Corporate Storytelling – How Great Stories Sell Your Products

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corporate storytelling

How many times have you seen a commercial after which you immediately said to yourself: “I gotta get me one of those!”

Marketing and sales is a complex field that is based upon exploitation of human needs and more often, emotions. Expert is able to trigger just the right buttons that will make a person act. One of the main tools that professionals use is corporate storytelling.

So, what is the main idea behind corporate storytelling?

Basically, it is the same thing as the traditional storytelling where you have a hero overcoming obstacles in order to reach his goal. However, in this case, he uses a product or a service in order to complete his quest.

In a sense, this type of storytelling empowers an individual and puts him in the main role.

Storytelling is a specific type of content marketing where individual has to follow a certain pattern. Although it is a bit harder to create, it does have numerous benefits.

According to Steve Olenski, here are the main four benefits:

  1. Corporate storytelling evokes emotions in a consumer
  2. It shows brand’s personality
  3. Portrays your brand as the main protagonist
  4. Builds a long-lasting relationship with a customer

In a way, we can see storytelling as something that will create an emotional bridge between consumers and brands.

How do we use storytelling?

There are two main approaches to storytelling:

  1. Promoting an individual product or service
  2. Creating brand awareness.

On paper, these two look very similar. Nevertheless, each one of them brings different risks and benefits.

But, this doesn’t seem logical. When you tell a story about a certain product, you are bound to mention the company which is producing that item. In a sense, this is correct but it all depends on where you place your focus.

In order to understand better, let us use example of Coca-Cola (the product) and Apple (the company).

Coca-Cola Company makes the most money by selling the drink of same name. In fact, do you even remember the last commercial for Fanta or Sprite? On the other hand, you will most likely remember polar bears and Santa-Claus.

Coca Cola

Pictures taken from dailybillboardblog.com and sponsorship.com

Have in mind that billboards were taken as an example to show company’s general strategy. Their short format is not best suited for storytelling. Nevertheless, they are a part of the arsenal that helps get story across.

Given the enormous revenues they get from Coca-Cola, the company always places it at the forefront and invests most of its marketing effort in it.

But, you might have noticed that each time, the message is different: Coca-Cola connects people, it helps us cheer our favorite club and it puts family together, makes us rejoice during the holydays etc. Because Coca-Cola Company is trying to promote an individual product, they have the option of changing their message each and every time.

Of course, in each commercial they are spreading positive vibes but that is too farfetched to be called a continuous message.

Although in each commercial there is distinctive Coca-Cola logo, story doesn’t revolve around brand. In fact, it always revolves around its flagship drink.

On the other side, there is Apple Computers.

For the longest time, Apple Computers were quite famous for their Macintosh computer. In fact, there were a lot of people who weren’t even aware that this product was made by the Apple Company.

As the time went by, this organization changed its focus and started putting emphasis on the brand. Instead of promoting one individual item, they started working with different technologies.

Macintosh

Pictures taken from dailybillboardblog.com

Due to this fact, a lot of these items are nowadays referred to as Apple products, not by their individual names.

Differences between brand storytelling and product storytelling

If you have a company, you might be wondering which one of these two you should use.

As you can see, both Apple and Coca-Cola have made quite a success by employing their strategies. Also, keep it in mind that they had different agendas.

While Coca-Cola focused on creating the most dominant product in beverage industry, Apple decided to promote all their products together by raising brand awareness.

In the end, both approaches make sense.

However, there are certain things that you should know when creating content.

If you opt for product storytelling, have in mind that everything you do will have to rotate around that particular item.  Furthermore, make sure that individual product has much bigger potential than your brand as a whole. This is a great strategy for companies that have a revolutionary product on their hands and would like to avoid any confusion.

Nowadays, everybody knows about massively popular game called Warcraft. But imagine what would have happened if the company which produced it, Blizzard Entertainment, decided to promote the brand instead of this revolutionary product.

Silly, right?

It is much easier to tell a story about individual product. Even if you create unsuccessful content, you will still be able to mitigate the damage by creating something better.

Bud Light

Picture taken from entrepreneur.com

Brand storytelling is a different story.

You might even refer to it as putting all your eggs in one basket.

This is a great approach for companies that have numerous products or tend to improve/change product on constant basis (as we have seen with Apple).

In this case, there is simply no point in promoting something or creating an emotional bond with a consumer if you are just going to break it up in the near future.

Unlike product storytelling, you have to be very careful with brands. There is no safety net in this case. Unsuccessful marketing campaign will affect all your products instead of just one. However, the benefits are more than obvious as such a campaign helps you with entire assortment of goods.

