Brand Storytelling in PR: The Definitive Guide

Storytelling is as old as time itself, making it one of the few marketing tactics that has survived decades and is constantly evolving with new media and technology. So, you might want to know the benefits thereof and the meaning of storytelling? In this article we’ll highlight how branding storytelling is a valuable tool to elevate your marketing strategies, the science behind it, the power of stories and how to make your own strategy. Due to the media landscape being a vast environment, with multiple content pieces being pushed out every day, value adding narratives is a key approach in ensuring the durability of your brand. Appealing to emotions and creating solid connections through storytelling is an art brands must master, for their own longevity and PR success.

July 26, 2021 |

24 minutes

Photo of Jacolene Jonker, content writer at PRLab

Content Writer at PRLab

Photo of a book, for the article

1

What is storytelling? Definition

Storytelling is defined as “an art that requires creativity, vision, skill, and practice”. A good story is one that’s understood universally. It creates a sense of community among like-minded people, who share the same interests. It is also defined as a way by which to “solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages”.
Photo with the answer 'What is storytelling' and definition of storytelling given by PRLab.

So, what is storytelling? According to Clare Patey, Director of Empathy Museum, “Stories are the way we understand and make sense of the world we find ourselves in”. From this we can understand that storytelling is a tool we use to inform, debate and discuss.

This being said, a powerful story is one with great appeal and memorability. When a story is retold multiple times, you know you have created content with a lasting impression.

Storytelling is most possibly the oldest method of learning, sharing and connecting with others. Through words and imagery, stories have been shared for thousands of years. For example, in Ancient Greece, storytelling was recognised as the first branding attempt. A baker who wanted to differentiate his bread from the other baker’s, supposedly, started by verbally promoting the tastes and textures of his loafs to passers-by. Later he painted a symbol on a clay tablet and effectively branded his market stall. Since Ancient Greece, storytelling has evolved to the point of blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Take, for example, virtual reality (VR). Gamification is a mode of storytelling that is becoming more integrated with marketing activities to capture the interests of consumers.

Now, you may ask, what is storytelling in business? It focuses on creating a brand character, humanising the systems and processes by giving a brand a voice and image. Business storytelling gives body to facts that are otherwise just listings of data, without any real personality. The aim of a business story is to engage and captivate an audience, so that they remember you later and, hopefully, share your story. There are three different ways to use storytelling in business:

  1. Straightforward: Pure storytelling that presents what you have to say to your audience, straightforward.
  2. Anecdotes or actual stories: This is to illustrate your speech or carry your point across.
  3. Emotional triggers: Storytelling techniques to wake emotional effects in people.

The nature of your business will have an influence on how your stories are written, what contents they carry and how they are told. Nonetheless, stories are immersive and, with new technologies, the audience can be entertained by experiential storytelling practices.

SUMMARY

By definition, storytelling is a way of solidifying abstract concepts and simplifying complex messages. It helps us to make sense of something and to better relate to a humanised brand message.This means that storytelling defines the key brand message and conveys it in a way that is conversational, informative and descriptive.

2

The science of storytelling

Due to storytelling holding the ability to engage, influence, teach and inspire, businesses should really consider building a storytelling culture. There are many benefits to gain from having storytelling at the heart of your learning programs. There’s an art to telling a good story, but there’s also a science behind the art of storytelling.

Starting with the non-story, the language processing part of our brain switches off when we hear information being ticked off in lists. However, if we translate facts into a story narrative, we find our own meaning in information.

In his essay “The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains”, entrepreneur and storyteller, Leo Widrich, pointed out that when we hear a story, “not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are, too.”

Neuroscientists are debating these findings. Though, from experience, we know that when we’re listening to a good story that’s rich in detail, full of metaphor and expressive of character, we tend to imagine ourselves in the same situation.

Why do we like stories?

Psychologically proven, they transport us to deeper parts of our own thoughts. They help us navigate and entertain our own ideas, feelings and motives. Stories also enable us to imagine and prepare for future events. In 1944, Smith College found that our psyche is so skilled at detecting story patterns that we often see them where they don't even exist.

The power of communication and the ability to tell stories is what makes us human. Central to the human experience is the idea of writing, telling or acting out a story with a specific message for interpretation.

