Brand storytelling

What does a great brand have in common with The Mousetrap in the West End? They both tell a great story. But unlike The Mousetrap, whose ending is the best kept secret in theatre, brand storytelling works better the more you give away.

As someone who studied theatre, I regularly get attacks of guilt that I don’t see more on the stage. When that happens, I go browsing theatre websites, account details in hand, ready to book the first thing that sounds appealing.

I dive head first down the sales funnel, in other words. But you’d be surprised how often the funnel spits me back out again. Here’s one of the plot synopses I ran into last time this happened:

An unexpected meeting at an airport leads to an intense, passionate, head-over-heels relationship. Before long they begin to settle down, buy a house, juggle careers, have kids – theirs is an ordinary family. But then their world starts to unravel and things take a disturbing turn.

This might not be a bad synopsis, technically. It might accurately describe the plot of the show. I wouldn’t know; I didn’t book. Because it avoids specifics so carefully that it might well describe the plot of any number of other shows, as well. Countless plays deal with relationships unravelling, and this doesn’t say what makes this story different.

By trying to make the story of the show sound universal, this teaser copy leaves out anything distinctive – making the story sound generic instead.

And because it’s trying not to give too much away about what happens, it doesn’t give the audience enough information to decide whether the show is for them.

Brands make these mistakes in their storytelling too.

Audiences don’t want to hear what your brand can do for everyone; they want to hear what you can do for them, specifically.

There are no universal stories

At the early stages of brand development research, companies sometimes try to tell us their target audience is “the public”, or better yet, “everyone”.

It never turns out to actually be true – and that’s a good thing. Audiences don’t want to hear what your brand can do for everyone; they want to hear what you can do for them, specifically. For some audiences, that’s “nothing”, or “nothing right now” – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Any brand can try to tell a universal story. Your brand should aspire to tell a story no one else can tell – one based on your unique strengths and capabilities.

“Spoilers” don’t spoil brand stories

More and more brands are using storytelling to articulate their personality and purpose in the world. These big-picture narratives help audiences understand which brands share their values and worldview – but that’s only the start of the story.

Unlike The Mousetrap, your brand story doesn’t depend on a surprise twist ending to deliver value for your audience. So there’s no need to be coy with the details. As well as why you’re here, your brand strategy needs to tell audiences clearly what your organisation will do for them.

You’d be surprised how often this crucial chapter gets left out of the brand story. Sometimes businesses are worried that specifying what they do is like admitting there are other things they don’t, or worse, can’t. Others think of their actual core business activity as being separate from their brand.

When your audience engages with your organisation, your brand story becomes about them as well. They’re more likely to engage if they know the story ends well for them. So don’t leave them hanging; when telling your brand story, make sure it’s the whole story, ending and all.