What Storytelling Means for Your Brand

 What does Cinderella have in common with Fight Club?

Lots, according to Jon King, Story Worldwide’s Chief Storyteller. During the ‘Storytelling for Brands’ session at our London office last   week, part of Social Media Week London, we shared Story’s brand-centred approach to narrative content.


We draw our inspiration from the most important study of storytelling ever done, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell.   Campbell’s insights have influenced and guided the approach, which he called the hero’s journey and which is used in all forms of narrative, including classic films from Cinderella to Fight Club.

The Hero’s Journey is a model story format—honed by the knowledge contained in myriad cultures and history—which follows remarkably consistent rules that reflect profound human needs. It explains the narrative structure found in the great myths, timeless fairy tales and modern action films. Here’s how Cinderella’s story maps directly onto the Hero’s Journey:

And, surprisingly, Fight Club can be mapped to exactly the same pattern (spoiler alert!!):


Brands are stories, effectively. At their most successful, these stories powerfully narrate the relationship between the brands and their audience(s). The most powerful brand stories, like the most engaging fairy tales, speak to fulfilling deep, unmet emotional desires.

Humans are psychologically hardwired to respond to meta-narratives that have been informed by human culture and history: the long journey home, marrying outside your tribe, the quest…It’s a search for meaning that defines what we are and want to be.

Through digital and social media, using maturing social-listening and search techniques, we can uncover and understand meta-conversations across cultures in a way that was not possible even five years ago. Tapping into these conversations reveals the current mind-sets of different audience segments and reveals their deeper unsatisfied emotional needs, providing a rich seam of consumer insight that brands can use to learn the best way to position and promote their stories to create value for themselves as well as their consumers.

Once marketers understand which aspect of the brand consumers really identify and engage with, the next step is to plan and shape the conversation between brand and audience over time. This content plan’s sole purpose is to bring the brand’s story to life across every touchpoint between consumer and brand, in the real and digital worlds.

In the Social Media Week session, we shared some of our latest thinking on the social multiplier effect (Kirk Cheyfitz will be publishing more on this topic soon)—which is the process of using digital to leverage a brand’s fans so they make the brand story genuinely contagious, delivering exponential return for the brand and lowering media spend dramatically.

According to Nielsen, recommendations are roughly twice as trusted as advertising. Add to this Forrester Research’s recent studies of how social fans share brand stories through their networks, and you’ll see the beginnings of the compound multiplier effect. But greater trust and greater reach are totally dependent on how interesting, credible, useful and, most of all, contagious the content is as well as where it’s shared and promoted.


This is not to say that we should dismiss years of established traditional advertising knowledge and practice. Traditional advertising still has a role to play, as has been proven by one or two stunningly effective long-term brand campaigns—Sainsbury’s ‘Try Something New Today’ being a perfect case in point. A few years ago, Sainsbury’s deployed a simple but rich ‘big idea’ to impressive effect across its brand ecosystem, extending it across everything from integrated comms to internal staff engagement. The campaign makes an eloquent case for the age-old marketing practice of delving deep into a brand to uncover an idea so broad and powerful that people, consumers and staff, can’t help but listen and act.

But brand work like this, despite London’s prominent place in the global advertising industry, is the exception rather than the rule. It is noteworthy precisely because it is rare and because it depends heavily on constant support by large amounts of paid media.

So think how valuable, for both brand and consumers, a rich and satisfying brand story can be, and how powerful its impact can be as it is spread across the media ecosystem by brand advocates who share with their far-flung social networks using the latest developments in social and mobile. Such contagious brand stories spread on their own as a matter of routine, gaining currency by tapping into ongoing conversations and multiplying across social networks at extremely low cost. That is the present and, increasingly, the future of the new advertising. And that is a story every brand will find well worth telling.

So what’s your story?

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Jon Thomas

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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