Brand storytelling is essential for any organization that needs to create a strong connection with its audiences. And that pretty much means: all brands.
Brand storytelling in marketing is a strategy that involves using stories to promote a brand’s identity, values, and purpose. It is a powerful tool for creating an emotional connection with ideal customers and potential consumers, as authentic brand stories help build trust and loyalty, as well as create a unique and memorable presence in the marketplace (but beware, not all brand stories are created equal or tell the same compelling story, here are 6 examples of stories your brand can tell).
The goal of brand storytelling strategy is to create a narrative that resonates with target audiences and drives customer engagement.
It is as simple as that.
But as with any marketing expertise, things evolve and are constantly moving, which means marketers will want to keep an eye out on the evolution of the tools they have in their toolbox.
In this article, our goal is to paint a rough map of the current trends in brand storytelling. Being trends, this does not mean they are new, this does not mean they reinvent the wheel. It is important to keep in mind that these are the deep currents that shape the brand storytelling landscape.
For 2023, we have outlined the following trends:
- Exceptional entrepreneurs are master storytellers;
- The expanding possibilities of audio storytelling;
- Cultural credibility and brand storytelling;
- Driving change with storytelling;
- Emotion-focused storytelling;
- Long-form brand storytelling.
Let’s dive into each of these.
Exceptional entrepreneurs are master storytellers
People don’t always like to know how the sausage is made, but for many services and products (other than sausages!), they love to know what happens behind the scenes.
One testament to that is the never-ending success of the Canadian series “How it’s made” (and I can’t believe that as I was getting that link to their YouTube page, the first video that came up was “How it’s made Hot dogs”…!).
Enough about sausages, let’s talk about entrepreneurs.
This trend is about showing who is behind products and services that we buy. And although we do see a lot of videos featuring employees produced and distributed, this trend is specifically about the executives that make the best and hardest decisions about how a company is run, how it sees its involvement in its community, what its vision is, who are these great individuals, these women and men that believe in what they do and are doing their best to do even better.
This is even something of popular folklore. We all know that Steve Jobs was a better storyteller than Mark Zuckerberg is. We all know that Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, is amazing at inspiring what the brand can, is and could do.
We want to hear about them, and there are amazing storytelling opportunities around what they have to say and share.
Sangram Vajre is a startup founder, who has most recently built his second venture, GTM partners, totally “transparently” in a way where he communicated heavily on every step of bringing his company to its first million in revenue. Such entrepreneurs are also masters at integrating personal stories and their own origin story in their messaging, in how they communicate their values and their vision.
Week by week, you can follow Sangram’s process in his newsletter “Becoming Intentional” (well worth the read).
The expanding possibilities of audio storytelling
Podcasting is here to stay, and it is still growing at a rapid pace. Democratization of listening platforms and access has allowed more and more people to follow shows and topics that interest them at the highest level.
With this in hand, we are seeing more and more possibilities for the medium, audio itself.
Podcasting was often seen as a transient from radio, meaning that podcasts are built as shows, with hosts and guests, and so on.
But for the past few years, more fiction is being produced. Meaningful stories for your ears. Fiction that brings you INTO the environment of the characters with atmospheres and sound effects.
These too are taking more and more space in the listening time of your audiences.
And brands are jumping on the wagon also. Back in 2015, GE was one of the first to do it with their sci-fi story “The Message”.
Nowadays, we are seeing more brands engaging with their audiences by offering content that will allow them to have a good time, while being connected to the brand in some way. We always say in our branded content classes and storytelling corporate workshops that content can inform, educate or entertain. This is a great way to bring an entertainment component to your audience.
There are also other formats to explore. Shorter-form training materials, on-premise guides, audio offers so many possibilities that you can really dive deep into, exploring what your brand could do with it, beyond the traditional host-guest podcast format.
Cultural credibility and brand storytelling
Brand managers and content marketing executives have had bigger challenges lately when a brand wants to embrace social issues (D.E.I. are very important ones), and they need to find a way to tell that compelling brand story so that audiences will build awareness about how this brand is getting involved, but also how they can make sure that audiences will believe them.
This is because we’ve heard a lot about greenwashing and pinkwashing in the past two decades. This is the type of vocabulary and perception that content strategists want to make sure to avoid when telling the story behind the initiatives.
Storytelling is a great tool in the marketer’s toolbox to help show and tell what the brand is doing, the good it is bringing to its community (of clients, potential customers, employees, stakeholders, etc.).