The Lego Movie is a great example of brand storytelling.

The Lego Movie teaches us that there is more than one way to promote a product

Instead of selling the product by showing different boxes with popular Lego sets as well as placing their logo all over the place, company decided to take a different route.

They simply made an awesome movie!

As you can see, company didn’t even want to push the product.

Instead, they just made a positive experience and now, each time a child revisits that experience, it will think of Legos. So you see, storytelling doesn’t create a physical need; it creates a mental desire.

Beginnings of corporate storytelling

Corporate storytelling resembles traditional fairy tales.

As you well know, classic stories had primarily education purpose. If you look beyond Walt Disney’s remakes, these stories were actually quite brutal and sinister.

Why would someone create something as vile as this for little children?

To instill fear so that the young ones would get valuable life lessons.

In modern times, the formula has changed. Stories no longer had a social character allowing the new generations to mature properly while developing sound moral values. Stories became commercial.

Disney was the first to exploit this. In fact, they can be regarded as one of the first real corporate storytellers and funny enough, they were in the actual story business.

Let’s take a moment to compare some classic fairy tales to their Walt Disney counterparts:

The Little Mermaid        

  • Classic story – The Prince chooses someone else leading to the Mermaid’s death
  • Disney story – The Mermaid gets the legs and the Prince

Sleeping Beauty

  • Classic story – The Prince rapes the Beauty and later on kills his wife to be with the Beauty
  • Disney story – The Beauty is woken from her sleep and gets the Prince

Pinocchio

  • Classic story – Pinocchio is hung from a tree
  • Disney story – Pinocchio becomes a real boy

Fate of Pinocchio in classic and Walt Disney story

Pinocchio

Pictures taken from lit4334goldenage.wordpress.com and pinterest.com

Clearly, there is an enormous difference between these two portrayals.

In many cases, educational form was excluded and there are no moral values to be learned.

Disney was the first to exploit this fact. As a result, this company is one of the most influential and powerful organizations in the world. How about that corporate storytelling!

Disney was never interested in teaching us something; they were interested in harnessing our emotions.

When something leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you are not going to come back asking for more. The company was aware of this and it gave us the product that we wanted. They realized that by modifying classic stories and adapting them for a modern consumer, they are able to create an emotional rapport.

In time, Walt Disney was seen as a company that brings us closer to our dreams and in the end, who doesn’t want to fulfil his dreams?

The main elements of a successful story

By now, you realize why corporate storytelling is important.

Let’s see how to do it.

According to Nigel Watts, each story should have eight key elements:

  1. Stasis – Beginning of the story where we first meet our hero in his natural environment
  2. Trigger – Something happens initiating the story
  3. The quest – Hero’s duties are revealed
  4. Surprise – Hero encounters allies, enemies and various complications
  5. Critical choice – Main protagonist has to make a difficult choice that will impact the rest of the story
  6. Climax – Peak of tension
  7. Reversal – The story is resolved
  8. Resolution – Hero returns to his natural state

All these elements are crucial for telling a good story.

If you would like to simplify it, good story should have a protagonist that finds himself in a pickle which will be resolved through strength of his character.

You might be wondering: “But I have never seen such a complex story in the corporative world.”

That is correct. This formula is more common for stories in their traditional form given that organizations don’t have that much time to go through all the steps and in such a detail. Nevertheless, corporate storytelling still has the same basis where a hero overcomes obstacles. With the use of their product, of course.

How to create a successful story?

So, how do the companies present their stories?

Every tale has to have a hero.

In a corporate storytelling, this hero is usually very relatable so that a consumer can feel his strive. Oftentimes, companies are very blunt and they send the message directly to you.

In this case, Google directly addresses you showing how their product can change your life

First element is the crucial one.

Imagine this ad.

Middle-aged guy sitting in his office. Next shot takes us to his home where his wife is looking at the clock while holding the baby. The picture goes back to the father who is looking worried, also while looking at the clock, but his demeanor tells you that he is forced to work long work hours in order to provide for his family.

Now, these are some real emotions!

Everybody can relate to having a small child and having to provide for it. The message is very simple, complete and relatable.

With this ad, we have already made an emotional bridge with the main protagonist. Many of us will imagine ourselves in his shoes. A lot of us have already gone through this ordeal.

After that, the next logical thought which pops in your head will be: “Wow, I hope that this guy will find a solution that will allow him to spend more time with his family.”

And of course, the solution comes in a form of a product or a service.

But, having a hero is just the first step.

Without complications, there is no reason for us to sympathize regardless of how relatable the main protagonist may be. This is where the drama kicks in.

