Connect with Your Core: Story Telling 101

Dayton, OH—Story Telling is not just for books. It’s for brands, events, and experiences too!

It is said that, “If you confuse, you lose.” Donald Miller of StoryBrand offers some great insight into how to best script the narrative in any story:

Step 1: Collect The Back Story

Every brand has a story to tell. Start by digging up the back story. In traditional marketing, this is often referred to as the situation analysis. This provides the background necessary to explain the problem that must be solved for the brand. Just like every movie has a hero, a guide, and a problem (nemesis), it's important that your customer is situated as the hero. Every back story is different but usually consists of any and all information relevant to the story about to be written. This includes an assessment of the brand’s culture as well as problems and opportunities it faces in the marketplace.

Step 2: Characterize The Brand

One of the key challenges of the StoryBranding planning process is to identify the brand’s persona. Traditional planning methods start by focusing on the prospect. In contrast, the StoryBranding process starts with an investigation of the brand first and with the help of management. Specifically, it begins with a thorough understanding of the brand’s value and belief system. Since this is sometimes difficult for management to articulate, we use a number of techniques, including archetypal analysis, to help everyone see the brand more as a person than a thing. While looking for belief markers, it is equally important to determine whether the brand is evidencing what it stands for and not just providing lip service.

Besides trying to understand the brand’s strengths, it is equally important to understand the brand’s limitations. Too often, we see brands trying to take advantage of opportunities that are far outside the realm of what is believable and consistent with consumer expectations. At other times, we see brands upholding values that their products and/or operational behaviors can’t possibly support. Imagine, for example, White Castle suddenly adopting a position around healthful eating, or Motel 6 trying to associate itself with the value of luxury. These are extreme examples of reaching outside the realm of the prospect’s expectations, but the point is that brand identities, once formed, have certain guardrails. Go outside of these guardrails and the risk of failure increases.

Step 3: Characterize The Prospect

Once the brand is fully explored, we then characterize the most likely prospects. Specifically, we look to see what functional and emotional needs are being left unfulfilled. Then we set out to discover the extent to which any of these needs presents an opportunity for the brand in question. In story parlance, this is referred to as the dramatic issue. It consists of the problem that propels the main character’s journey, which might be about finding redemption, love, or a life purpose. While constructing the brand story, we are similarly looking for something that would propel the prospect’s movement toward a fulfilled relationship with the brand. More often than not, fulfillment results from a belief that is shared with the brand and one that the prospect feels is important to his or her identity.

Step 4: Connect The Characters

At this stage, we start to play matchmaker. Now that we understand our two story characters--the brand, and the prospect--we look for the fit between them. Short term, we are interested in knowing how the brand satisfies a functional need through its product features and benefits. Additionally, however, we need to know that there is something that can spark a long-term relationship, one that is founded on shared values and beliefs.

Step 5: Confront The Obstacles

Our model requires a definition of the communication obstacles standing in the way of the brand/prospect relationship. Typically these fall into four categories: awareness, comprehension, confidence, and affinity. The extent to which any of these obstacles must be overcome sets up the plot. Besides identifying the big rocks that are in the way, we prioritize them in order of which have to be moved first to achieve the brand’s ultimate relationship goal.

Step 6: Complete The Story Brief

Unlike the traditional creative brief, the StoryBrief outlines the entire brand story in ways that further an empathetic understanding of the brand and prospect personas. One of the main functions of the StoryBrief is to identify what we call the outer and inner layers of both the brand and the prospect. Outer layers have to do with functions performed by the brand and desired by the prospect. Inner layers have to do with values and beliefs that are subscribed to by both of the characters. To help, we craft what we refer to as “I am” statements for each character. These take the form of first-person, autobiographical sketches as opposed to factual descriptions that are common to most traditional briefs. These stimulate empathy and identification, which is something we believe is missing from most traditional creative input documents.