Brand Storytelling: Step-by-Step Guide To Enhance Your Marketing With Story

April 24, 2024
Jack Hahn

The power of storytelling in marketing is difficult to overstate. Every brand has a story, but not every brand knows how to tell it well.

Good stories stick with us.

They grab our attention, inspire strong emotions, and sometimes, they even inspire us to take action.

In marketing, storytelling goes beyond just relaying facts about your products or services. It’s a way to craft a narrative that connects on a deeper level so that customers are inspired to take part in your brand’s journey.

Telling compelling stories helps your customers see your brand as more than a provider of goods or services. With the right language, you can show that you’re ready to act as a key player in your customer’s own success stories.

When done right, storytelling in marketing gives your content strategy a strong voice that can influence, inspire, and convert.

But it’s important to understand that the focus here isn’t just on telling any story. It’s not about telling your own story either. It’s about telling your customer’s story.

To do it right, you need to develop a clear, easy-to-understand idea of what your brand really does. Not in terms of the products or services you sell, but in terms of the problems you help your customers solve.

Then you weave real-life experiences into powerful stories that show your customers you understand what they’re up against, and you have the tools to help them solve their problems.

Whether you use written stories on your website, talk through them in a podcast, or present them in pieces through posts on social media channels, the right narrative can make your marketing messages unforgettable.

In this article you’ll learn exactly how to tap into your storytelling skills so you can create successful marketing campaigns that turn leads into customers.

What Does Brand Storytelling Mean?

Brand storytelling is the art of using stories to bring your brand to life. It uses narrative techniques to give your content marketing a human touch that make your brand relatable and your messages memorable.

At its core, brand storytelling isn’t a new concept. It’s based on the fundamentals of storytelling, which have been used for thousands of years to connect with audiences on an emotional level.

In marketing, brand storytelling is about more than recapping the history of your company or describing a product you sell.

It involves crafting stories that capture the customer’s desires while illustrating how the solution you offer solves their problems.

The basic idea is that you can use stories to forge an emotional connection with the audience. Doing so makes your brand feel more relatable, and the customer is able to envision themselves in a world where they’ve overcome their greatest obstacles because of the products or services you deliver.

In a nutshell, the customer becomes the main character in your brand’s story.

This character faces challenges, overcomes obstacles, and achieves goals, just like the protagonist in your favorite film.

Presenting your business this way encourages people to see themselves in the narrative. They are not just buying a product or service; they are taking part in a story that resonates with their own experiences and aspirations.

Effective brand storytelling can transform how customers perceive and interact with your brand. It turns every marketing campaign into a chapter of your brand’s ongoing story. Every customer interaction becomes a dialogue in the larger narrative.

Ultimately, brand storytelling can help you fine-tune your marketing strategy, speed up the results of your marketing efforts, and build strong brand recognition. It helps your marketing team come up with stories that highlight the benefits of your products while humanizing your overall brand personality.

The History Of Storytelling (And Why It Matters In Business)

To understand the role of storytelling in marketing, we need to take a moment to understand the Three-Act Structure, a powerful framework used to develop clear narratives.

It goes back thousands of years to Aristotle, who defined the Three-Act Structure for the first time. He realized that stories can be broken down into three distinct parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Aristotle showed us how each part plays a role in driving the narrative forward to create a complete, fulfilling story with a clear plot arch.

Centuries after Aristotle introduced the idea, the three-act structure is (and always has remained) in use.

You don’t need to look too hard to find examples. Everyone from Shakespeare to Christopher Nolan has used the three-act structure to write clear, memorable stories with a strong emotional impact.

Safe to say, the Three-Act Structure is timeless.

But What Does This Have To Do With Business?

To answer this question, we jump forward in time to 1979, when Syd Field took the classical concept of the Three-Act Structure and boiled it down into a clear, accessible format.

Field published an influential book called Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting which dissected the three-act structure in a way that made it easier for contemporary storytellers to use. He highlights how pivotal moments and emotional responses are what drive the plot forward in every story.

This is where the connection between storytelling techniques and your business becomes clear.

Field showed that a screenplay guides the audience through an emotional journey. Effective storytelling in marketing can do the same thing: it’s a way to guide your customers through a journey that helps them overcome their problems and find a clear resolution that leads to the outcomes they’re looking for.