What makes a good story?

A good story captivates and keeps the audience engaged. Every bit makes them want to know what comes next, with a spark of curiosity being lit. In this, there is a level of education. A piece of information that adds to our knowledge bank when being entertained by the story.

Good stories are also universal. They can be translated across cultures and can relate to many different people. The story is able to tap into emotions and experiences that most people have.

In addition, the story follows a logical pattern. Stories are organised, this helps to convey the key message and impactfully deliver it. It also assists the receiver to absorb information, making the contents memorable and worthwhile.

Effective stories make use of three critical components:

  • Characters: The target audience or main characters
  • Conflicts: The needs or problems experienced by all parties involved
  • Resolutions: The answer to the need or solution, usually the brand, product or service

Business storytelling also contains these elements. For example, think of advertisements with mothers who have sick babies. There is a main character with a problem and the solution is the vitamin gummies being advertised at the end. The scenario is also relevant to a global audience and gives information about how to boost your child’s immune system.

SUMMARY

Almost like following a recipe, there’s certain steps to follow in storytelling. These steps come together to create a captivating narrative. This is the science behind activating the language processing part in our brain, to engage with the content being shared.

3

The power of storytelling

The power of storytelling lies in its persuasion ability. A good story captures the audience’s attention, sparks interest, creates desire and switches it over to actions. Storytelling is a powerful business tool and skill that every brand builder should practice. Powerful brands all have their legacy set in the stories they share.

Here are some of the benefits of storytelling:

1. Creates blueprints

Stories create blueprints by which to organize random contents. The story helps guide each division of the marketing strategy, because a golden thread needs to follow throughout. This way, it can be ensured that each piece of content carries a specific purpose and adds value to the concept being created.

Think about the story as the driving force of your marketing strategy. It should inspire you to make all ends meet in order to carry a powerful brand message.

SUMMARY

Stories can act as design plans or guides for other marketing content. They organize and create uniformed brand messages.

2. Simplifies complexities

Many times, clients have exceptional ideas and visions for their brands. However, communicating that story via digital channels can be confusing and not concise. Planning a story helps to make the complexities simpler and assists in directing the flow of communication.

The company’s purpose is conveyed with more ease and the main message stays consistent. This means that the brand purpose and values are sold, however a story is created around the main business idea so that the audience’s attention is captured.

SUMMARY

Narratives direct communications to follow a logical sequence. This helps to explain, in simple terms, the solution to a problem. It’s all about keeping messages straightforward.

3. Profit with a purpose

Despite creating opportunities for profit gain, stories are also profound. They instil certain emotions and drive a sense of bigger purpose. For example, the great tech companies of today (Apple, Tesla, Google) are all built on legacy, created by visionaries who seek(ed) to bring about change.

Profit with a purpose gives the audience a greater good to believe in. The story creates empathy and brings human value to the company. This is both ethical and strategic, humanising the brand through storytelling with compelling and meaningful messaging.

SUMMARY
Stories are supposed to be kept humane. They speak about the greater good of a company, they don’t promote or sell products/services. They communicate a greater good.

4. Competitive advantage

Every day, millions of content pieces are published and shared across networks. Among the good pieces, there’s a large amount of clutter. This overwhelms consumers with information, making the change to stand out very slim.

This is why businesses need to appeal to consumer’s emotional decision-making. The memorability factor is elevated and consumers have a higher chance of recognising you amongst the many other advertisements out there.

SUMMARY

Your messages are your unique separators. With a compelling narrative, you set yourself apart from the competition. This comes down to a strong narrative that speaks with emotion, from a human point-of-view.

5. Builds brand loyalty

Stories create connections between us, they help us make sense of our environments and give us a chance to communicate our values and beliefs with a like-minded brand or community. They make us feel as if we’re getting to know a business or someone on a deeper level.

The long-term effects of brand storytelling is that consumers build up trust and, in turn, loyalty is created in the long run. Brand storytelling done right means that connections are fostered, the company vision is translated into a captivating story and the message is clearly communicated in a heartfelt marketing strategy.

