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The Power of a Great Brand Story

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h1 Great stories happen to those who can tell them.

- Ira Glass, This American Life

Print, TV, radio, outdoor, in-store, direct mail, social media, viral videos... Of all the marketing techniques we have at our disposal today, storytelling is the only one that has been embraced by humanity for the better part of the past 40,000 years, starting when our ancestors shared their experiences through paintings on cave walls.

But when it comes to advertising, we’re conditioned to ignore and avoid it. We fast-forward over commercials, ignore billboards and pay for commercial-free radio. The only way to reach audiences is to create media that’s entertaining, informing and engaging.

And here's the truth: Audiences don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted ... but they always have 30 minutes to hear a great story.

Storytelling grips the audience. It forces us to uncross our arms, lean forward and really listen. If brands understand storytelling techniques, they can apply those techniques to their marketing campaigns and use an array of media to tell different parts of that single campaign story.

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So it’s no wonder that more and more brands are pulling back on their paid budgets and investing in owned and earned media, creating content that helps convey their own brand story, content so good that it compels audiences to engage and share.

Here are a few ways brands are finding success using storytelling:

Stories are the emotional glue that connects your customers to your brand. We’re seeing numerous brands in 2012 building platforms just to collect customers’ stories, including automakers VW and Toyota, as well as social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Stories that come straight from the mouths of real customers help brands bridge the gap of trust that exists between advertisements and audiences.

Stories can create contagious enthusiasm. Red Bull sells an energy drink—a fairly simple, straightforward product. But the story that embodies the brand is what drives all their marketing executions, including events, sponsorships, contests, games, apps, branded communities and one of the top branded Facebook pages. Boasting over 31 million fans, Red Bull uses vivid imagery and media to generate engagement and sharing. The story isn’t about drinking Red Bull. The story is about the lives of Red Bull drinkers.

Of course, our favorite stories are our own. Kraft, Target and other brands are letting their fans become part of their brand stories, featuring them in their marketing. Kraft created Likeapella, a YouTube video and personal thank-you to all its fans who liked a specific post on Facebook. Target’s latest campaign shows real home videos of students opening their college acceptance letters, creating an emotional branding effect that pulled at viewer’s heartstrings.

So what’s your story? And how is it defining your marketing?

Jon Thomas is the Communications Director at Story Worldwide and editor-in-chief of Post-Advertising.

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