In short, storytelling isn’t just an art form. It’s also a strategic tool that can humanize your brand and make your marketing messages stick.

As we develop stories that mirror the hero’s journey toward success, we invite our customers to see themselves in those stories. This lets them engage with your content on a much more personal level.

Step-by-Step Guide To Tell Your Brand Story

Using the same three-act structure that Field outlines in Screenplay, companies can create a powerful brand story that connects with its target audience instantly.

But there are a few minor tweaks to take into account as you develop a storytelling marketing strategy of your own.

In business, each act has two components that help you craft stories that engage and entertain while also solving real-life problems for real people.

We’ve broken down the key differences between each act below to give you a clear idea of what it takes to create compelling stories that show your customers you understand what they’re up against –and how to help them overcome it.

In each of the following sections, we’ll first review the story elements of the three act structure, then look at how it applies to telling your brand story on your website and in your marketing.

Act I: Setup

In Act 1, we are setting up the characters’ normal world, hence the name. A movie or book typically introduces who the character is, where they live, and what’s happening in their world. But, most importantly, we need to discover their motivation. This is going to be the thread that carries the story through until the end.

What does the main character want? Why do they want it?

We’ll use Avatar as our example because most people have seen it and it was wildly successful at the box office. Which means they told a story people liked. Regardless of how you feel about it, let’s learn from the storyteller’s success.

In Avatar, Jake Sully states his motivation clearly in the first few minutes: “All I ever wanted in my sorry-ass life was a single thing worth fighting for.” That sets us up to wonder if he’ll get that. Most movies don’t quite do it as clearly as Avatar and you are meant to figure it out.

Avatar is such a great example of storytelling because it follows the structure so well. In Act 1, we are introduced to the human-made environment on Pandora. We see that it’s run by the Army. We see massive mech units. We see lots of metal and technology. We are introduced to the bureaucracy and even the motivations of the people who will eventually become the villains.

We are also introduced to the obstacle, which is the second main thing that needs to happen in Act 1 (the first being showing us the main character’s motivation).

The obstacle in Act 1 of Avatar is the “blue people” or Na’vi. Their Home Tree is sitting on a bunch of unobtanium and they don’t want to leave to allow the humans to mine it.

You may already be thinking, “Well, hold on. That’s the obstacle at the beginning, but Jake changes his mind later.” Yes, he does. And it is common for the obstacle to change throughout the story. The essence of it needs to stay the same, which is where the motivation comes in. But the specific obstacle changes.

Lord Of The Rings movies are a great example of this. Frodo’s first obstacle is the danger of the ring being in the Shire. So his first goal is to get to Rivendell. But once he’s there, the council decides that the ring needs to be destroyed. Everyone starts arguing about who should do it, so Frodo volunteers. And on and on it goes. There is always an obstacle that he’s overcoming on the way to destroy the ring.

In a movie, Act 1 typically takes up the first 25% of total run time. We switch from Act 1 to Act 2 when the hero makes the decision to take on the challenge or to go on the quest. In Avatar, this happens when Jake decides to learn the ways of the Na’vi so that he can earn the right to be heard and eventually tell them to leave their home so that the humans can mine the unobtanium.

So, how does this apply to telling the story of your brand?

Motivation

The first question is, “Who is the hero in your story?” The answer is simple: your customers.

Why aren’t you the hero? Let’s look at your goal. Your goal is to sell your products and services. Excellent. What is the customer’s job? To buy from you. Great. But not very compelling. Who wants to give you their hard-earned money so that you can go be the hero in your story?

No one.

But if you make your customer the hero, things start to align. Your customer has motivations, goals, and obstacles. And if you position yourself and your products on their path as a way to help them win the day, they understand why you matter. It’s far easier to buy from you in this scenario.

So, what does this look like?

It’s important to understand the answer to this question before introducing any products or services. Customers probably don’t know you, your company, or what you offer at this stage in their journey.

But they do know that they want something specific, and there’s a compelling reason that explains why they want it.

Just like in a movie, we want to start your brand story by understanding your customer’s world. We want to get into their environment and look around a bit.