SUMMARY

We connect and build relationships through communicating our values and beliefs. This helps us to get to know brands on deeper levels too. Stories establish trust and build loyalty.

4

The role of storytelling in PR

The role of storytelling in PR is to encourage the listener’s imagination. This is because effective storytelling will, in fact, activate more areas of the brain than purely factual content. Next to this, interactive storytelling is greatly employed, as it demands attention.

Public Relations in itself creates brand narratives. Without a storyline, there is no PR. This is why we, as PR experts, create news where there is no news. Stories give you something to share, to promote you in your industry.

PR is done with the aim to get your brand published and noticed by your most valuable audience. Without a story to latch onto, there is little brand appeal to keep them interested.

Storytelling ties into the integrated marketing process, it ensures that the key message keeps its coordination across channels and media platforms. This is why PR agents should continuously practice their storytelling abilities, to further the narrative.

W.R. Fisher defines narrative as “a theory of symbolic actions (words and/or deeds) that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, and interpret them”. He adds that humans are storytelling “homo-narrans”. This means that we use stories in every situation to communicate. Modern philosopher F. Jamison said that narration, in fact, creates reality. In addition the storytelling and narration are ideal methods for conveyance of symbols, and therefore meaning. This is one of the most important characteristics of an outstanding PR expert.

Today, public relation experts are the great professional storytellers. They foster the positioning of a person, brand, a product or a service, a large corporation or that of a small business. In the emotion-centred world, marketing stories become a greater part of PR strategies.

SUMMARY

Storytelling is an important asset of PR strategies. It helps your brand to better connect and align with your target audience. Effectively, PR creates brand narratives that demand attention from the reader, viewer or listener.

The need for effective stories

At the end, it comes down to your brand’s longevity and a chance to outlive your competitors. Stories bridge the gap between business facts or pure data and the consumer’s desire for deeper connections.

Brand storytelling gives the customers something to believe in, it offers an opportunity for potential customers to resonate and connect with you. The content of your story is therefore valuable in sharing your vision and brand’s character effectively, to reach the right audience.

Storytelling is a useful narrative that helps elevate your holistic marketing strategy. When built-in to your PR campaigning, you stand the chance to gain great business growth. From our perspective, this is the most important need for effective stories.

Through building your public relations, you want to get publicity and a competitive advantage. Storytelling in business helps you reach these goals by maintaining audience attention. Your readers, viewers and listeners can find clarity in your communications via an effective story. This keeps them engaged for longer.

In our practice, we’ve found that content marketing is an effective tool to help you create a narrative and vision of your brand. This allows storytelling to get you to a position where you are considered a leader in your industry. Essentially, content adds depth and appeal to your PR strategies.

Durable brands go beyond standard marketing practices, rather they sculpt and curate their narrative to keep their audiences locked in. Think about Apple, for example, they do not sell iPhones and MacBook based on the outstanding hardware and software.

Apple promotes a lifestyle, they tell you how your life could be better when joining the Apple family. They feed the desire for connection and being a part of the Apple community. They are just one brand in tech that manages effective storytelling.

Another example is Elon Musk. He sells his vision of a better future, one where Tesla is the force behind a greener economy. This is also brand storytelling, captivating an audience with a dream about a sustainable future.
By now we know that storytelling is of great value in building connections and curating relationships between the brand and its customers. Next to this, digital storytelling is a trend that will only evolve further. This is why skilled story writers are valuable assets to any modern marketing team, they elevate marketing through storytelling.

Storytelling is no longer about entertainment value alone. It draws attention to pressing matters and topics of great importance. When stories are done effectively, your PR campaign is elevated with a great brand narrative.

SUMMARY

Due to stories holding the ability to outlast time, effective stories help scale your business into one that owns a great market presence and solid industry stance. This is how the great brands of today have managed to thrive in their business operations.

5

Brand storytelling and marketing

Why marketing should focus on storytelling

Let’s look at the importance of a storytelling marketing strategy. Specifically focusing on content marketing storytelling and social media marketing.

Content Marketing

Firstly, a content strategy combines content marketing and storytelling to dive your PR campaign. This is why, at PRLab, we create integrated PR strategies to support your marketing goals.

