We are as marketeers good at making a case for branding and storytelling, almost presenting you with the argument that without both, you might as well not be in business at all. And to some, this may come across as something we’re selling for the sake of a sale. Making money. And other marketeers will agree with you (but more often than not, to then sell you something else – from SEO to marketing automation).
The mistake is entirely ours. And the reason is that industry lingo has taken over our existence. We talk about branding and storytelling because that’s what we think you expect of us. But the matter of fact is: It’s bullshit. In reality, it’s just a fancy way of saying: Find a way to make your customers remember you. It doesn’t have to be unique, but it has to be interesting.
We made it sound like branding and storytelling is something the industry made up to fool you. That’s wrong, too. Because even if we found a way of presenting it like something new and shiny, storytelling is a craft as old as time. Humans have never not told stories. And they did so to remember – and be remembered. Cave paintings? Leaving a mark and sharing an experience. Ancient writing slates? Ditto. Folklore, fairy tales, and ballads? Who doesn’t love a good rhyme? No, really, folk songs and fairy tales are written in verses and refined wordings so that they were easier to remember. Back then, writing didn’t exist. Or at least, it wasn’t a trade for everyone the way we experience it today. If you wanted to tell a story, it had to be in a form that could be remembered – even if you had 37 stanzas.
Today, a narrative wouldn’t be worth much just because it was written in verse (but it could be!). Of course, you don’t need people to memorize every detail about your company, but in the era of fast-paced news feed, you need to leave a mark. The basic premise of memorability stays the same: How do you tell your story so that people remember it?
People who compete in memory don’t necessarily have better brains than the rest of us. Like any sport, you need a technique to remember a long sequence of numbers, words, or things. A memory expert would not remember all the individual numbers but create a storyline they can follow in their minds. That technique could be called storytelling: They set the scene and imagine a storyline that makes it easier to remember each part. Just as you would do when you’ve lost your keys: You would track them back to the last time or place you had them. Because the setting and surroundings will tricker something that helps you find them.
Surroundings and settings are what we in marketing refer to when we talk of branding, and the way to create them is through storytelling. Setting the scene is a matter of telling your customers what scenario they should picture your brand in. And that scene should also be visual: What do they see around them? What colors are the walls? How is the atmosphere?
“People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel,” said the American poet, Maya Angelou. This holds true for all human communication – including the kind between a customer and a company. Just as you carefully think about what you say when you describe your product (the features, the price, the unique selling point), it’s equally important to think of how you say it. What are your colors? What typography? And what’s your tone in writing and talking? These are all factors that will speak to the emotional part of your customer’s brain – and essentially the things that will help you be remembered. Not because this is the way marketing works, but because this is the way humans work.