The Creative Director of the The New BLK in Omaha, Nebraska, shares his best advice for companies looking to tell the story of their brand to potential customers and the world.
1. Make sure your story is actually a story
As Ernest Hemingway once observed: “All our words from loose using have lost their edge.” Have you noticed how the words ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ are seemingly everywhere these days, from mass media to casual conversations at the water cooler? Software developers, for example, call the issues and bugs they’re fixing ‘stories.’
For brands, the good news is all this talk of story has elevated our awareness and appreciation for something that has been fundamentally true forever, that people remember ideas expressed in story form. Stories are sticky. Our brains are hard-wired for them so we should have no trouble recognizing what is and what is not a story. Trust that instinct. There’s more than one way to tell a story, but you do need at least some of the core elements: characters, setting, conflict, plot, theme.
2. Speak like a human
Find your voice, and when you do, gut check it to make sure it sounds like how a real, live human being might speak and not the voice of Siri reciting the minutes from a marketing committee meeting. How would you tell your story if you were tucking your kids into bed or sitting around a campfire or pitching it as a movie script?
You can be funny, sincere, dramatic, laid-back, intense—whatever personality that comes through, above all else, make sure it’s real. Be authentic, which is altogether different from being air quotes “authentic.” Authenticity is another word Hemingway would have shoved in your face just before taking a shot of rum and wrestling a grizzly bear.
3. Find your hook
You’ve got only a few seconds to grab your audience’s attention, even if they sought you out, even if they’re trapped in a room and have no choice but to sit there until you’ve finished rambling. The hook is like the part of a pop song you find yourself humming, it’s the meme that made you laugh and then click ‘share.’ There could be more than one hook, but you need at least one. Look for the unexpected, the cool little detail, the thing that ties it all together. Give your audience a reason to care.
4. Hold the cheese
The stories we remember, share, and make our own are ones that strike an emotional chord. They move us in a real way.
A common mistake is to take shortcuts and give the appearance of emotions without actually earning them. Think how soaring violins and two characters running towards each other in slow motion make us think – look, they’re in love, I should cry now.
You’re fooling no one. Put the sledgehammer down. Subtlety, nuance, and finesse are your friends. Stay true to your story and the essence of what makes your brand special and channel how you genuinely feel about the brand into the narrative. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, go back in and rework it.
5. Accept that you’re not starting at chapter one
This movie has already started. It’s playing right now—the real, everyday experiences of your customers, employees, and everyone else who interacts with your brand. Your story is happening on a conscious, rational level, and it’s happening below the surface too. It’s your people, what they say, what they do, and what they don’t. It’s your products and services, your environment, your culture, your vibe. It’s the pass-along conversation that inevitably occurs each time a customer or prospective customer walks away after touching and feeling your brand. It’s the aggregate of all of that and more.
As you prepare to tell your story, it’s important to first recognize that you’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper. Your story has a back story. Own it, shape it, steer it and know that even your final output will only be one draft of many.
Eric Gautschi is Managing Partner/Creative Director at The New BLK. The New BLK is an ad agency, creative think tank, and content production studio based in Omaha.