The goal is to communicate your core purpose and brand value. So, content marketing uniquely crafts the messages aimed at your industry and audiences, to leave a lasting brand impression.

Storytelling as a marketing strategy is determined to distinguish your brand from others, giving you a competitive edge and to gain buy-in from consumers. Every story needs substance, otherwise the essence of marketing is lost. For example, marketing is the voice that reaches the audience, content is what keeps them engaged and wanting to learn more.

Today, marketing is no longer the key competitive differentiator. Consumers are increasingly demanding for companies to back how their efforts are making contribution to the prosperity of society. An impact, supporting a cause, and achieving results beyond just profit. For start-ups, this can be tricky. We suggest to clearly defining your communication avenues, keeping them focused and limited to the most lucrative channels, and from here employing storytelling to gain purpose beyond profit.

Coherency is a great benefit gained from marketing storytelling. The way content is written and executed is more consistent when there’s a story guiding the sequence of communication pieces.

In turn, consistency, relevancy and engagement contributes to the validity of your brand. This is because the storytelling aspect of your marketing approach, when done right, adds a factor of trustworthiness. Content that presents unification throughout the marketing strategy has a higher chance of resonating with the audience, due to its believability.

That’s why storytelling through content marketing is essential in creating an esteemed brand reputation, with the purpose of cultivating a loyal brand following and to thrive in business growth.

Your storytelling in marketing should set out to make you a valuable source of information to consumers and it should create a trustworthy opinion in the media. Social media creates the opportunity of furthering your reach to build credible opinions.

SUMMARY

Content marketing shapes messages and directs them at your industry and audiences, to leave a lasting brand impression. It’s called creating substance for marketing strategies.

Social Media

We have entered an age where purpose marketing is vital, storytelling is now a skill that many brand seek out. Instead of pushing out sales pitches, stories are developed to convey the core essence of brands.

Social Media adds to many possible ways of how messages can be shared and reacted to. It is also highly influential in creating societal shifts, altering thoughts and contributing to behavioural changes.

Social Media platforms are great to convince audiences of a brand’s core message, and convert them into fans of the product or service and perhaps even win over brand ambassadors.

Social content is also more digestible, because it is more casually written than that of most news sites and outlets. So naturally, people are more comfortable to engage with your story via social media.

SUMMARY

With social media as the first point of reference for many consumers, it is valuable to build story content into your marketing strategy. This avenue also reached widespread audiences, it builds casual conversations and establishes a relatable point of contact.

6

Brand storytelling for startups

Every startup begins with a specific goal. The key essential of a strategic brand narrative is that it helps to turn goals into meaningful conversations. This is why startups should consider investing in their stories, to shape a narrative and to create a shared meaning around the conversations being held. This can drive business growth by getting your story right from the beginning.

Here are some successful storytelling startup examples:

1. Reddit

On the website, Reddit users create the content themselves. This is one successful company who were able to promote “self made content”. Banking on community control and user generated content, Reddit sold the idea of having individuals create their own conversions around topics they are passionate about. Reddit is just a platform for them to share freely.

2. Wix

The easy way to create a website. Coding and building a website from scratch takes a lot of skill. Paying a professional is not always an option for young entrepreneurs or someone pursuing a blogging hobby. Wix rooted their story in making coding easy for everyone, giving you access to templates that you can customize and create a website on a budget.

3. Spotify

Spotify, once known as Europe’s most valuable startup. The music streaming site grew into one of the most popular streamers of today. Competing with Apple Music, Spotify differentiates themselves by creating a music loving community. Their conversation is concerned with giving artists the opportunity to profit from their music and to have fans enjoy the music, without paying per song or album.

Storytelling not only helps to grow a startup, it roots them in long-term success when done with compelling narrative dedication.

SUMMARY

Startups need to be able to summarize their main brand purpose into a single and direct message. Storytelling helps drive startup growth by focusing on the business goal and turning it into a sharable narrative.

7

Brand storytelling for corporates

No matter how established your company is, your brand narrative matters immensely. Corporate storytelling can be thought of as a compelling business narrative that presents your company values, identity and personality.

The narrative can take many forms, depending on the nature of your business. The story can either reflect on the company’s history, present endeavors or the future projection. Depending on the orientation of the company.

