Storytelling is all the rage. More and more brands are comprehending the power of stories to transform their presence and identity.
Iconic brands such as Disney and Coca-Cola have long realized the power of their brand story to build a connection with their audience. Companies like Apple possess brand stories that are legendary in their status.
What’s in a story, though? How does the story develop authenticity? More to the point, how does such a story create that trusting feeling that customers crave?
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There is a good reason for the popularity of stories among brands, businesses, and individuals.
Stories are a powerful tool in human communication. Research indicates that the human brain responds to the descriptive power of stories in deeply affecting ways, influencing both the sensory and motor cortex. To read a story is to feel an experience and to synchronize our minds with the subject of the story.
Synchronize is the right word. Scientists call it neural coupling.
In the process of neural coupling, a speaker and a listener share a story that allows their brands to interact in a dynamic and interactive way.
No, this isn’t “mind-meld,” even though some scientists use that term in an effort to describe it. It is a brain activity that occurs in two people simultaneously, affecting the same areas of the brain during the process of storytelling.
Princeton researchers use the mirroring metaphor: “The listener’s brain activity mirrors the speaker’s activity.” Successful neural coupling produces greater comprehension, understanding, anticipation, and receptivity.
The net effect of comprehension, understanding, anticipation, and receptivity is trust. By telling a story and connecting with the reader, a storyteller can actually generate trust in the reader.
Stories produce trust. But not just any story will do. You must tell a story that has the right features — features that produce successful neural coupling, plus those which exhibit integrity-building features.
So…how do you do this exactly?
Susan Gunelius in her Forbes article has the best description of this:
Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.
In other words, your story isn’t dominated by some godlike figure who dominates the legend and infuses the company with life and power. No. Instead, your story is inspired by the presence of people who participate, create, connect, and develop the saga of growth and success.
Personality drives the story. But the story isn’t a biography of an individual. It’s the evolution of an entity told with personality.
People trust other people. The core reason why your story should be personality-driven is so that it will provide someone real for customers to trust.
Buffer’s story is simple. Even though the description of the company’s origin takes up a few thousand words, it is conceptually straightforward:
That’s it. If we try to pack more undulation into the story, we tend to lose the momentum that is integral to its success.
Simple stories are better. Science says so, and experience affirms it. While we may love the complexity of a Harry Potter plot, we can’t import that same complex model into the brand story. We need simplicity.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The three-part model mentioned above carries this natural progression:
This is the form of a story that people expect. Everything has a beginning, right?
Be careful with the ending, though. It’s not supposed to be an ending like the end of the road. It should suggest the beginning of success and continuation.
Simple stories are more trustworthy. As some of the world’s most famous brands have shown, the complexity of the story can erode trust.
Why does your business exist?
The answer should be a story.
An answer such as “to make money” is short-sighted. Your business might be making money. That’s fine and well. But why does your brand exist? What is the reason?
The answer to that question requires that you tell a story.
A brand like TOMS shoes uses their story as a bedrock for their existence. The tagline, “One for one,” means that for every purchased pair TOMS gives a pair of shoes to someone in need. TOMS exists to improve lives.
Their story describes the whole reason for the existence of the company. That builds trust. Dmg netservice. Careful customers are asking “why should I buy from you?” If you can answer that question with a real story, then you’ve built the trust of that customer.
At its essence, a story isn’t really about your company. Your company is the construct, but the goal of the story is to create a connection with your customers.
Tell your story in such a way that it tells your customers we relate to you, we understand you, we are like you.
Few things can communicate that level of engagement like a story can.
A brand like North Face must connect with active and adventure-minded people. The whole idea of the brand is to inspire adventure and the outdoor life. Their mantra is “Never stop exploring.” The brand’s story communicates this ideal.
The kind of customer who wants to be part of this story will resonate with North Face’s origins and legacy.
When your story connects with the target customer, you build trust. You win.
I wrote, “customers should buy part of the story” (not just be part of the story). The distinction is critical.
Why? Because a customer is not only participating in the story itself, but they are participating in a monetary way. They engage the story by purchasing from the business that is telling the story.
When a customer purchases your product, they must feel as if they are buying part of the story. The best way to explain this is to use the example of Patagonia, a brand that takes this to a whole new level.
Patagonia uses the term “worn wear” to describe their clothing products that have endured for years. The product themselves, items that customers buy, are part of the brand’s story.
Patagonia aptly calls this “the stories we wear.” It’s such a big deal that Patagonia made a movie about it.
This is the ideal form of storying. Why? Because it places the story directly into the product itself. Customers are buying that product, and in so doing, they are buying the brand story.
The customer owns the story; therefore, they trust it. The customer is now part of your story. They’ve bought into it. Literally.
I’ve described what the story is, but what about the how? How do you do this?
In one sense, the story takes care of itself. A good story is shareable. Others will appreciate and engage in the story. That being said, there are a few things that you can do to enhance the stories virality:
A great example of successful brand storytelling comes from Ben Silbermann, co-founder of Pinterest. Although a soft-spoken and reserved guy, Ben tells his story with passion and authenticity. His personal brand grew as he and his team told the story. It grew.
Stories are a vehicle for trust and belief. When people hear your story in more places, it reinforces their trust. And when they start telling your story themselves, they trust it even more.
Stories are powerful. But don’t get stuck in your story.
Remember, a story is the framework for a business’s life. The story shouldn’t create a trap but serve as a catalyst. Some brands get so caught up in their story, that they neglect the value of their present activation. Although you can honor your brand’s heritage, you should still live in the present.
The great thing about a story is that it lives on. Real stories keep on telling, keep on going, and keep on connecting with people. Keep your story alive by continuing to impress your customers and give them the best experience possible.
Your story will build the foundation of trust, but only a customer’s personal experience will cement that trust into something that lasts.
“We are much better storytellers than we are logicians.”
Let’s use the power of story to build trust.
How do you create trust-building stories?
Our previous post focused on how the Analyze phase of training content development applies to journalism and how Microsoft 365 tools can support that process. This article focuses on the Design phase.
We introduced the ADDIE model here.
The five phases of content development are:
D – Design
In learning and development, when we get to the Design phase, we know the project goals and the audience. Now, we build out the training framework.
This stage is when we evaluate the steps to achieve the Learning Objective — the training goal – and answer some key questions, such as:
The Design phase is when the big decisions are made: We’ll put together an outline of content, exercises we have (or need to build), and demos we want to do. Essentially, we create the overall training structure.
My three primary tools for this process are OneNote,Excel, and Teams. For some bigger projects, I’ll use Planner and Word. Here are some tasks and the tools I leverage to complete them.
By the end of this Design phase, I’ve locked the core elements of the content and the plan.
For reporters, this is like the early drafting phase. They’ve amassed a lot of information through their interviews and research and can start planning the story. They work through the visual and multimedia support they’ll need, where different elements of the report will sit in the narrative, and be able to do a planning review. Those same bullets and tools apply.
By this point, the hard work is done. You know what resources you have. You know what resources you need to get. You may come out of this phase ready to write and record, or you may know what other work you need to do in the next phase like:
For a complex story, each of these elements could spawn its own ADDIE analysis since ultimately, we’re talking a framework for creating content.
Now, we just have to turn those outlines and plans into a story. It’s time to move to the Develop phase, to be discussed in the next element.
Continue to ADDIE Basics for Journalists: A Framework for Crafting Stories — Develop (Part 4)