For years, the marketing great and good have proclaimed that ‘storytelling’ should be at the heart of every brand. But somewhere, something seems to have gone wrong.
17,000 BC, in what will later become known as ‘South-Western France’. Deep inside a labyrinthine cave, by the flickering light of a fire, an artist carefully applies the finishing touches of ochre to a painting of a large bull. He is recording a recent hunting triumph, and wants his bravery to be known. He steps back to admire his handiwork. It appears alongside hundreds of other scenes – animals, people, and everyday life – created by his forebears over many generations on the very same walls.
We fast forward in our figmental time machine to AD 2018, where a ‘story’ of a very different kind is about to be shared. A finger hovers over an iPhone screen in a moment of wavering uncertainty. “Should I use the ‘Valencia’ or ‘Juno’ filter…?”, the would-be uploader wonders.
Our two protagonists are operating in entirely different universes; chasms of time and space separate both of them. Yet they share the same, deep-seated impulse to portray and to narrate. Since infancy – both our own, and that of our whole species – humans have always heard and told stories. The only difference is that now they come with dog face filter options.
So, given that we’ve always liked a good yarn, could you tell your brand story? Could you tell it in an engaging and concise way? What makes your brand different from all the others? What do you do, how do you do it, and – most importantly – why on earth should anyone care? A lot of questions, but ones that you should (hopefully) be able to answer.
There are no excuses. It doesn’t matter what a company does to bring home the boardroom bacon – they all have a story to tell. No business ‘just’ sells products or services. Harley-Davidson doesn’t ‘just’ make and assemble collections of bolts, gears, suspension forks and so on. It offers the freedom and adventure of the open road. It has a rich, iconic American heritage. It invokes a rebellious, rough-around-the-edges, blue-collar attitude that doesn’t care what other people think of it. Equally, your company doesn’t ‘just’ develop software (or whatever it might be…).
When clients approach us here at Birddog, looking for help defining or refining their brand, our model looks at four core elements: Audience, Context, Tone, Narrative. These are the base components of any good ‘story’, and where all brands need to start.
What is more, once you have established your story, there have never been more ways to tell it. Digital platforms and social media in particular cry out for succinct, compelling narratives. A brand’s content needs to tell customers something that they can actually buy into. It needs to say more than just ‘this is what we’re selling’.
Why then are so many B2B brands still failing to tell a decent story? And why – when attempts are made – are so few brand ‘stories’ recognisable as such? Time and again, we see jumbled hotchpotches of corporate buzzwords, where all is ‘innovative’, ‘passionate’ and ‘diverse’. Rather than a narrative, these meaninglessly banal missives seem more concerned with appeasing some hesitant group of ‘internal stakeholders’.
We’ve (mostly) all moved on from our caveman days. But the basic principal has remained the same, from those earliest rock paintings to today’s vainglorious Instagram posts: Tell a good story.