From the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh and Dr Faustus, right up to modern cult classics like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Catcher in the Rye, and Harry Potter, narratives have gripped our attention and delighted our imaginations for millennia.
It’s often difficult to transport our minds back to a time when books didn’t exist. However, the Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the first narratives to be taken from oral tradition and laid out on clay tablets – which goes to show how much the ancient Sumerians must have loved the tale.
And Dr Faustus? Written by Christopher Marlowe, Dr Faustus is amongst one of the most famous narratives to come out of the rich Shakespearean and Renaissance tragedies. Born from the word ‘rebirth’, the Renaissance era marks a significant period in history where thinkers of the time sought to draw forward the values of ancient Greece and Rome that were thought to be lost. This manifested as a huge movement that greatly impacted the likes of art and literature and helped to shape the future of the narratives we see today.
Now, enough about archaic stories and historical matters. I’m sure you’re keen to understand how this all relates to the title you clicked on. So, let’s get into it.
The importance of narrative in creating a compelling brand
Crafting the perfect narrative is key to a brand’s success, but it’s not an easy task to carry out. There have been many tall tales published over the years that perhaps haven’t fully come into fruition; haven’t made it in the sense that they’re not termed as one of the greats, haven’t changed the course of history, or haven’t been added to the novel-related wishlist you’ve made in your notes.
Why is that? What makes epic stories so popular? What keeps cult classics, classic? And what makes a best-selling brand?
Okay, when I said enough about archaic stories and historical matters, I lied. By learning from and implementing some of the nuances and techniques used in historical and contemporary literature, you can ensure your brand's story is as captivating as possible.
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Whilst many stories (particularly brand stories) are different, effective narrative writing typically entails these key components:
Read on to discover more about these elements and how they relate to creating an engaging brand narrative.
A brief outline of the key components of narrative writing (and how they can help to create a compelling brand story)
The structure will help to align your brand story with other aspects of brand building and bring them to life.
Your brand story structure refers to the general shape or order of the narrative. Many narratives follow a chronological order, i.e. they contain a beginning, a middle, and an end. A lot of narratives follow a reverse chronological order or a non-linear structure. However, when you’re trying to entice new customers or illustrate your purpose to your prospects, you need to ensure you grip them and, oftentimes, you won’t have a huge amount of time to achieve this.
If you’re writing the story of your brand in chronological order, you’ll start at the beginning – setting the scene by introducing your reader to, for example, how you started out, the characters within your narrative (this could be the company founders or the wider audience you’re trying to help), the situation, and your goals.
Moving onto the middle section, you can discuss the series of events that you encountered between the start of your journey and the present day. Perhaps you had issues when starting up the company, or you found new problems within your industry or the wider social environment that you needed to address and create a specific resolution. Describing these steps, problems or segments will help your story to develop and, hopefully, captivate your readers.
The ending will involve where you are today – the obstacles you overcame, how you’re currently flourishing, and why that’s significant. A narrative’s structure provides continuity and helps your reader to make sense of your story.
Your plot details the events that took place within your narrative, those key events that are central to your story. They’re the movements that unfold in a sequence – throughout your structure – helping you to build a connection between your brand and your target audience.
Within your beginning, middle, and end, illustrate how one event led to another and how they influenced your company’s values and the outcome you see today.
Customers and prospects want to relate to the brands they invest in. And so the plot of your story will be more impactful if you are relatable and able to spark interest, excitement, or empathy within your target audience.
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Characters are integral to any great narrative. This, of course, is different when talking about brand narratives as opposed to fictional stories, as not all brands utilise characters. Nevertheless, if you do, or plan to, your characters can be an appealing vehicle for presenting the narrative – you can communicate your values and purpose through them.
Let a compelling, believable character – whether it’s a real person, a fictional character, or a mascot – embody your story and add depth to your plot. Let them articulate your company principles, products, or services.
You can develop your characters to be almost like spokespeople for your brand – a central figure for your target audience to relate to. When your brand has a main character, they champion the organisation, helping customers and prospects to understand your theme, acknowledge your plot, and invest in you.
In some cases, it can be difficult to relate to a faceless corporation. However, an organisation that has a face and memorable character that is able to accurately illustrate values makes the brand highly relatable – providing your target audience with a more compelling story. Just think of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Nintendo’s Mario, Mars M&M's spokes candies, or Compare the Market’s Sergei the meerkat.
The setting is the place and time where the events in your narrative take place. Your brand narrative can include a number of different settings as you describe your timeline, but it’s important for your audience to understand where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’re going if you want to enrich your story.
Your setting will answer two questions for your target audience: when and where. Establishing this aspect of brand narrative writing enables your readers to get a sense of your journey. If you’re positioning yourself as a local company that knows the nuances of people ‘close to home’, you want to convey that in your writing. Buyers looking to invest in local products and services won’t be interested if they think you’re a multinational organisation with expensive shipping and no knowledge of their day-to-day.
Conversely, if you are a global company and your audience is worldwide, it’s essential that you can position your brand to communicate that – keep your messaging consistent across all channels while navigating your way through different cultural landscapes. Creating a global brand will require a lot of hard work and research so, in this sense, the setting may not be as straightforward as that of a local organisation.
Nevertheless, the setting is an essential aspect of all great narratives as it enables your audience to establish familiarity with your brand.
The theme you choose to elicit will help to form your brand. Think about the brand voice you choose to use – this will essentially help the reader to get a sense of your personality and nature. In creating a particular theme, you can position yourself in a way that you feel accurately represents your brand. Consider how you want to be seen. Will you make the theme of your narrative lively and playful, professional and formal, down to earth and approachable, or bizarre and mysterious?
The theme you exemplify can influence the reader and ensure you are portraying your organisation in a specific way. It works to centralise your story, unifies your brand’s idea and provides an overall casing for your narrative.
Ultimately, when creating a compelling brand narrative, your target audience gets a sense of who you are: your personality, your values, what you can offer to them, and why they should invest in you over your competitors.
Use your narrative to emphasise what makes you unique and, importantly, why the reader should care. By incorporating all, or some, of the elements used by great storytellers of the past and present, you can ensure that you’re on the right track to creating a brand that intrigues and captivates your audience.
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