A Good Brand Story Never Dies

Posted by Ryann Malone - January, 16 2015

There’s a reason that a good story never dies. Stories are more interesting to listen to, easier to remember, and more likely to make an emotional impact than any string of authoritative but dry-as-a-bone facts. And what your brand wants to do is be memorable and relatable.

A study from content marketing platform OneSpot shows that 92% of consumers want brand to make ads that feel like stories. Even the Harvard Business Review suggests using storytelling as a strategic business tool.

So what makes for a good story? Here are 5 essentials that will build a strong framework for your brand story:

  1. Hero

  2. Context

  3. Quest

  4. Conflict

  5. Transformation

1. Hero

The hero in any story is the protagonist to whom the main action happens and who ultimately prevails in challenging circumstances thanks to some special weapon or power only he has. You might assume this is your brand. Not necessarily so.

If you are the Navy Seals, a fire fighter, the Dallas Cowboys, or Batman, your audience probably wants you to be the hero. But what if you are the business of training people to learn and use CPR in a cardiac emergency? You don’t want to be the hero—you want to empower others to be the hero.

Your role might rather be that of a wise mentor who empowers the hero by giving advice or providing a magic weapon or good luck charm. Think Gandalf to Bilbo Baggins, Q to James Bond, or the offensive tackle who clears the way for the quarterback to get the glory. Be clear about who your real hero is, and make that person or group the center of attention.

2. A Context

In books and movies, the context is similar to the setting. But in business, the context is broader than the time and place. What is happening in the broader economy, technology or culture that has caused the business landscape to shift? Has technology improved so much that your customers have gone mobile, forcing you to develop mobile apps and a social media strategy? Has the growth of the Hispanic market or slowing economic growth in Asia changed your business objectives?

The context can not only enrich the story, it can play a major role. Imagine Les Miserable without the French Revolution, or West Side Story without the cultural tension. Imagine Ford or Volkswagen without society’s need for cars average people could afford. The economic, industrial, and cultural landscape creates opportunity for change. The question is—do you or your hero recognize the opportunity and accept the challenge?

3. A Quest

All good stories have a quest that usually involves looking for something of value (treasure) or overcoming an obstacle (the dragon terrorizing the village). In business terms, you might think your quest is gaining an increase in revenue or market share, increasing efficiency, or overcoming a weak market for your industry. These are battles to be won, but a true quest should try to fulfill an underlying human need, such as security or belonging or freedom or love.

If you think beyond the challenges and short-term goals and think about why you do what you do, you’re more likely to succeed in fulfilling your quest—whether that’s to rid the village of that pesky dragon (security) or to sell Harleys (freedom) or fluffy pillows (comfort).

4. A Conflict

What is standing in the way of you achieving your quest? What are the challenges along the way? In classical stories the hero may have to fight a series of never-ending battles, and it’s no less true in business. While some companies shy away from discussing challenges and tell case study stories as if everything went perfectly, we know that’s simply not true.

Embrace conflict. A story in which the hero wins the battle without challenges or weaknesses is not only a boring story, it has no point.

5. A Transformation

The very essence of a story is transformation. After all, there must be some reason why the hero seeks (or is thrust into) his journey. Most businesses don’t make changes just for the heck of it—some transformation is necessary in order for the business to survive or to thrive.

At the end of any good story, the hero is changed by the journey. He may fail to find the treasure, but in his quest he finds something of even greater value—knowledge and self-confidence. Like in any good Western, the hero rides off into the sunset, stronger than ever, headed off to a new journey, prepared for even greater challenges.


Laura Neitzel is the Director of Content and Planning at Alchemy at AMS. She has a black belt in English Literature and a PhD in Chardonnay.

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