As you consider what motivates your customers, use the following question to guide your answers: What is driving your customers to come to you in the first place?

Make a list of all of the possible answers. Then, whittle the list down one by one until you settle on an option that’s clear, compelling, and applies to many people. Use this motivation to start writing content.

Now we want to go beyond our thoughts on the topic and actually use their own words. We think about the things they say in sales calls, testimonials, and reviews.

One great way to do this is to ask them. We do this in every sales call: “What made you want to schedule this call today?” The answer will be what’s motivating them. For our clients, it’s often, “We need more leads.”

The primary motivation for our clients isn’t just to engage with our services. It’s that they want to grow their business. So we build our messaging around growing their business.

Don’t overthink or overcomplicate this. Just ask your customers, “What do you want?” and “Why do you want that?” Look for patterns and trends in their responses. Is there a theme? That is the Motivation that you should be using in your marketing.

Obstacle

Once we have a grasp on our customers’ motivations and the outcomes they’re looking to achieve, the next step is to identify the obstacles standing in their way.

Obstacles can be tangible or intangible and vary depending on circumstances.

As mentioned with Avatar, there is the initial Obstacle that pops up in Act 1 – the Na’vi are sitting on a bunch of unobtanium and don’t want to leave. This is the problem your customers are aware of. The thing that gets them to go look for a solution.

The Obstacle needs to be something you help people overcome. And something they are actively aware of.

Maybe your customers have a headache (if you sell headache medicine).

Maybe your customers are seeing slow growth or money spent on marketing with no ROI (if sell marketing services).

For a marketing agency like ClearBrand, customers often find themselves faced with obstacles like ineffective advertising, poor understanding of target audiences, or a lack of results from another agency.

The easiest way to find out is to ask them. Sales calls are a great place for this conversation. After you ask, “What made you want to schedule this call today?” and they tell you their motivation, follow up with, “What do you think is preventing you from having that?” (or an appropriate stand-in, based on their previous response).

Here’s how it typically goes in our sales calls:

Question: “What made you want to schedule the call today?”

Answer: Well, we don’t have as many sales calls as we want.

Question: “Okay, you want more sales calls. And what do you think is the reason you don’t have as many as you want?”

Answer: We haven’t done much marketing and mostly get customers through word of mouth. But that has dropped recently, so we figure it’s time to start getting the word out ourselves.

Wow. That’s incredibly helpful. When you start hearing the same types of things over and over, you’ll know you’re identifying a common theme.

The theme that our customers experience is this: My marketing isn’t working.

Pretty simple. Even though we hear a lot of specific answers, like the one above, we can mostly just focus on the theme in our marketing. With the occasional list of examples thrown in for good measure.

When you identify the obstacles your customers face, your job is to pinpoint their pain points and address them directly. There’s no beating around the bush.

Your goal is to answer this question: What is preventing your customers from achieving the outcomes they want to achieve?

Make another list with all of your answers. But instead of narrowing it down to a single answer, this time, choose the top three that apply to a broad number of your customers.

These are the obstacles to focus on in your messaging.

Act II: Contact

Act 2 is the bulk of the story, typically taking up the middle 50% of a movie (and often more in a book). This is where we see the journey the hero goes on to overcome their obstacles and get what they want.

Act 2 is normally called “The Confrontation” because it’s where the protagonist confronts a variety of conflicts, often including their inner conflict. We see this in Avatar as Jake wrestles with who he is and who he’s loyal to.

In Avatar, we watch Jake go through the training to become a Na’vi warrior. He learns their language, learns to fight, and, eventually, even mates with Neytiri.

But, notice that his original motivation isn’t fulfilled. He hasn’t fought for anything yet. He hasn’t even been fully convinced that the Na’vi are worth fighting for.

So the hero is working toward their goal, they’re attempting to solve their problem and overcome their obstacle, but we haven’t reached a resolution yet.

We transition from Act 2 to Act 3 when the hero decides it’s time to finish the job. Take on the final boss, ask the girl out, whatever is called for in their story.

This happens in Avatar after the humans destroyed the Na’vi Home Tree. Jake is watching the destruction, tied up. But then, Mo’at, Neytiri’s mother and the spiritual leader of the Omatikaya comes up. She asks for Jake’s help.