A well-told story grabs the attention of the audience and with the right dose of authenticity and transparency can build trust and confidence.
This is essential to allow a brand to position itself properly in the eyes of its audience and allow it to be able to communicate on its social and cultural initiatives in a way that has impact.
A classic example of what not to do, in a tone-deaf manner, was how Pepsi tried to use storytelling to be part of the Black Lives Matter conversation. There are ways to tell a story that will not create that kind of backlash.
Driving change with storytelling
Brand storytelling is also a great way to engage and bring audiences into action.
Marketers are amazing experts in making their potential consumers move into action and buy their products and services.
What if this expertise was used to drive change? In the previous trend, I mentioned how brands can use storytelling to communicate their involvement in a cause or a social aspect that is dear to them.
In this trend, I want to point out how it can also be used to drive actual change in society, beyond the brand itself.
We’ve all seen how well Dove has participated in the conversation about beauty and what beauty means to men and women. Part of their goal is to actually impact individuals to change how they perceive beauty and how the perception of beauty in society is not as it should be.
A recent example of this is about the impact social media has on kids and how they see themselves.
Dove is not selling products, it is not selling a service. It wants to make an impact on society as a whole.
Storytelling is also being used by research labs and climate change organizations to explain complex concepts, while also aiming to drive change.
At the 2023 SxSW Conference in Austin, a session attended by many specifically tackled this: “How Climate Storytelling Can Beat Climate Doom”.
The speakers made the connection between storytelling and impacting change by emphasizing the importance of inclusive and empathetic storytelling. They believe that sharing personal experiences and cultural narratives can help people understand and relate to different perspectives, creating a safe and inclusive space for people to learn and educate themselves on environmental and social justice issues.
They also prioritized ethical storytelling that provides diverse and accurate representations of communities and issues. The speakers stressed the need to amplify the voices of those who have been systemically impacted as they view storytelling as a powerful tool for creating change, promoting understanding and action towards environmental and social justice issues.
In storytelling, emotion plays a very important role. Emotion is part of the glue that makes a story stick. It is what can make storytelling more memorable and impactful.
We all remember a good movie that moved us to tears. We all are able to engage better with a story or a television series that makes us feel something, that creates an emotional response.
And there are great opportunities for brands to do it.
If you watched the Dove film in the trend above, you know what I mean.
But this is not limited to brands like Dove. Any brand has opportunities to tell a great story that moves its audience.
I do not need to dive very deep on this trend, all humans understand this. The question is more in the how your brand can make its audience feel something.
If a fertilizer brand can do it, you can (this is part of our list of great brand storytelling examples).
Long-form brand storytelling
One of the great quotes on storytelling is from branded content legend David Beebe.
Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing longer-form content produced by brands. Why?
This trend is based on the fact that once people are hooked into a story, they will take the time to watch or listen to it. There’s this curiosity gap that forms when we are listening to a story. We want to know the end, and this often makes us stay longer.
But why are marketers agonizing over creating shorter-form content? This is because their content is interruptive by nature, or it simply isn’t interesting.
A great long-form story is relevant to a certain audience and will create engagement with this audience. Show it to others and they will disconnect, fast.
This is why brands are investing into assets that are of specific interest to a segment of their audience, something that can drive long engagement and watch time (an example of a KPI you could use), while also taking care that this content can have a longer shelf life (think evergreen content).
This is the reason we are seeing brands creating long-form series like The Shift, produced by Salesforce. This content is longer and interests a specific segment of their audience.
Brand documentaries are also great examples of what brands can do to be relevant to their audience, in a longer-form content. They are efficient in terms of budgeting and can really drive interest and time spent with the brand.
Brand storytelling has evolved to encompass various trends and methods that resonate with target audiences and create strong connections.
From highlighting exceptional entrepreneurs to exploring audio storytelling and emphasizing cultural credibility, these trends demonstrate the versatility of brand storytelling. Driving change through storytelling, incorporating emotion-focused narratives, and investing in long-form content all contribute to the effectiveness of these initiatives.
While brand storytelling remains an ever-evolving landscape, staying current with these trends can help content marketers create more impactful and memorable connections with their audiences.
By keeping an eye on these deep currents shaping the brand storytelling landscape, marketers can continue to innovate and adapt, utilizing a diverse set of tools to create narratives that not only promote their brand but also resonate with the ever-changing needs and expectations of their audiences.
Ultimately, embracing these trends enables brands to foster trust and engagement with their loyal customers, ensuring a unique and memorable presence in the marketplace.