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Pass the popcorn: Secrets to a marathon-worthy brand narrative

Brand + Advertising / 11.16.21 / By Meg Lavery

It’s midnight, and the popup appears: “Are you still watching?” With your alarm set to ring in a few short hours, it would make sense to close the laptop and go to sleep. But you click “yes” and settle in for another episode.

We’ve all done it—streamed one or two more episodes (Seasons?) than we had originally intended, because we’re just plain hooked. A good story will grab our attention, and an even better one will keep it. But why is that, and how do we translate that to ourselves and our brands?

The “why” is simple: stories matter. They give our lives meaning and help us relate to each other. And believe it or not, the same is true with marketing and advertising. Without storytelling, a vibrant brand is merely a business: impersonal and irrelevant.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most companies have rich histories driven by people with passion—just like us—who want to be seen and heard. With a well-told story, a campaign in any industry can connect with customers in an emotional, authentic way.

Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to figure out the “how” when it comes to telling your story. Instead, think about what you and your business have been through, and tell a tale that reflects that journey. According to AdWeek, any story will probably fall into one of seven plot archetypes:

  1. Underdog (Overcoming the Monster): Your company has conquered insurmountable odds with more-than-average courage and strength. Grassroots or nonprofit organizations fit the bill.
  2. Rebirth: You and your business are reinventing the old and outdated with creativity and innovation.
  3. Quest: You’ve intentionally set off on some problem-solving, goal-achieving pursuit, which means your company has a good origin story, too.
  4. The Journey + Return: Transformation through travel and homecoming. After living through some unforeseen, strange and episodic situations, you’ve come full circle to share lessons learned.
  5. Rags to Riches: The story of how you’ve grown into your power and expertise, which could also mirror the Underdog narrative in some cases (think influencers/gurus).
  6. Tragedy/Cautionary Tale: You want people to learn from your mistakes, or someone else’s. For instance, a PSA.
  7. Comedy/Clarity: An often-satiric narrative that prioritizes clear communication and your relationship with your customer.

Best practices for structuring stories

Once you find your archetype, you have the power to decide how to tell it. Make sure the structure of your story aligns with your brand identity.

Non-Linear Structure
Remember the basic plot structure from English class? Exposition, climax, resolution and all the action in between? Well, you might not need all that—at least not in that order.

Here’s the thing about creativity: Sometimes you get to break the rules. And sometimes you can tell a story in bits and pieces across different channels, at different times: a landing page here, a banner ad there. With proper placement and authority, the narrative will come together as your audience collects information, kind of like a scavenger hunt.

A great example of this practice is Taylor Swift, the queen of storytelling (according to her fans, aka Swifties). Titling her recent album “Folklore” is fitting, considering Taylor has wrapped an audience around her finger by gamifying her entire brand. Using hidden symbols, character arcs and reoccurring themes, she’s built a world of lore within and around her music. And you don’t need to find these clues in any particular order, because they all contribute to the general experience of Taylor’s story that Swifties can’t get enough of.

Sequential Storytelling
Don’t discount a more straightforward approach, though. Planned and structured content is the backbone of the marketing world, and it can be equally engaging (if not more so). The key to a captivating campaign is strategy: reveal (or withhold) information to keep your audience engaged as they follow along. Tell your story in a sequence of distinct parts, serving more information at the right time in the right way. It’s basic human nature to want to know what happens next—the cliffhanger at the end of each chapter or episode.

Keep in mind that in this case, structure is everything. Without the initial exposition, there’s no reason to care about what comes next. Just like a good book, develop the character of your brand and explore opportunities to build a world around it. Then you’ll have a creative foundation for all the action.

Formats for Sharing Stories
Just as important as how you structure your campaign is how you share it. Without the proper channels, no one will get to see all the hard work you’ve put into constructing your masterpiece.

Text formats like articles, emails and ebooks are all intimate ways of developing your brand’s character and authority. Once you’ve established a relationship with your customer, you can send information piece by piece over a series of emails and blog posts, like chapters in a book. Then, compile it all into one easy-to-access ebook for the more dedicated customer.

The spoken word is another intimate and evergreen storytelling format. Weekly radio segments with a local on-air personality can build trust with your audience as they get to know you as a person, not a business. Podcasts are a similarly conversational storytelling format. And while they don’t quite carry the same hometown feel, they can be more accessible to your more tech-savvy consumers, and therefore more consumable.

Speaking of tech savvy, digital formats are your friend when it comes to more active, visual stories. Emotional narratives resonate well over video, while animation and games provide a more fun, interactive experience. These formats require more production resources, but set the stage for higher engagement.

Different customers will prefer different formats, and some may be more appropriate for your brand and the narrative you’re trying to share. There’s a reason why they call it the “art” of storytelling—at DS+CO, we’ve found that a truly masterful story doesn’t come to life overnight. It takes strategic insight, amplification and imagination. These are the ingredients, and we’ve got the recipe for a brand narrative so tantalizing, you can’t help but click “keep watching.”

If you’re ready to craft a brand story that does just that, drop us a line here. When you connect with one of our marketing specialists, we’ll pull out all the stops to craft an intelligent, strategic and communicable story that you’ll be proud to call your own.


Meg Lavery