For example, Allan Grey has a strong brand heritage that’s rooted in long-term investments. Their story telling usually reflects on the past and pulls it through to the future, to portray how long-term commitment results in great reward later in life.

Allan Gray’s advertising strategy has always been to portray human truths, because authenticity builds emotional connections and establishes an empathetic link. The messages of their campaigns are built on livelihoods and always ties into the relevance of investing.

Looking at a future projection, Tesla Inc. is all about telling a story of the ideal future. Over the last ten years, Tesla has been using the influence of Elon Musk’s future perspective to propel their messages.

Tesla banks on their founder’s innovative mindset and personifies this throughout their marketing. Yet, they don’t sell cars with their narrative, they sell an idea about how your future could look. They position the company as the driving force that will help shift the world’s energy consumption to a more sustainable future.

Where Allan Gray is all about security and tradition. Tesla is about innovation and disruption. Both takes on storytelling are highly successful for the markets they operate in, because their audiences can relate to the narratives from a personal point of view.

That’s the importance of corporate narratives, they need to appeal to the audience. No matter how strong the brand history or following, stories need to cater to the target audience’s needs in order to be successful.

SUMMARY

Corporates employ storytelling methods to enhance their brand perception, with the end goal of creating customer loyalty and engagement. Strong brand heritage is a great influencer of narratives for corporates with a long history and profound market stance.

8

Storytelling Strategy: 7 Steps

Every story and narrative can be original and inventive, taking on different perspectives or written from interesting angles. However, a successful story needs a well developed strategy. There’s characteristics and some formalities that go into building the contents

Here’s a quick guide to formulating your story:

Step 1: Research your space

Always start with desk research. You need a foundation from which you can build your story. Understand your market, business landscape, scope and spectrum of the industry, competitors, new trends and developments, etc.

With a good set of research, you can start to identify your unique angle. You should aim to identify what appeals to your target audience and the market space you work in. Identify the needs and common interests you can use to build a connection.

Background knowledge is critical when planning your story. You have to “get to know” the audience on an almost personal level to understand what compels them to show interest in your storyline. This will also play a part in directing the next phases of your story.

SUMMARY

Know what your audience is looking for, understand your industry’s landscape and build a solid knowledge base before jumping into writing the script.

Step 2: Define your core message

Once you have a better understanding of your audience and the market orientation. You can define the key message. This is the vocalpoint of your script. You can only move forward when you have a solid foundation.

Remember, your core message should be backed by research. The two should compliment each other, as they go hand-in-hand.

To help identify your core message, ask yourself what it is your story aims to do? Do you need to sell a product? Create brand awareness? What is the key point of writing this story?

Try and summarize this in a short sentence for yourself, six to ten words. You don’t have to be wildly elaborative to have a successful story. Direct your focus, perfect the key message and build around it to add zest.

If you can’t summarize the key message, you don’t have one. Which means you either have to do more research or redirect your focus.

SUMMARY

Use your research to brainstorm your key message. This should be a short summary of your narratives main focus point.

Step 3: Choose your medium

Once you have your core message, think of where you need to share it. Where does your audience hang out? Tip, look for this in your research!

Should your story be posted on a blog, written in a newspaper, recorded for YouTube or will a Podcast work?

Understanding the characteristics of your medium will help you to write the script. Keep in mind, not all formats work for the same medium. So if you’re planning on using multiple platforms or distribution sites, you’ll have to do some editing.

Each medium has its own purpose and will benefit your narrative in different ways. That’s why it’s important to identify which platform, site or channel fits best. Not only thinking about your brand and audience, but also the character of your key message.

SUMMARY

Not all platforms, channels and outlets can accommodate the same story. Understand the characteristics of your medium and trailer your narrative accordingly.

Step 4: Think of perspective

You’ll realize that ironing out the technicalities of your story makes it a lot easier to start building character around the message you’re sharing.

Perspective reference to the angle you’re going to approach your audience with. Think about what appeals to them. Facts? Community? Invention? What type of attitude should your story carry? Should it be funny? Serious? Simple?

Perspective already starts to write a story, it helps to direct the tone of voice and the thoughts that need to be carried.