After that, Jake Sully spends a short stint in jail, breaks out, then goes back to his avatar body. He sees the wreckage and thinks all is lost. And he decides that it’s time to fight. That moves us into Act 3.

In screenplays, Act II involves the hero confronting challenges and facing conflicts that test their resolve. But in business storytelling, this act isn’t about conflict with the customer. We don’t want to make the people interested in buying from us think that we’re in conflict with them in any way.

Instead, Act II is about presenting a solution to the customer’s challenges. This is why we call it “Contact” instead of “Confrontation.” Here, you and your brand step in as mentors who can lead the customer to a resolution.

Solution

Your customers’ goals, motivations, and obstacles existed before they came in contact with your brand. You come into the picture when they enter their own Act 2 and start trying to solve their problem.

In this section of your brand story, your goal should be to position your product or service as the solution to your customers’ problems — the way they overcome their obstacles and get what they want.

You don’t need to break down a point-by-point “What You Get” type of offer. We’ll get there later. Now is the time to focus on features and benefits.

Your solution needs to be clear, effective, and focused on addressing the challenges you highlighted during Act I. It should demonstrate how your product or service fits seamlessly into the story of your customer’s needs.

For example, if your customers are struggling with poor marketing, your solution might be a streamlined storytelling strategy that increases engagement and conversions.

With a solution like this, you can address both of the core aspects from Act I (the motivation and the obstacle). In our example, the customer’s motivation is to get more leads and sales. The obstacle? Ineffective marketing campaigns.

For a good example of this, go look at any of Apple’s product pages. Almost the entire page lives in this Solution mindset, with plenty of Motivation mixed in. They say things like, “We know you want to take amazing pictures with your iPhone, which is why we upgraded X element to make it Y percent better. So you can take crystal clear photos every time.”

That’s Motivation and Solution. Pretty cool.

Creating this part of your story requires a deep understanding of your customers’ pain points. Luckily, you gained that understanding while reviewing the obstacles! So now, you have to show that you’re selling the master key that helps customers unlock their potential.

To get started, ask yourself: How does my product or service solve my customer’s problem? This is the central question of Act II.

Brainstorm and take note of your ideas. Once you have an answer that makes sense in the context of both the product you sell and the problem your customer faces, you’ve got a solution worth writing about.

Trust

The title of this section might be a little less intuitive than the others. The question here is: how do we get our customers to take action?

In a movie, the hero often meets another character, often called the Mentor, right before they take action or as they reach the hardest part of it. In Avatar, this is when Jake Sully is confronted by Mo’at.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor sees a vision of his father when he’s fighting Hela and he’s about to give up. “She’s too strong. Without my hammer, I can’t,” Thor says. Odin responds, “Are you Thor, the God of Hammers?” Then a moment later, Thor says, “I’m not as strong as you.” Odin replies, “No. You’re stronger.” With that, Thor is awakened. He finally becomes the hero he needs to be. Watch the clip below to see it play out.

That is one of the best scenes in all of the Marvel movies. And it’s one of the best examples of the role of the Mentor in all of Hollywood.

But what does it mean for your brand story? In our view, there are three things that need to happen to call your customers to take action. We’ll discuss the first here, then the second and third in Act 3.

First, you need to earn the right to be heard. If you’re going to play the role of the Mentor, like Odin or Mo’at, your customers need to trust you. So the goal of this section is to build trust.

There are a variety of ways you can build trust. Sharing some points of authority can help. This could be the number of years you’ve been in business, number of customers you’ve served, or certifications you have.

There’s also social proof. Testimonials and case studies are a great way to do this. But you can also display logos of customers (especially if they’re big and recognizable companies) or share your rating on relevant platforms, like Google My Business, Capterra, Amazon, etc. Especially if it’s close to 5 stars.

Showcasing real-life stories, sharing examples of success, and demonstrating your expertise within your industry are all effective ways to build trust.

However you do it, you need people to trust you before you say, “Buy my stuff!” Which we’re going to do next.

Use the following question to guide you as you work out how your solution fits into the customer’s narrative: Why should my customers trust me, and how can I show them my company is the one they should go to for help?

