Developing the Brand Storytelling Plan

“Storytelling.” It’s the flavor of the day, whether you’re talking about content marketing, visual communications or public relations, and for good reason. Stories are how humans communicate – with each other individually, across populations and over centuries.

In fact, many organizations are pretty good at identifying and defining their key story lines. The key to success in brand storytelling is in the next step – the strategic deployment of the story. Telling the brand story effectively requires a plan.

And to be clear, we’re not talking about hanging a touchy-feely post up on the blog and then calling it a day.  No.  Brand storytelling, in this context, means developing a sustained plan to create and execute a strategic approach to telling the brand story, in a way that supports company’s objectives.  Personally, I don’t give a hoot about impressions.  Let’s gun for something a bit more meaningful.

Drafting a storytelling plan

Developing the brand’s key themes is the first step, of course. Those central themes can then form the backbone of the communications strategy and the organization’s editorial calendar. The themes effectively become a message framework and provide contextual hooks for the organization’s communications, ranging from PR positioning to the content the brand develops for campaigns.

Once the themes are defined and the framework is in place, the marketing and communications teams should next think about developing a cadence of messages that define, describe, support and prove the brand stories. Creating a comprehensive editorial calendar that blends PR, content marketing, demand gen, social and sales enablement is the key to actually telling the brand story effectively, across all communications disciplines.

Thinking in terms of stories will get the marketing team closer to the customer and help the PR team refine and improve their pitches.  Next time you’re looking at a list of key message points and value propositions, challenge yourself to also find the related stories the target audience cares about.  That inflection point – where the brand message meets the audiences’ interests – is the center of the opportunity for the brand.

(Deck via my friend Lou Hoffman, of The Hoffman Agency. His excellent blog,Ishmael’s Corner, focuses upon storytelling and is definitely worth a bookmark.)

Why a multi-channel approach matters

As you map the plan, challenge yourself to think beyond the company’s usual communications tactics and channels. For most brands, text communications – press releases, blogs, papers, and social updates – form the core of the PR and communications output. However, audiences are demanding visual content, and the algorithms that dictate what people see on social networks and in search engines feed that demand, giving visual content more top of page/top of news feed visibility.

Additionally, our audiences are more fragmented than ever, using multiple channels to find and consume information. Telling the stories and conveying these messages in a variety of formats and across a variety of channels is important, for a few reasons.

First, repetition helps messages stick. Developing a cadence of content to support key messaging drives overall visibility for the story, and improves audience retention.

Additionally, a variety of channels will require the organization to use different formats – video, slides, text, tweets, images etc. In addition to broader reach, different formats aid message retention. People have different learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) meaning they absorb and retain information in different ways. Employing a variety of different content formats will help messages stick.

A cohesive big picture

Together, the messages your brand publishes tells a story. That story can either be disjointed, or it can make sense. By creating a message framework and developing an integrated editorial strategy, the brand will provide a coherent user experience for the audiences, telling a cohesive story that makes sense.

The coherent message structure also delivers other benefits to the brand. It reinforces key messages, delivering evidence and credibility that can influence analysts, journalists, bloggers and – very importantly – early stage prospects who are in research mode, and haven’t yet identified themselves to the company.

A strong message framework also delivers significant benefits to the internal organization. Sales and client services teams absorb and share the information, providing important training and reinforcement to staff learning and sales enablement support.

Brand storytelling isn’t something that’s achieved through a single blog post. By building brand stories over time, adding chapters along the way, organizations can deliver robust and effective messaging that builds social proof and earns credible attention among key constituents. Effective storytelling delivers more than fleeting impressions: it can (and should) be measured in impact top line results, such as improvements in search rank, conversion rate and lead score quality.

Author Sarah Skerik is a content marketing, PR & social media strategist, specializing in integrated digital marketing, next-gen public relations and upper funnel optimization. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik or connect on LinkedIn

Cover image courtesy of Post Advertising, from their very good post titled “7 Reasons Storytelling is Important for Branded Content” (if you need more convincing.)