Once upon a time…

From Apple to John Lewis, the most successful brands are great storytellers. Here are some ways you can take a leaf out of their (best-selling) book.

Since mankind first sat around a fire, stories have had an amazing knack for bringing people together. Whether written, visual or spoken, they help embed facts and trigger emotions. And the neuroscience backs it up.

Not just science fiction

Most businesses are built on left-brain thinking. This means they are generally founded on a logical, rational, fact-based approach. They’re most comfortable writing bullet-pointed lists, data sheets and FAQs. They love a good stat or an infographic.

But, research shows, this kind of information only activates small areas of your brain. It’s when these dry facts are woven into a compelling story that multiple areas are activated – your sensory cortex and cerebellum, motor cortex, visual, auditory and olfactory cortex… Put simply, a good story engages all your senses.

Jennifer Edson Escales, Marketing Researcher at Vanderbilt University, USA, found that a test audience had more positive reactions to advertisements that were told as narratives than those that used facts and arguments.

You needn’t search far to see brands harnessing this power. Just look at Christmas advertising from the past few years and you’ll see narratives that are designed to tug at our heart strings as much as our purse strings.

Telling your brand’s story

Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer of the Virgin Group, once said, “The best brands are built on great stories.” So what do Virgin and the other great brand storytellers have that we can all learn from?

Like most good novels, it comes down to a few, simple ingredients:

Character: you don’t need a famous CEO – a Steve Jobs or Richard Branson – to breathe personality and character into your writing. By defining your brand’s personality and allowing this to come out in your writing, you’ll create a sense of character that can stand alone.

Authenticity: don’t attempt to make your writing quirky and fun if you’re a serious, professional business. Instead, get to the heart of what makes your business tick – the real, human spirit that underpins what you do.

Difference: all too often, brands try to copy other market leaders. We’re often asked to make something sound more ‘Innocent’ or ‘Pret’, but it’s always best to take your own path. Identify what makes your business unique: what makes your story inspiring and original?

Structure: in practical terms, a good story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. But, unlike most narratives, your brand story shouldn’t have an ending as such. It should keep unfolding as you grow or diversify. After all, ‘author’ derives from the latin word augere, meaning to increase. That way, everyone from the finance director to the new graduate can live ‘happily ever after’.