almost always seem ludicrous in the beginning, so that’s another reason for people to think you’re crazy.

“To make it happen, you have to have courage. I love the story of 22 year old Mark Zuckerberg turning down Yahoo!’s $1bn offer to acquire Facebook. Fellow board member, Peter Thiel, recalled: ‘Zuckerberg started the meeting like, ‘This is kind of a formality, just a quick board meeting, it shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. We’re obviously not going to sell here’.”

Meanwhile, have you heard the quote, “the best brands are built on great stories”? If not, it bears repeating because it’s a true and valuable lesson for businesses.