With just five simple elements, brands can tell a powerful story. Read on to find out what those storytelling elements are and to see them in action.
It’s 2 AM, and I’m sitting in the common room of this monastery turned hostel with thick stone walls and religious paintings all over the ceiling. I wish I was asleep.
The perpetrator of my misery: a snorer in the dorm room.
But it’s not your average snorer. No loud but rhythmic breathing, light snore or gentle wheeze you can ignore. It’s a slimy and cough-riddled snore, altering between squeaky door hinge and Gatling gun.
Had I only bought earplugs.
The five elements of storytelling for brands.
In this little story about me and the snorer are five basic elements of storytelling. Everyone can use those five elements to tell a good story. Did you spot them?
The hero is the protagonist of your story. The story is all about them.
In my story, I’m the hero. I’m telling the story from my perspective, with me being the main character. It’s about my struggles and what I want to achieve.
The villain is whatever the hero has to overcome. Although in fiction, this often is a person, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes we have to overcome ourselves or even an abstract concept. The villain could be time, fate, destiny, or something entirely else. It’s up to your imagination.
In my story, the villain isn’t the snorer. The villain is the noise. My battle isn’t with the one who snores but with the sound he’s producing.
The promised land.
The promised land is where your hero wants to go. This is the final goal. To get to the promised land, the hero needs to overcome the villain.
I want nothing else but to sleep. In this story, sleeping is my promised land. That’s where I’ll be once I overcome the villainous noise.
The trigger is the reason the story is happening. Every story has a trigger that sends the hero on their journey.
In the Matrix, it’s Morpheus giving Neo the red pill. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s Gandalf knocking on Frodo’s door. In my story, it’s the snoring sound that ripped me from my slumber.
The mentor or magical gift.
The hero needs help from a mentor or a magical gift. The hero can’t overcome the villain alone. If he could, there would be no struggle. And without struggle, there is no story to tell.
If I didn’t need help, I could’ve just closed my eyes and gone back to sleep. Boom. Hero overcomes the villain and is in the promised land. But because I can’t overcome the villain by myself, I need a magical gift. In my case, earplugs would do fine, for example.
How to make your brand tell a story.
Those five elements are a simplified version of the hero’s journey. It’s the ideal framework for brands to start telling their story. It’s not Stephen King, but you’ll outclass your competition who don’t have any story to tell.
Something in the life of the hero happens (trigger). The hero goes on a journey to achieve something (promised land). There is always something or someone (magical gift/mentor) that helps overcome the big obstacle (The villain).
The example of Harry Potter.
In the first book, Harry Potter (hero) finds out (trigger) that Voldemort (villain) wants to steal the Philosopher's Stone to do evil shit. Harry embarks on a journey to find the stone and keep it safe from Voldemort (promised land). In the end, Harry finds the stone, but Voldemort tries to kill him. The love of Harry's dead mother (magical gift) protects him, helps him overcome Voldemort and reach the promised land by keeping the stone safe.
The example of my little writing shop: Copy, neat.
Here’s a story I like to tell about my little writing shop:
You (hero) read a blog post from a competitor of yours (trigger). It’s good. And more importantly, it’s the first thing that pops up when someone types the service you offer into Google. You want to be there. You want to occupy the top of Mt. Google (promised land). You don’t have the knowledge or the time (villain) to write SEO content that Google falls in love with. You need someone to help you climb to Google’s first page. And that’s me from Copyneat (magical gift).
The cardinal sin of brand storytelling.
By default, brands like to make it about themselves. They want to be the hero. But the story isn’t about you. It’s about your customer. They are the center of your story. You’re the mentor, or your product is the magical gift.
Always tell the truth.
A client recently told me, “I know you marketers like to sell a dream. What the product could be. And then we have to live up to that standard you set.”
He’s partly right. We do position the product in the most favorable light possible. But we never make promises the product can’t keep.
Good marketers, and especially good copywriters, always tell the truth. There is no exception.
This advice is a meme in the writing community, especially in fiction. It’s thrown at new writers to solve whatever problem they’re facing.
“I don’t know how to do world-building.”
“Just write, bro!”
“I don’t know how to make my dialogue more human.”
“Just write, bro!”
It’s not bad advice. It’s generic but often true. Write the story of your brand like I did for mine above. Then do it again. And again. Craft different stories.
Let them all sit for a few days. Then read them again. Some will resonate with you more than others. Keep those until you find the perfect one.
How the story from my intro (could have) ended.
The story I want to tell, is about the other guy sitting in the common room at 2 AM. I asked him if he had trouble sleeping.
“No,” he answered.
“Why are you out here at 2 AM then?”
“I arrived at 11 PM, and I wanted to go straight to bed. I didn’t find my anti-snoring device. Must have forgotten to pack it. I’d keep the dorm up all night, so I’m gonna stick it out here.”
“One has to be when he lives with eight other people in the room.”
“Apparently not. That’s why I’m here.”
He smiled at me and reached into his bag. He pulled out an unopened box of ear plugs and tossed them over to me. What a lifesaver.
So, anyway. I’m off to bed again.
That’s it. I’m out.