Storytelling in Business: 5 Brands That Nailed It and One That Didn’t

There are plenty of good, logical reasons to use storytelling in business. But one of the most powerful reasons has more to do with feelings. There is an emotional connection that appears when a company tells a compelling story and nails it.

When you use stories to convey your message, and do it well, you can capture not only your audience’s attention, but their trust and loyalty at the same time.

Here are five companies that have embraced storytelling in their business and are doing an excellent job at it.

Dove

Dove is well-known for offering a wide-range of personal care products such as soaps and lotions, but this global brand also positively glows by telling great stories. One of the brand's most notable efforts is its “Real Beauty” campaign, which focuses on changing society's perception of beauty and how women are beautiful in their own right – despite their self-perceived flaws.

 

The Dove Real Beauty Pledge

Interestingly, the campaign wasn't as well received with men. So, proving they understand their customer, Dove introduced their “Men+Care” campaign, a true story about a father in the military who is deployed in Afghanistan and finds it hard to be away from his wife and baby.

Timed around the Father’s Day holiday, the company arranged to bring his family to him and filmed their reunion. It has very little to do with soap or lotion, but became a story that resonated with men across the globe, because Dove demonstrated they cared about what their customers cared about.

 

The Takeaway:

Great storytelling uses relatable characters, because we can see ourselves in them. Their struggles become our struggles. And making your customers the hero will set you apart from, and ahead of, your competition.

Weight Watchers

There can be a lot of emotion surrounding losing weight. And a lot of hype as well.

But Weight Watchers walked that line exceedingly well, and created one of its most successful campaigns, in their “Awaken Your Incredible” videos. Unlike ordinary ads about weight loss, it focused on an underlying motivation for people to lose weight, which is to be the very best version of themselves.

Tapping into the desire to regain something that was always inside, but lost along the way, is the reason the campaign was so effective.

And no matter how many times I see it, I can’t watch the older couple without (sniff) wait, there’s something in my eye…

 

The Takeaway:

The characters in your story must take the audience through a transformation – whether that is with a physical journey or an internal struggle – because without the need to overcome an obstacle you won’t hold their interest.

Guinness

Two things that go together really well are sharing a beer and telling stories, and that is something of which Guinness is fully aware.

They created one of the finer examples of brand storytelling in their “Wheelchair Basketball” campaign. As the title implies, a group of men in wheelchairs are playing basketball. Watching the game evokes all sorts of inspirational feelings about disadvantages, challenges, abilities and compassion. But when everyone except one man stands up, you realize that the friends chose to play in wheelchairs so they all could, literally, play on the same level.

The ad doesn't focus too much on the product itself, but it effectively implies that the choice you make, beer included, reflects what you value most in life.

 

The Takeaway:

Consciously or not, as a business owner, every choice adds to or detracts from your customer’s perception of you. Your best stories, and the strongest representation of your brand, will reflect your core values.

Apple

Apple has a long track record for using storytelling in business effectively and one of their best storytelling campaigns is called “Your Verse.” It features a voiceover from the late Robin Williams, asking people “What will your verse be?”

Basically, it’s the speech his character gave in the film Dead Poet's Society and resonates with so many people because we know, deep down, we each have something to share.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a pitch for different ways you can use an iPad, but one reason why it is so very effective is that it gets you stop the geek speak for a minute ask yourself a very important question: What can you do to make a significant contribution to the world?

 

The Takeaway:

Inspire your audience with your storytelling and you gain their respect. Help people to see the best in themselves and you gain raving fans as well.

Airbnb

Airbnb has seen phenomenal growth for a company that has no actual product. The success of their service is based on an idea of sharing and belonging. It's fitting that their storytelling reflects that. By using in-depth stories of their guests and hosts, presented in both written and video form, Airbnb created a community without boundaries that travelers want to be a part of.

 

Airbnb Stories: Sandy's Impact

The Takeaway:

You don't have to be the source of all your content. Stories about how your customers are using your product or service can give depth to your brand's image. Let them use their own words about how their lives have changed, and everyone wins.

Fail: Pepsi

In case you were thinking, “Oh, it’s easy for these brands, they have huge budgets and teams of people developing their communications,” I give you Pepsi, whose recent two-and-a-half minute spot – featuring Kendall Jenner and a bunch of protesters – completely missed the mark with its audience.

Dozens of people and millions of dollars were spent on this debacle that they ended up pulling within 24 hours.

The backlash started immediately, with a surge of social media posts calling the video “tone deaf” and “worst ever.” The ad, which “exploits the pain and suffering of marginalized people” pushes an idea where a rich young white celebrity and a can of Pepsi could save all people of color and relieve the indignation felt by protesters of social injustice.

 

Contrived? You bet, and that’s exactly the point. For storytelling in business to be effective, it must be authentic. In a LinkedIn article called “How to Make Millennials Hate You, The Pepsi Way,” Eric Thomas, senior partner and brand specialist at Saga MKTG, wrote “Unfortunately for Pepsi, millennials have hyper-advanced B.S. detectors and they went off very quickly. Twitter has been merciless.”

The Takeaway:

Money won’t solve your brand story issues, but being true to yourself and your values will. So don't fake it. And for crying out loud, never make light of or try to co-opt social issues related to people’s suffering.

 

What brands do you think do the best job using storytelling in business? Have I missed any good ones? Let me know here.

 

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