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Why Brands Should Focus on Telling Stories in 2021

March 10, 2021


Why Brands Should Focus on Telling Stories in 2021

A lot of us are still questioning our branding and marketing strategies in 2021. In the last 12 months, it feels like everything has changed and shifted right under our feet. It makes you wonder … is this still the right move, the right way to be branding?

We might look at new channels, especially as the world has shifted more to online marketing. Is TikTok the right spot for our brands, a place where we can reach new loyal customers? Is the messaging right, are the images striking the right tone?

There’s a lot to think about here. But we can also use this moment to “go to ground,” if you will. This is a time to get back to “basics,” to let go of all the “frills” and distractions.

And that means going back to the core of our brands—and to the core of a good branding strategy.

Tried-and True Tactics for an Era of Uncertainty

There’s been a lot of concern over whether social media really works. Algorithm changescan mean that something you did with a lot of success for weeks or months suddenly doesn’t turn results. And are people even looking at what we’re doing? It seems like it’s tougher than ever to get any traction.

We can ask if having a blog or if you need to work on your website’s SEO is the right move. But we can look deeper, to the sort of “core” of marketing.

Word-of-mouth is probably the most effective strategy we have. It always has been, and even with all our new tech, it still works. In fact, you can see Twitter or Instagram as a kind of giant word-of-mouth marketing network. Someone likes a product, so they like the brand page, they leave a review. Maybe they share interesting posts or comment on them. They might even talk up how much they love working with your brand or using your product.

There’s not a lot of difference between this and someone telling their friends which brand they like. Even before social media, we were always asking other people for their thoughts. And other people were willing to give them!

Social media amplifies this. In the past, you told your family or your work pals about your favourite brand or the great deal you scored on a new cellphone. Today, you might hop on social media and tell all your followers.

And those people are listening. They’re looking for recommendations! Getting one from someone you follow on social media is like a recommendation from a friend. You follow them because you like them or you like their opinions on things. So when they say, “This is good” or “this is bad,” you sit up and take notice.

Capitalizing on Word-of-Mouth with Stories

So, where does storytelling fit into the word-of-mouth paradigm?

Think about how we communicate with each other. When your cousin asks you for a recommendation about which phone service provider to hook up with, you probably give them more than “I’m with Telus” or “I got a great deal from Koodo.”

We’re storytellers by nature, so we tend to structure our advice into a tale of experience. “I love being with Telus. Remember when my phone broke? I had no idea what to do, but they got me a replacement, like, the next day. I was so relieved.”

We also do this when we tell people who to avoid: “Don’t go with Bell! They suck. They charged me so much, and they were no help at all when I broke my phone! They don’t value their customers until they leave. That’s why I left.”

There are a few reasons why these kind of personal stories appeal to us when we’re looking for advice. One, we think they’re truthful. You’re giving us a play-by-play of what actuallyhappened to you, not some marketer’s promise of “great service.” And stories are emotional. When you tell us about the bad service you got from one phone provider, we get upset too. And when you tell us about how great the service was from this other provider, we’re likely feel those positive emotions too. We get a sense of relief knowing one phone provider is good at handling phone replacement. We’ve been down that road before and been super frustrated with our own phone provider.

People Want Stories

More than ever, people are looking for these kinds of stories. And we’re not just looking for stories so we can make a decision either. We’re also looking, to a degree, for entertainment.

We’ve consumed a lot more content since the pandemic started. And lots of us are looking for feel-good stories. The world seems like a bad place right now. So we want that heartwarming story about a stray cat who found a home or a delivery driver who was a little bit “extra” in delivering a parcel.

We want to see the stories behind brands and companies too. We want customer stories, employee stories—and we want them to tug at our heart strings. What have you done for your customers lately? Have you supported your community in a new way? Tell us about it!

We also like stories because we feel like they’re more likely to be raw and unfiltered. We want to see behind the curtain. As a customer, it’s frustrating to buy from a big brand that’s nothing more than a logo. What about the people behind it? Who actually works for your company?

In an age when our customers want more authenticity from us, this kind of storytelling helps us peel back the veil. It lets us show them who our brands really are, what we stand for. It creates a “people connection,” a relationship. You’re no longer interacting with Nike’s checkmark or the Starbucks mermaid. You’re interacting with the real people who work there.

Why Storytelling Creates Word-of-Mouth

So, we’ve gone over why people want stories. They want the authenticity, and they want the emotional connections. These same features can encourage people to share stories with others.

Think about how viral videos happen. That delivery driver who went the extra mile or the story about the stray cat get shared because they make people feel. We want to share information and feelings with other people. We might think of a friend or family member who could use a smile, so we send them a funny video. And we’re not the only ones who think that way—so more people share to spread smiles with people they care about.

Our loyal customers want to share stories about us too. Whether it’s their personal experience or just a story about how we’re doing good in the world, they want to share us with their friends and family. They’re proud of us, in a way! They think what we do is great, and they want to show us off a little! “Look at all the good this brand does! This is why I work with them! Aren’t they cool?”

The most important thing for our brands to do is to consider what kinds of stories resonate with our customers. Do they want behind-the-scenes content with our staff members? Or do they prefer hearing from customers like themselves?

We should also make sure our content is true to our brand itself. If we say we’re customer-centric, then telling our customers’ stories is a no-brainer! If all we ever do is talk about ourselves, then our customers might wonder if we’re as concerned about them as we say.

If we’re not known for our community efforts, then it might not fit with our brand to start focusing on that. Of course, we might want to highlight it to make our contributions more known among our customers!

The messaging is also important. What do these stories say about our brand values, the essence of who we are as a brand? We don’t want to tell a story that focuses on our traditional processes if one of our brand values is innovation. If, on the other hand, tradition is a big part of the brand, then highlighting that makes a lot of sense!

Whether we want to try to capture social media stardom or just get some more customer reviews, then storytelling is key. And like anything else, it starts with the why!


Here to inspire and create conversation!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

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