Brand Storytelling: The 7 Story Archetypes and How to Infuse Them into Your Content
Have you often wondered why certain stories appear similar? It is because they are created from one of the seven story archetypes.
In his book ‘The 7 Basic Plots’, Christopher Booker describes the common plots associated with storytelling and how authors have used them to hold their readers spellbound throughout history.
In marketing, advertisers and content writers use the same concept to connect the audiences to their product. Storytelling is common in content marketing. This is not surprising, because humans are naturally drawn to stories.
Our brains have been hard-wired by evolution to respond automatically to stories in a process known as neuro coupling. We crave them; this is why we are 22 times more likely to recall the details of a story than a factual statement.
James Cummings, CEO, takes a look at product descriptions and e-commerce.
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Are you using Storytelling to Sell?
Stories are how we connect with our peers and learn things as we go on. We all know this, but generally don’t leverage this opportunity to market our business.
Is your brand expressed in a way that is focused and easy to understand? Do you use a specific theme with symbols and metaphors? Or do you just remember to plug in a story when writing a blog post?
It may not be your fault. Most of the resources available online are about the ‘why’ of storytelling, and not the ‘how’. If we focused more on the execution, it would be easier to produce more useful content for our business.
Where to Start
Before we begin, it is important to know what brand storytelling really is. Contrary to popular opinion, it is more than just a blog or a social media post. The business of brand storytelling combines many important aspects:
- What is your business about?
- What does your business hope to achieve?
- How do you solve problems?
- How does your product /service add value and care?
- What message do you use to engage and contribute?
These are important questions to consider when creating content for your audience.
Where to start? Do what creative writers and authors have been doing for years – start by understanding the basis of your story
Note that your business is the story. It has characters (a hero, a mentor and a villain). All these characters exist in a given landscape (the setting).
The hero of your story is the client and they have a goal they want to achieve. There are obstacles (pain-points) that stand in the way of their success. Your brand is the mentor that is there to guide the client safely towards their goal.
Both the hero and mentor have ‘super powers’ or special abilities that make it possible to collaborate and succeed. All this is represented in a plot – a specific framework that determines how the story is told.
Start with your mission and vision – the ‘Big Why’- and the reason for starting your business. The plot/theme of your business is the foundation for your branding story. It is what guides you in choosing certain archetypes, metaphors, languages and symbols for your communications.
The 7 Story Archetypes and Content Marketing
Now that you know the basic concept of brand storytelling, you can decide which plot you want your story to adopt. Everything you do to sell your business must be consistent with the same story, no matter how small it is.
This is not just about your logo, branding and tagline. It also includes your blog posts, social media content and email marketing campaigns. When blended together, they should all feel like a strong narrative, with a common goal.
Conquering the Monster
Everybody has a ‘monster’ in their life, something they always want to overcome. In tales of yesteryear, it was a literal monster; Hercules battled the Cerberus, the three-headed dog, while David conquered Goliath. Today, our ‘monsters’ are not so literal.
People may set goals to gain a promotion or lose weight. To defeat this obstacle or overcome fear, the protagonist needs more strength and courage than they already possess. A typical example is the Dove campaign, Choose Beautiful.
In the B2B industry, there are many stories about the struggle against a more established brand that is bigger and more formidable. Your brand can factor into this plot by helping the SMB discover their niche and overcome that company without necessarily entering into a head-to-head competition.
This is another popular story. In this plot, the protagonist usually seeks something i.e. Odysseus or Frodo in Lord of the Rings.
In your business, these are opportunities to tell stories that solve problems for your clients- ones in which they can achieve success and emerge victorious. There may be a journey involved, but it is chosen by the protagonist (unlike the voyage and return plot).
One company that captured this style perfectly is American Express. They sponsored a project where journalists were assigned to Buchi Kombucha, a brewing company specialising in the making of Kombucha (a special kind of liquor). For three months, the journalists captured seven chapters of interesting content in three short video documentaries.
The content showcases the effort both co-founders exerted to achieve their dream, with Amex as the supporting mentor that made it possible.
The Voyage and Return
In this story, the protagonist is often thrown into a voyage/journey, not of their own accord. There is a journey, but one that consists mostly of wandering like the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.
If your business falls into this category, try promoting it as a transformational process through trying encounters. Upon your return, it is time to share the lessons learned with your audience. Clients who are currently going through the same situation will instantly identify with you.
Say your ideal customer travels a lot. Your products can provide some sort of succour along the way. For example, think about convenient luggage design, convenient travel agency or a tour guide service. Procter and Gamble showed the progress of Olympics champions in its ‘Thank You Mom’ ad. The journey to success was not easy, but they prevailed in the end.
Rags to Riches
‘Rags to riches’ is a plot we all know well; a typical Aladdin story – or Cinderella if you prefer. The hero starts as a simple, timid version of themselves, but goes through various trials, eventually maximising their potential to become a more powerful figure.
In a business narrative, the story will address the process of realising your true potential; going from novice to mastermind. In Wieden and Kennedy’s ‘Nike Golf’ ad, they take us through the gradual progress of Rory McElroy, from insignificant golfer to golf professional, playing alongside Tiger Woods (his childhood idol).
These are stories about community, clarity and relationships. A typical story example is ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. If the comedy is the backbone of your story, your customers should be able to identify with it and share it with people that matter to them.
Many brands add the comedy plot to their content. For example, the plot for Specsavers’ popular campaign, ‘Should Have Gone to Specsavers’ is a comedy. It highlights the interaction of different individuals with their surroundings, and how Specsavers would have helped them if they had consulted the brand. It is light-hearted comedy with a simple message.
If you are a big fan of the Matrix trilogy, then you will know that the story is all about rebirth. The hero goes through a sort of renewal or rebranding process to become a new person. It might start with a tragic tale, before blossoming into a happy ending.
In business, you might recognise your customers’ problems as a time to reinvent themselves. Perhaps they are going through a difficult time and your brand can be the guide or soothing component they need to become strong again.
A perfect example of rebirth is the KIA Soul ad, featuring the now famous hamsters. The brand juxtaposed the transformation of the three protagonists with the recreation of its new vehicle. With Lady Gaga’s Applause as the music score, it was a rebranding success.
Tragedy stories often have a deep premise; ‘Don’t do this or you will regret it.’ The story of Romeo and Juliet, and the myth of Icarus who flew too close to the sun, are both tragedies. The best use of tragedy is in public service announcements, where storytelling is used to deter people from doing something dangerous.
A popular example was the ‘Save the Children’ campaign, where we were taken through the tragic life story of a Syrian child who experienced the sorrow and tragedy of war. Another common example of tragedy is ‘Drink and drive’ awareness campaigns. If your brand can communicate best in this way, then give it a go.
In these examples, we used TV ads to buttress our point. However, in content marketing, you can create a variation for your storytelling objectives.
Are you looking for creative storytellers to promote your message? Contact us now to write striking content for you.