SUMMARY

Your perspective needs to meet the audience’s perspective. Think about what appeals to them, the voice and imagery of your concept.

Step 5: Focus on the fundamentals

Now that you have your research, your message, the medium and perspective, you can start scripting your story.

Keep in mind that you need to deliver information, persuade the audience to pay attention and you need to build a connection. You can use the “5 W’s and H” to make sure you build this into your story.

  • Who am I speaking to
  • When in time (past, present, future)
  • Where is my story taking place and where is my audience
  • What am I communicating and what should my audience hear
  • Why am I doing this
  • How am I going to win them over

The narrative should have a plot, characters, conflict and a resolution. A clear theme should be visible throughout, with a clear message and meaning behind the story.

SUMMARY
Stories are made up of a few key elements. They play an important part in carrying your messages and building a compelling narrative.

Step 6: Add personality

After your first draft, read your story to see if it carries your brand personality. Most likely, your first version will only contain the basics of what you’re highlighting.

Fill in the blanks with your own defining character. You have the outline, now you can really focus on the character thereof. It is important to cater to the needs of your audience and the market, but don’t forget your brand’s unique differentiators.

People like sharing personal stories, just so, enjoy hearing authentic brand stories. Be sure to stay true to your brand identity in your story.

SUMMARY

Your brand’s personality should shine through in your story. Once you have the fundamental building blocks of your story down, you can edit and tailor them to your own personality. Be authentic and true to the brand’s core values.

Step 7: Headlines and Introductions

Brilliant content can be completely overlooked if your headline or introduction is not eye-catching.

Think of this as your first impression, before anyone gets to know you. Be careful of buzzwords, but find the one sentence that captures your. Your core message will help in identifying this. Think of your story summary and turn it into a captivating headline.

In the case that your medium doesn’t allow for a headline, make a good impression with your introduction. For example, this can be done through using emotive language or by opening with a question.

SUMMARY

A headline or introduction sentence is the first impression of your narrative. This can highly influence how your story is perceived or reacted to. Stay away from buzzwords, but make your headline attractive.

9

Sharing your story

You’ve done the planning, perfected your strategy and you have your story. What now?

Publishing, sharing and posting your story is not where it stops. You want to create hype around it and keep the news spreading that you have a new narrative out there. Don’t be afraid to directly share your story with your immediate connections. Utilize your known brand supporters to share your story with their networks, to maximize reach.

You can use partnerships and journalist relationships to share your story and also to build furter relationships from. Use this opportunity to establish deeper connections and engagements with key people.

Media pitching is one way of introducing your story to journalists. PR managers usually pitch to journalists when they have a newsworthy story to publish. It’s all about creating brand awareness and establishing a prominent image in the market.

Sharing your narrative is not just about publicity, you want the market to continuously talk about you. You want to create talkability about your story and have it mentioned in conversations.

Creating publicity for your story is only one part of the process. Brand recognition and recall is built over time, it requires attention beyond sharing a story once.

Awards and endorsements contribute to brand authority. Submit your story to contests. There are many respected branding, advertising and marketing award shows that can help your story to get on another stage and drive traffic to your brand.

SUMMARY

Your story should be shared with the purpose of generating continuous publicity. It can be used to build further relationships with valuable stakeholders and the media, as well as lead to a loyal brand following.

10

Conclusion

By now you should have a better understanding of how to employ storytelling as a marketing strategy. We’ve covered how to do storytelling, as well as how content marketing helps to create a base for your narrative and holistic marketing strategies.

The key benefit of storytelling is that it builds connections, as people can relate to compelling narratives. Since storytelling is a human activity, it feels more natural to engage with than merely consuming advertising messages. In terms of PR, it aims to simplify complex messages and create a sharable narrative around the deeper meaning of your brand and its values. Stories eliminate confusion and provide solutions to get around roadblocks.

For your business, it means to build reputation and set your stance in the market, through engaging consumers and building loyal connections who share in your narrative. Your narrative helps to turn goals into meaningful conversations. This is why startups and corporates alike should pay great attention to their stories, to shape a narrative and to create a shared meaning around the conversations being held. This can drive business growth by getting your story right from the beginning.

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