Drama or plot twist can come in various ways. As we shown in previous example, corporations present it in a form of a day-to-day issue. Naturally, the bigger the problem, the more empathy will we have for the main protagonist.

 

 

Great examples of corporate storytelling

Lastly, we have a reversal where we see how our hero is able to resolve his problems.

But, there are other elements which are necessary for successful storytelling.

First of all, your story needs to be emotional because the only way it can cause a stir is by creating some sort of a tension.  Straight line is never good in marketing. It leaves people indifferent.

Your message has to be consistent (especially important for brand storytelling), truthful and simple. Receiver has to understand what you are getting at and to believe it to be true. Consistency is important as makes a connection between a brand or a product and the story itself. Imagine if you have an environmentally-friendly company and you promote pollution. Just don’t do it.

Lastly, it has to be adapted to your consumer. Before anything else, you have to study your target audience and learn as much as you can about them. Style, colors, dynamic, everything about your story has to be appropriate for the target viewer. Otherwise, it will feel out of place and individual will not be able to relate to it.

Lego-Pebbles-KoolAid

Products and brands for children are much more colorful and jovial

Pictures taken from seriouseats.com, pinterest.com and mirror.uncyc.org

UMMC-PMC

On the other hand, metallurgy is much more serious and authoritative

Pictures taken from nextlevelshow.com and ugmk.com

Sharing your story

 Let us presume that you nailed everything correctly so far.

Regardless of how great your story is, you will still have to promote it through proper channels in order to get the necessary visibility.

Corporate storytelling usually refers to creation of written and video content. Simply put, these two forms are the best way to tell a wholesome tale that will create the necessary emotional response. All the other marketing activities and promotions are there just to support the story.

In that regard, when we start our campaign, we have to focus on the Internet.

Yes, good part of our ads will be placed on TV. But let’s face it, who watches TV nowadays?

Having said that, your content has to go viral.

Commercial made by Air New Zealand

How does your content go viral?

It is based on a compelling story mixed with SMM (social media marketing) and SEO (search engine optimization).

In terms of corporate stories, there is another catch.

As previously mentioned, they revolve around heroes, right?

Well, you need to package your content in such a way that the person sharing the content feels as if he is a hero himself. With this, the circle is complete:

  • Consumer reads your content about a hero, ordinary guy very similar to him
  • He witnesses his trials and tribulations as well as his triumph
  • Our potential customer gets the opportunity to become a hero by sharing the content
  • By becoming the hero, he puts himself in the shoes of the previous hero and get emotionally attached to a product that helped him achieve victory

Naturally, for this to be accomplished, your content needs to be easily sharable. There also has to be a visible incentive why this content should be shared in the first place. On average, the content which helps others, solves social issues and raises awareness is much more shared than any other type of content.

People have to be moved by the story and to truly believe that by sharing it, they will help others improve their life.

Sharing can be done either through links or through social media. Regardless, any type of share will bring your more visibility allowing your content to go viral.

Conclusion

Even though this term is not as commonly used as some other marketing phrases, corporate storytelling is something that can turn a mediocre organization into a real corporate giant.

It can turn content creators into legends and company owners into millionaires.

Stories have gone a long way from their traditional form to the one that we use today. Regardless of commercial intent, never forget that they actually a type of art.

So, if you like a nice story, take a pen and paper (ehm, computer), and start creating. Who knows where the journey will take you?

Grandpa

Picture taken from hankfrazee.com

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10 Comments on "Corporate Storytelling – How Great Stories Sell Your Products"

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kathir
Guest

Thanks for posting this informative article.
One of best post i ever seen.
Thanks for posting this
Regards,
kathir

Andrew Holland
Guest

A very good article. I did not know about the fairytale origin story. Loved the viral part and the story telling stages. An excellent article and thanks.

Carlos Monteblanco
Guest

Amazing blog, Nikolay!

Extremely comprehensive and moving. I felt connected with all of your corporate examples – Apple, Lego, Google, Disney, MetLife. Simple, consistent, shareable, and being able to connect with the hero in the story are all crucial elements of successful corporate storytelling – thank you!

Alex
Guest

A really interesting article Nikolay.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the psychology of marketing, and corporate storytelling seems to be part of the same topic, but for some reason I’ve never seen it addressed in such detail before.

Also, I’ve had my eyes opened as to how much we consumers are influenced (manipulated?) by corporate marketing tactics that we might not even recognise as marketing. It’s quite a rabbit hole to go down…

Rayhan Islam
Guest

Really very informative article. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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