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The science of storytelling: 6 powerful techniques for brands

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell” – Seth Godin

The idea that brands should tell stories is not new. Unless you’ve been calling the underside of a rock home for the past decade, you will know that digital storytelling is the future of marketing.

It makes sense. From the societal structures that exist in our collective imagination, to the gossip sessions we indulge in and the Netflix shows we binge on, our appetite for stories is insatiable.

Digital media has made it easy for consumers to get their fix. As a result, every brand marketer wants in on the trend, but unfortunately only few appreciate its nuances. You can’t just #throwbackthursday an unflattering team photo or flood your Facebook feed with motivational quotes and call it storytelling.

Storytelling is a science and there are rules. The most popular stories of all time, from critically acclaimed novels to cult movies all contain a set of elements that make them appealing. A story is only as powerful as the ingredients used to create it. If you want to connect with your audience, you need to get the recipe right.

In his book Story Engineering, best-selling author Larry Brooks outlines a range of techniques and elements he argues are found in every good story. We’ve outlined them below so you can understand how to tell your brand’s story in an effective way.

1. Conflict

Conflict is the essence of a story and what drives it forward. Think back to the last novel you read and you’ll quickly be able to pinpoint the conflict that shaped the story. If you think instigating drama isn’t right for your brand, don’t worry – you don’t have to re-create a Star Wars-style conflict of galactic proportions. Instead, leverage conflict by creating content that addresses and helps solve any challenges or struggles your audience is facing.

2. Emotion

Great stories are fuelled by emotion so don’t shy away from it. When creating a piece of content, from a social media update to a blog post, always ask yourself “what do I want my audience to feel?” If your content connects with your audience on an emotional level, they’re more likely to share it. According to research from the Harvard Business Review specific emotions commonly found in highly viral content are curiosity, amazement, interest, astonishment and uncertainty.

3. Theme

Every great story has at least one clear-cut theme running through it, with some of the common ones being love and friendship, revenge, fate and the coming of age. In Story Engineering, Larry Brooks advises writers to identify themes by asking themselves: how do I touch people’s heart and ignite their intellect? Choose themes that resonate with your audience’s hopes and fears and regularly use them as a basis for your content.

4. Character

A compelling main character is the backbone of a story. Treat your brand like one, defining variables like personality, quirks, goal and motivations – with the aim of creating a three-dimensional character that your audience will root for. Leverage your character/brand’s backstory too – if your brand has an unusual heritage or a unique worldview, turn that into a major content pillar.

5. Scenes

In a novel or screenplay, each scene has a mission to accomplish, driving the plot forward. Great scenes are almost always simple, only delivering a single key piece of information to the reader or viewer. Brands should take a similar approach with their content. Be clear about the purpose of every content piece you create – if it doesn’t further your brand’s story, leave it out. Keep in mind that great scenes leave the reader or viewer hanging. Create that sense of anticipation by teasing your audience about upcoming content and regularly surprising them with something unexpected.

6. Voice

A great writing voice is easy to recognise – it feels natural and effortless. When crafting your brand’s voice, keep in mind that less is more. Consistency is crucial too, so put together a tone of voice style guide that outlines the type of words and expressions you’ll be using. If you’re struggling, think about characters or celebrities you’d associate your brand with and take inspiration from them. Regardless of the voice you choose, make sure you follow the most important storytelling rule of them all: show, don’t tell.

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