Every brand wants to take their audience through an unforgettable journey, so taking the time to assess what the journey will look like is a critical part of building a brand story.
There are many structures storytellers use to create different types of stories, here are eight of the most common ones.
1. Monomyth: Also referred to as the Hero’s Journey, this story model is probably the most popular because we simply love heroes and their remarkable journeys. Many of our favorite childhood stories as well as religious accounts have been built around this structure. This story archetype introduces the character as someone who lives an ordinary life but then through some unforeseen circumstance or conflict, they undergo a deep personal transformation that brings a fresh perspective to them and those around them.
In brand storytelling, this structure is often used to showcase the customer as the hero as they share testimonials on how they were ‘transformed’ by the brand’s product or service. We are also seeing that brands are leveraging this approach internally to drive employee advocacy by turning employees into the heroes in their brand story and giving them an open platform to share the ‘transformation’ they’ve experienced while being part of the company. At any rate, this model is very effective in inspiring audiences. Remember, you want to take your audience through an unforgettable journey, so taking the time to assess what the journey will look like is a critical part of building the brand story.
2. The Mountain: This story structure centers on building up the narrative conflict or tension to its high climatic point. Just as a mountain visually escalates in nature and then descends after reaching the summit, the plot in this story model exposes one challenge after the other, leading to a dramatic point and then to an equally sensational conclusion. In the Mountain structure, the ending of the story is not necessarily a happy one. Many people confuse this structure with the basic story arc because visually they look relatively the same. But the story arc is a general guidance on how stories should be crafted end-to-end. The Mountain structure, on the other hand, is an actual plot design that strategically and deliberately takes the audience through an intense experience immediately after the story begins. This structure can be used to capture and keep your audience’s attention in a very emotional way. Because it is intense in nature, it’s important to measure how the story might land with your audience in the testing phase and be extra analytical of the responses you get when landing it to ensure it is successful as a technique.
3. Nested Loops: In this brand storytelling technique, you build a number of narratives (loops) to finally arrive at the central story. This technique is practical for large corporations that have hybrid audiences because they can ‘layer up’ the brand narrative to eventually reach general audiences. At Microsoft, my team was able to use this model to accomplish the task of creating a technical story and matching it with one showcasing a personal angle in order to expand our audience base. In this case, we knew that our core audience (IT professionals, business decision makers and developers) wanted their content to be specific and not ‘watered down’. They enjoyed reading technical white papers and case studies because this content delineated specific steps they were looking to employ within their own corporations. Clearly, we couldn’t reach a general consumer audience with a white paper or case study, and of course, we did not want to take content away from our main audience. So we set out to create other narratives (or loops) that pointed to that main content. These other narratives were people-focused stories – stories about those engineers or team members who contributed to that specific task or project mentioned in the case study. But the narratives also served as stand-alone stories that highlighted a person or team and could be marketed all by themselves as feel-good stories. This proved to be a very successful tactic for us, directly contributing to significant increase in content consumption year over year.
4. Sparklines: In this narrative, the audience is presented with a contrasting view of reality and utopian world and taken through a journey of ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ to inspire the audience into action, often to help improve a specific situation. This structure is creative, dynamic and emotional in its essence and often used to draw attention to social activism.
5. In medias res: From the Latin for ‘into the middle of things’. This narrative begins in the middle of the action, often the climax of the story, to invoke a shocked reaction from the audience, and then loops around to give context to the story. This technique is very successful in capturing your audience’s attention from the beginning, but you must be diligent in keeping their attention through the rest of the story by creatively bringing the beginning and conclusion together.
6. Converging Ideas: Just as the name indicates, converging ideas is an amalgamation of different angles of a story that together unearth the story’s main message. Similar to nested loops, converging ideas tells many stories (which may even seem disconnected if standing by themselves) that eventually come together cohesively. This technique is great for building stories from different areas or disciplines of a company. As we can’t expect a finance lead to tell the same story as an operations analyst, both can build the brand story from their own angle, centered in the brand theme (mission) and showcasing the same universal truth. This allows for bigger and more diverse audience reach while at the same time keeping the story inclusive. In coming chapters, we will learn more about how to do this effectively with an integrated marketing plan…reimagined.
7. False Start: This story technique is primarily used to show a flexible approach to a story and keep the audience wondering what’s next. In this narrative, you begin by telling a story that can be easily foreshadowed (it’s predictable in nature), giving the audience a false sense of control, before abruptly starting over with another narrative. This surprise element forces the audience to ‘stay tuned’ and pay close attention to the rest of the story.
8. Petals: Similar to converging ideas, this structure brings together other stories, but differs in that the stories are all connected by a central narrative. In this technique, each individual ‘petal’ culminates in the main or center story. This technique is good for showing your audience how many interconnected stories can be told from one main narrative.
A meaningful story lands well because it considers the audience’s needs. While anyone can tell a story by introducing the basic elements of character, plot and conclusion, building an effective brand story structure intentionally contemplates how the storytelling will be received by the audience.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Miri Rodriguez. Excerpted from her book Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story (Kogan-Page)
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