Whether through testimonials, case studies, or showcasing your expertise in your field, the idea is to let them know that they are not alone in this journey — others who trusted you saw the success they were after.

Act III: Resolution

Act 3 is where the main character finally steps into the role of “Hero” and takes action to conquer the obstacles that have been in their way.

We get to see Jake Sully take on the role of warrior and Toruk Makto and lead the Omatikaya in a battle against the humans.

We get to see Thor fight Hela and truly become the God of Thunder.

The necessary elements of Act 3 are a plan to win the day, then the courage to act and actually do it. It is in the action that the story is completed, not just sitting around thinking about it.

Just like in a movie where the hero faces their final battle and resolves all of the story’s obstacles, in marketing, Act III is the moment where customers decide whether to make a purchase that solves their problems.

The goal of Act III is to convince your customers to take action. You do this by showing them what you offer, how their lives could be different if they buy it, then getting them to respond by purchasing.

Act III also has two parts to consider: the offer, and the response.

Offer

The Offer is the equivalent of the plan in a movie. In order for someone to do something, they need to know what to do.

Go watch any Tom Cruise movie to see a great plan get made, then unfold in Act 3.

The plan you’re giving your customers is your product. Specifically, to buy it. But they need to know what it is and why it matters.

It’s time to make your offer irresistible. Begin by listing out what your customers get. List what’s included, whether it’s a physical product or a service.

Then ask yourself why customers should choose you over the competition.

This is where your product or service needs to shine. Your narrative should clearly show why it’s the superior offer by drawing attention to what sets your offer apart — it could be unmatched quality, innovative features that nobody else is providing, or even something like your ability to provide exceptional customer service.

The key is to remind your audience how your solution directly addresses the obstacles they face, which you’ve laid out in previous acts. Your offer should resonate with your customer’s motivations and desires as deeply as possible.

To figure out how to make your offer impossible to resist, ask yourself: Why should someone choose to work with me in the context of the problems they’re facing right now?

As an example, imagine you sell project management software.

You’ve determined that your customer is motivated by the need to save time, and the obstacle that keeps them from getting there is whatever software they’re currently using.

If this is the case, then your offer should focus on everything you provide that helps them free up time by managing their projects better.

But if your customer’s primary complaint is that they don’t get the support they need from their current project management platform, then you’d want to focus not only on what’s included in the platform, but also include how your company responds to requests for assistance quickly, effectively, and efficiently.

You’ve given your customers the plan they need to succeed, now let’s get them to buy it.

Response

This is where the rubber meets the road. Your customer is at the end of their journey. They see how your Offer can help them overcome their Obstacle and get what they want.

Now they’re faced with the moment that every hero is faced with. Will they take the leap? Will they do what is necessary? Or will they go back to the life they had before all this?

It’s the moment Jake Sully is walking around, staring at the wreckage of Home Tree. Then, he decides to act.

This is where you make it clear that people need to Respond. Either a “Yes” or a “No.” But we don’t want them to passively let this moment slip by.

Your goal is to make this decision feel like the natural next step in their journey — one that leads to overcoming their challenges and achieving their aspirations.

Get your customers to picture the positive change they’ll experience by accepting your offer. You can sweeten the deal to make it more persuasive by offering something like an invitation to a free trial, or access to a limited-time offer.

Use direct language that speaks to the core message of your brand and the heart of your customer’s needs. Make it insanely easy for them to take the next step and begin working with you.

Throughout Act III, your storytelling needs to build a bridge that helps you communicate that what your customer considered a mere possibility can become their reality.

By the time your customers reach the end of this act, they should feel empowered, ready to respond by moving forward, and confident that they are making the right choice.

Build Your Brand With Compelling Stories

Writing a powerful brand story is more than an art—it’s an extremely deliberate storytelling process that takes understanding, creativity, and a firm grasp of what your customers want to achieve.

It has very little to do with your brand values. And even less to do with your brand’s history. If you write your marketing materials without thinking about the customers and what they want and need, then the reality is they probably won’t understand what you sell.

If the challenge of weaving authentic stories that effectively communicate how you solve your customer’s problems seems daunting, ClearBrand is here to help.

Contact us today to start crafting a marketing storytelling strategy that uses proven storytelling techniques to engage your audience in a meaningful way.

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