Storytelling

‘Branding Moments’: How Great Brand Storytelling Gets Your Message Across

The short film “Lakota In America” opens on a typical day in the life of a Lakota youth named Genevieve Iron Lightning. As Genevieve gets ready and heads to work with the Cheyenne River Youth Project, her voice narrates a story about how she took herself and her brothers away from a neglectful, drug-filled home environment to go live with their grandparents.

As the film progresses, we hear about the history of the Lakota people. We see images of their impoverished reservation juxtaposed with joy-filled dances and rich cultural traditions. And at the same time, we’re drawn in by how the CRYP is helping many others like Genevieve work towards a stronger future for their people. It’s no wonder the film has amassed over 4.7 million YouTube views—it’s both beautifully shot and emotionally affecting.

It’s also an extremely effective example of brand storytelling, as it was produced not by a gritty independent film studio but by the financial services platform Square.

On first viewing, that might sound like an overstatement; Square isn’t directly mentioned in the film, and we only see it being passively used at Genevieve’s job. The focus isn’t on the product, but on the CRYP’s mission to empower Lakota youth with job and internship experiences that help them strengthen their community. That’s a noble aim, but how can a piece of content that is not directly about a brand be one of the best examples of brand storytelling?

Stories lead to a “branding moment”

The neuromarketing company Neuro-Insight can help us understand why this works so well. They’ve used neuroscience technology to look at what’s happening in people’s brains while they watch ads and TV shows. What makes Neuro-Insight unique is their proprietary technology called Steady State Topography (SST), which pinpoints how likely someone is to remember an ad. They call this long-term memory encoding.

As humans, our brains are built for stories. Whenever we watch something, our brain assumes there must be a story and tries to make sense of the narrative. This is particularly true when we’re introduced to a compelling character off the bat—like Genevieve, a young woman in the midst of coming of age and making a difference in her underserved community.

We see the Square product in action when Genevieve tells us how this opportunity to earn her own money gives her a sense of independence. To others, her job may be just a boring internship, but taking advantage of this opportunity is her triumph. And Square is one of the on-the-job tools that will give her the tech experience she needs while also simplifying a core business function for her employer.

Neuro-Insight calls this a “branding moment”—when our brain finally understands the story and memory encoding peaks. If your brand’s logo or product appears at that moment, people are much more likely to remember it.

Stories make messages memorable

Of course, not all the best brand storytelling examples take on such sensitive subject matter. The viral Cadbury “Gorilla” advertisement—wherein a gorilla drums along to Peter Gabriel’s “In The Air Tonight,” and no chocolate is consumed—is downright silly. However, per Neuro-Insight’s analysis, it ranked in the top 1 percent for long-term memory encoding. There’s a key lesson here for anyone who wants to tell a story that’ll make people remember their company: A big old bar of Cadbury chocolate appears at the end of this perplexing but engaging scene, and it stuck in people’s brains. And the next time they were checking out at the supermarket and saw that Cadbury chocolate by the cashier, they were more likely to subconsciously notice it, have a positive association, and buy it. Just like that, the ad increased sales by 10 percent.

Another killer example of storytelling advertisements is the “Mean Streets” video from Adobe. There’s a strong story that hooks you off the bat—a frazzled middle-aged guy meeting a dealer to seemingly buy drugs, but it turns out he’s buying clicks. He gets arrested, and we don’t really know what on earth we’re watching until the very end, when we realize it’s an ad for Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Stories can be used in a variety of formats

Not all effective brand storytelling has to be a high-production video, of course—feel free to breathe a sigh of relief. Intel is a great example of brand-centering stories about client impact stories through their social media content. Take this quick interview with Mary Beth Chalk, the co-founder and CCO of BeeKeeper AI. Mary uses her personal story of being diagnosed with cancer to demonstrate just how crucial AI services will be for the future of healthcare and personal privacy.

And as with the other examples in this list, Intel is not at the center of the story. At the end of the video, Mary lists which of Intel’s services are crucial for BeeKeeper AI to function—then we see Intel’s logo, and that’s that.

What makes these stories stick

There are a few things each of these examples of brand storytelling do really well:

  • Prioritize the brand, not the product: Until the branding moment, they prioritize the story over selling the brand. As Heather Andrew, Neuro-Insight’s former UK CEO, explained: “This is highly effective from the brain’s point of view because our brains often reject overt selling messages, while brand cues like colors, shapes, and sounds can get in ‘under the radar.’”
  • Focus on real people (or animals!) experiencing real emotion. The presence of people increased emotional intensity by 133 percent in a study of social ads.
  • Introduce a compelling narrative right away. Branded content with an early story arc is 58 percent more likely to be viewed past 3 seconds.

The next time you scroll through your feeds, look out for branding moments. Which pieces of content do it well? Which don’t? Then, get inspired, and tell a brand story that people will remember.

Ask The Content Strategist: FAQs

What role does authenticity play in successful brand storytelling?

Authenticity is crucial in brand storytelling, as consumers value genuine connections and narratives that resonate with their own experiences. Brands that convey sincerity and honesty in their storytelling are more likely to build trust and loyalty with their audience.

How can companies determine the most effective storytelling strategies for their brand?

Understanding the target audience, conducting market research, and analyzing past successful campaigns can help companies tailor their storytelling approach to resonate with their audience and achieve their brand objectives.

Are there any ethical considerations to keep in mind when using brand storytelling?

To maintain credibility and trust with their audience, brands should be mindful of cultural sensitivities, avoid exploiting sensitive topics for marketing purposes, and ensure transparency in their storytelling efforts. Additionally, respecting the privacy and consent of individuals featured in brand stories is essential to upholding ethical standards.

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Image by Filo

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