What was the last great story you heard? Whether it was a book, an advert, or even a joke, the chances are you can recall it clearly. Stories can capture our attention so completely that they shape our perception of reality and influence our beliefs. A good story really does have the power to change the world. So why isn’t storytelling at the heart of every growth strategy?
This blog explains how storytelling can increase your coverage, brand awareness and ultimately drive your business.
What is a story?
In its simplest form, a story is a framework through which we communicate an experience.
Psychologists like Westermann have long established that stories, or more specifically narratives, are among the strongest emotion-eliciting stimuli—that’s why a book can make you laugh out loud on the bus, and a film can have mascara running down your cheeks at the movies. Bad news if you're on a first date, but great news if you're a comms professional looking to influence your audience through emotional connection.
The average American is exposed to 4,000-10,000 advertisements every single day. Unsurprisingly most adverts and corporate messages are ignored. Those that do catch your eye usually tell a compelling story.
In his book Building a Story Brand, author and former screenwriter Donald Miller, lays out how to create your brand story. Although I recommend reading it in full, here’s a summary of the framework which he argues should form the foundation of your brand story.
The story framework
You can distill your brand story into three simple parts.
- Character: The introduction of your hero and their need, or goal
- Conflict: The series of obstacles and trials that they must overcome to achieve their goal
- Resolution: The successful ending to their story and their deserving success having overcome the obstacles
Let’s look at a famous narrative that perfectly applies the framework—Nike’s first Just Do It campaign.
It’s been 35 years since this advert was released, but its narrative (and the tagline) have stood the test of time.
Why? Because it invites the audience into the story and follows the clear story framework, challenges them, and images an unspoken promise that with Nike, they’ll achieve more than they thought possible.
1. Character: Like all good brand stories, the hero is not the brand but the customer. As the video opens, we see an old man running topless along the Golden Gate Bridge
2. Conflict: After a close-up of the man, the advert cuts to a black screen with white letters reading "Walt Stack. 80 years old.” If being an octogenarian isn’t an obstacle to running 17 miles every morning, I don’t know what is.
3. Resolution: The scene cuts back to Walt, who dismisses his age with a joke, and we cut back to the black screen. This time it reads Just Do It. Walt is an unlikely athlete, and yet he chooses to push himself. In this case, the resolution is also a call to action. As if to say, if Walt can find the motivation to run, what’s your excuse?
Nike’s story makes athletes of all of us. Who doesn’t want to be the hero in their own story?
Applying brand storytelling to PR
Like Nike’s advert, storytelling in PR aims to ignite your audience’s imagination and draw them into the story.
Mastering the story framework and applying it to your PR will increase the quality and quantity of your coverage, improve your media relations, and build brand love. Let’s find out how.
Increase your coverage and brand awareness
Journalists receive hundreds of pitches a week. They are experts in sifting out boring and irrelevant ‘news.’ Instead, they look for stories that will resonate with their audiences.
By giving journalists all the components of a compelling story, you increase your chance of coverage and the quality of it—after all, getting media coverage is just the first step. The next one is for audiences to engage with it.
Leverage brand journalism
Storytelling will also help you to connect to brand journalists.
Like all journalists, brand journalists focus on reporting rather than selling. Unlike other journalists, brand journalists consider brands to be their beats. Brand journalists exist in a space between journalism and content marketing, meaning that the story you tell is more important than the channel you tell it on.
Build trust and credibility
Every insight into your story should showcase the value you create for your audiences. The more your audiences see authentic evidence of your ‘resolution,’ the more they will believe your story.
Every press release, social media post, or article you publish is a chance for journalists to empathize with your brand and build an emotional connection with you—making them more likely to read your press releases, post your news, and want to develop working relationships with you.
If your news is discoverable online, you will expand your audience beyond the journalists in your press list. Whether customers, investors, or other stakeholders read your news, storytelling will help to humanize your organization.
It's easy for readers to view businesses as cold, profit-driven entities, but brand storytelling can change that perception. Nobody is interested in reading reams of hard-sell articles, pushing them toward a call to action. You earn your promotional audience through the valuable and humanizing content you share. When your audience can glimpse the people behind the brand, or the people that the brand represents, you become instantly more relatable and likeable.
Create a unique identity
Your story is your differentiator in the market. By sharing your unique story, you can distinguish yourself from your competitors. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if your product or service is the best on the market, what matters is what people believe about your brand, and that starts with your story.
Whether you're a communications professional or leading an ambitious organization, brand storytelling should be central to your growth strategy. By following Miller’s framework, you can maximize the impact of your PR campaigns to foster an emotional connection with your audiences and make them the hero of your shared story—strengthening your power of persuasion and sales in the process. All power to the story.