A powerful brand tells a powerful story. Companies that understand and utilize the fundamentals of storytelling create emotional experiences for their customers and build trust and connect with communities of real life people.
But what exactly makes a good story? Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental elements of stories.
It all begins with a character – a person — who starts out living in their comfortable world. Every good story involves characters – the actual people involved – who have certain fears and desires; people who want something deep in their heart and struggle to pursue their goal against the obstacles.
Characters Have a Role
In the context of branding, there are 3 what we can call “main characters.” In reality there are dozens of characters in a brand’s story-including the people who supply raw materials for products, manufacture, right up to the person who delivers it to your door. Basically everyone involved in any of the business activity or product development is considered a minor character. But that is too vast a network and the roles are less central, so we’ll focus on the main cast of characters for now.
Main Character #1: The Company
These include the actual real-life human beings that make up the company. Some examples are: the founders, a visionary behind the business or product idea, CEO and other leadership who run the day to day business, and any other essential or public facing employees. The company forms the basis of the story – the real-life human actors and activity that the brand story builds upon.
Main Character #2: The Customer
These include the people currently and potentially out there in the world who the company wishes to connect with and sell to. This is the community of people who share a common challenge or need. They may already be organized into associations and interest groups—they may already know each other—or they may be mostly separate and unaffiliated.
Main Character #3: The Brand
The brand functions as a persona of your company, like an emergent property. It cannot exist without the company yet it is distinct. The brand is its own person – complete with desires, needs, fears, hopes and personality. It is the invention of good brand storytelling.
Characters Have a Type
In a good story, each character plays a particular role, and there are 6 basic character types.* They serve as the archetypes needed to make the story engaging and have forward motion.
- The Hero. The hero is the protagonist, the main character in your brand story. This is going to be the customer.
- The Villain. The foil to and opposite of the hero. These people will actively work against your customer to stop them from getting what they want.
- The Sidekick. The hero’s helper. They live to support the hero and help them to get what they want by being by their side. This could be your best friend who buys you a gift you didn’t even know you needed.
- The Mentor. The one who has the wisdom and ability to help the hero. Most often this is going to be your brand. The mentor finds the customer and gives them what they need to get what they want.
- The Tempter. Their job is to distract the hero from their goal. They create diversions and distracting conversations to knock your hero, your customer, off track. They create confusion.
- The Heart. The opposite of the tempter. They empathize with your hero and lead
- The Skeptic. They work to question your hero and sow doubt. They make your hero overthink, procrastinate, and fail to act on getting what they want.
- The Mind. The opposite of the skeptic. The mind supports your hero intellectually, and helps them think through considerations in a productive way and bust through doubt.
In the context of branding, your brand will likely assume the roles of the mentor, the sidekick, the heart, and the mind, depending on the place and time they encounter the customer.
Characters Have a Desire
Good, believable characters are driven by a strong desire. This works on two levels. They have something that they want, and they have something that they need.
The job of the brand is to supply what they need. Characters typically already know what they want. What they want is more hidden from them – it exists underneath the want. E.g. I know I want to feel better and be healthy. I do not yet know that I need a new probiotic health drink in order to feel better and be healthy. (Note: If I do already know I need the new health drink, then the story is complete, and the job of branding has already been accomplished – the customer is seeking you and wants to make a purchase.)
So the real job is to connect the NEED and the WANT together in the mind of the customer. When they make that connection in their mind, they will be willing to connect with you, and invite you to help them – sell to them.
Characters Have a Personality
It’s not enough for characters to play a role. Strong characters are also unique individuals – they have a personality, style, tone, voice, and look. It’s the expression of the role. When you combine the role with the personality, your brand becomes unique and starts to stand out with the customer. Connection becomes natural and easy. E.g. Your brand as a mentor could be a Gandalf the Great type (they have the secret knowledge, and they will be humorous and sly and confident in how they give it to you slowly over time. Or, a mentor could be more of a mad scientist – emerging from the lab with advanced technology, and constantly informing you and directly teaching you proudly about it’s benefits.
Viewing your company, customer, and brand as characters in a story makes possible powerful storytelling. And customers love a good story – even better, they love to be INVOLVED IN and playing an good role good a story!
Next up in Part 2, we will take a look at Setting, building the World where the brand story takes place.